Matt Damon, the actor turned liberal spokesperson, made a curious choice this week. His family will relocate from New York City to Los Angeles this summer, where his four young daughters will attend private school.
Why is that unusual?
Son of a professor and the product of a “progressive” public education, Damon has publicly opposed school choice reform and the education policies stemming from both the Bush and Obama administrations. The actor first spoke out about these particular convictions in 2011 at a “Save our Schools” rally in Washington, D.C., where he denounced the “simple-minded, punitive policy that's been driven into [a teacher's] life by some corporate reformer who has literally never taught anyone anything.”
Damon is a strong proponent of public education and would rather teachers approach students “as an individual puzzle.” He finds standardized testing meaningless, and while he rightly gives praise to the thousands of hard-working teachers across the country, his idealistic and overly simplified view of American public school systems offers no solution for improving access to quality education for our nation’s most vulnerable students.
It’s situations like these that highlight the hypocrisy and exclusive privilege that often blind Hollywood activists. Damon explained his role reversal in an interview with the Guardian published last week:
"Sending our kids in my family to private school was a big, big, big deal. And it was a giant family discussion. But it was a circular conversation, really, because ultimately we don't have a choice. I mean, I pay for a private education and I'm trying to get the one that most matches the public education that I had, but that kind of progressive education no longer exists in the public system. It's unfair." Damon has campaigned against teachers' pay being pegged to children's test results: "So we agitate about those things, and try to change them, and try to change the policy, but you know, it's a tough one."
It is unfair, Mr. Damon, and it’s hard to make sense of a person who protests against school choice, but has the luxury of choosing to send his children to any school he finds suitable.
Former Florida Governor, and active school-choice advocate, Jeb Bush took to Twitter yesterday to voice his criticism:
Matt Damon Refuses to Enroll Kids in Los Angeles Public Schools. Choice ok for Damon, why not everyone else? http://t.co/yHrTbakeIW— Jeb Bush (@JebBush) August 6, 2013
Kevin P. Chavous, Executive Director of the American Federation for Children - a nonprofit promoting educational choice - also took the opportunity to put the reality of the anti-choice argument into perspective:
“Public schools – whether they’re successful or not – are fine for everyone else’s kids, but not for the privileged. President Obama, who also opposes D.C.’s Opportunity Scholarship Program, sends his children to the most elite private school in all of D.C. And you know what? Good for Mr. Damon and the President. Their families made a choice so why deny low-income families the same opportunity to make a choice?”
The talk is clearly not matching the walk, and Damon realizes the fine line he’s drawing:
"People [feel] preached to by privileged actors. I get that totally. I don't want some Hollywood actor finger-wagging at me, telling me what I should and shouldn't do."
It’s hard to fault anyone for voicing their beliefs, regardless of their orientation. That’s a cherished hallmark of American freedom. But, as Matt Damon has shown us, sometimes it’s wise to remember that actions speak louder than words.