School Choice: Matt Damon Elevates Hypocrisy to an Art Form

Actor Matt Damon qualifies as the perfect hypocrite for his views on “school choice” for other parents who travel in different circles than celebrities.

The mega-star is now vilifying those nasty conservatives for offering parents a school choice -- which (of course) is the very same thing Damon exercised on behalf of his own children. They attend private school -- big surprise.

The absurdity of his personal life conflicting with his public stance is beautifully narrated by Damon in the new documentary perversely titled Backpack Full of Cash. Apparently, the desire of parents to seize the opportunity to fast-track their children out of failing schools has earned the disdain of the filmmakers as “harming our most vulnerable children.” Huh? I thought auditoriums filled with parents of color -- who were literally praying to the lord above for their child’s name to be called in a lottery draw for a charter school -- was rescuing the “most vulnerable children.” Meaning those children stuck in the most vulnerable zip codes. Damon lives in a different universe from these zip codes, having just purchased a $16.4 million penthouse in New York.

The actor has been asked the embarrassing question as to why he sends his own children to private school. His meandering answer was sadly lacking in logic: “I pay for a private education and I’m trying to get the one that most matches the public education that I had,” Damon offered. Does that mean public schools aren’t what they use to be? 

Damon trudges on, talking about the realities of life: “But that kind of progressive education no longer exists in the public system. It’s unfair.” Yes, Mr. Damon, life can be unfair -- especially if you’re child confronts the reality of being enrolled in a school better known in the “hood” as a “drop-out factory.” 

Early reviews of the Damon-narrated film indicate the filmmakers have engaged in revisionist history by suggesting the abysmal state of many of our public schools can be laid at the door of “school choice,” pointing the finger at charter schools and voucher programs. This twisted logic may be the making of another possible bestseller: The Audacity of Stupidity.

Mr. Damon fails to delve into the crux of the problem contributing to the dispiriting academic decline of our schools for the last several decades: the teachers’ unions have taken the moral low road in allowing a child’s educational needs to take a back seat to the unrelenting goals of organized labor including: absurdly complicated employment protection guidelines; cushier pension payouts at earlier dates; and regulatory madness contributing to the destruction of the joy of teaching.

Ironically, the film focuses primarily on the School District of Philadelphia, where the taxpayers fail to receive much of a return on their dollar: $12,270.00 per child -- many of whom are receiving an inferior education. “The problem isn’t that we need some market-based reform or answer,” says Rhonda Brownstein, of the Education Law Center in the film. “The problem is that we need to invest more in our public schools,” she adds.

Ms. Brownstein must know something the nation’s top education reformer doesn’t know. Michelle Rhee made the cover of Time magazine for her efforts to transform the nation’s lowest academic rated district while acting as Chancellor of Education in D.C. Where does one start in such a quagmire? 

Rhee got more than she bargained for while working many 14-hour days. She discovered incompetent and corrupt administrators who were costing the district literally hundreds of thousands in lawsuits, warehouses with unopened boxes teeming over with brand-new materials (while dedicated teachers were paying for supplies out of pocket); more than 1,000 grossly incompetent teachers at dozens of failing schools (she managed to dismiss more than 1,000 teachers); and an intractable union boss, Randi Weingarten, president of American Federation of Teachers (with whom she refused to meet in the same room after numerous fruitless encounters).

No wonder Time magazine featured Rhee on the cover with a broom in her hands -- cleaning up a demoralized school district. The headline read: “How to Fix America’s Schools,” with an illuminating subhead: “Michelle Rhee is the head of Washington D.C. schools. Her battle against bad teachers has earned her admirers and enemies -- and could transform public education.” There was hope in the air and fewer incompetents showing up for work in the nation’s capital.

Because this isn’t Hollywood, Ms. Rhee didn’t last long on the job -- despite her outstanding performance in dramatically improving the academic level of students at some of the poorest performing schools. Ms. Rhee refused to stay on the job when the unions successfully removed public officials supporting her in her reform efforts, and replacing them with union-backed public politicians. 

Perhaps the unions inspired Rhee in her next professional effort -- which garnered national support from many of the nation’s most accomplished philanthropists. She established a non-profit education reform movement with the fitting name, “StudentsFirst.” 

Mr. Damon should be taking copious notes from Ms. Rhee. He might learn that educators like Rhee work to ensure public schools exist to educate our nation’s children, and not to provide unions with runaway cushy perks including unreasonable job protection for grossly incompetent teachers. 

But, then again, Damon works in Hollywood, a place where celebrities adopt liberal scripts that never require fact-checking or being held up to the realities of the light of day. Sadly, Damon has now cast himself in the role of a useful idiot opposing the efforts of conservatives determined to offer children the very same thing Damon provides for his precious children: school choice.