Opinion: The contempt for teachers extends to Matt Damon


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‘Here’s another reason for you to love Matt Damon.’

That was the subject line attached to an email I got earlier this week with a link to a video of the actor defending teachers. The people in my life know me so well. [Fair warning: The video contains a few expletives.]

In an interview with Reason, Damon speaks up on behalf of hardworking educators, which includes the woman standing beside him: his mom. ‘It’s like saying a teacher is going to get lazy when they have tenure. A teacher wants to teach,’ he says in an effort to point to what inspires people to become teachers.


Of course, there’s a fired-up segment of the American people who resent their tax dollars going toward teachers’ salaries, many of whom refuse to consider that education is the cornerstone of a productive society. As Michael Graham, who hosts a talk show on 96.9 WTKK, tells it in an Opinion piece for the Boston Herald, the people who become teachers are motivated by, well, their lack of motivation.

Modern economic theory is based on the premise of incentives. Damon’s position that incentives don’t affect behavior puts him in the fiscal Flat Earth Society. He’s the equivalent of an economic creationist. Of course people work harder if they believe it will pay off. Naturally people slack off otherwise. Nobody denies this is true of cabbies, car salesmen or newspaper columnists -- why wouldn’t it be true of teachers? Oh, that’’s right: ‘Teachers want to teach.’ They’re above worldly concerns like pay and job security. Which some teachers are. But isn’t it likely that others have more materialistic motivations? Like the fact that it’s a great way for underachievers to prosper? ‘Slackers wanting to earn the country’s easiest college major, should major in education,’ reports Lynn O’Shaughnessy of CBS’s Moneywatch. ‘It’s easy to get ‘A’s’ if you’re an education major.’ Which is good news for education majors who, according to O’Shaughnessy, ‘enter college with the lowest average SAT scores.’ So if you’re a ‘slacker’ who wants to earn more than your brother the accountant, the public schools have got a deal for you! And once you’re in, you’re in. If you’ve seen ‘Waiting for Superman,’ you know that while one of every 57 doctors loses his license and one out of 97 lawyers gets disbarred, just one out of 1,000 teachers gets fired from big-city school systems for performance issues. Damon wants us to believe this all-but-guaranteed lifetime employment has no impact on performance? Nobody’s a good enough actor to sell that.

If that’s true, what explains the passion, dedication and innovative spirit of teachers like Elyse Colgan?


Overreacting to cheating

Education cuts and teacher burnout

The myth of the extraordinary teacher

Teacher turnover and the stress of reform

-- Alexandra Le Tellier