Matt Damon’s dunder-headed SOS speech

Fawned over by the would-be glitterati, Matt Damon’s speech to the Save Our Schools rally in DC received wide accolades as a clear-headed, common-sense speech that spoke to Everyteacher.

There are transcripts all over the internet, but here is a summary followed by a question from the TV audience.

First Mr. Damon tells us to what great lengths he has gone so he can share his message in person.

Next, he tells us he went to public schools and had great teachers and great parenting.

He then claims that his most highly valued qualities –“my imagination, my love of acting, my passion for writing,…” – that have brought him so much professional success could never be tested in school.

He recalls taking only one standardized test which prompted his mother, herself a former teacher, to tell the principal, “My kid ain’t taking that. It’s stupid.”

His speech degenerates into a diatribe against standard testing and how this “has been a horrible decade for teachers.”  He says his important message to the rally is that “I appreciate more and more the teachers that I had growing up.”  Wow! Really!

He concludes by reminding the unappreciated teachers that there are millions like him who support their efforts.  “We love you,” he says.

Good for you Matt.  We love you, too.

But now, if we could, let’s hear some sentiments that one might overhear from State Inmate No. 23-84746 who watched the speech on CSPAN.  Mr. 84746 may have been the elected spokesman for one of the 25,000 member dropout class of 2008 here in North Carolina.  [Mr. 84746’s comments have been translated into Standard English by the author.]

It is very modest for the rich and famous Mr. Damon to extoll his K-12 teachers and credit them for his success.  He omits mentioning his years of toil and talent that went into finally producing his success and for which he doesn’t take any credit, whatsoever.  It was all his teachers, man, and he loves them.  And he hates those standard tests.

Now what am I supposed to think.  I’m not allowed to credit my teachers for never teaching me to read because they were required to give me a standardized test? Is that their excuse.  “I sorry, 23.  You failed your standard reading and math tests in 3rd grade along with 55% of your minority male classmates in the state because I had to give you the test.”  Is that what my teacher gets to say?

Well Ms. Teacher, why didn’t you catch me up in the 4th grade? Because you wanted me to automatically learn my math facts without having to resort to a few drills? Mr. Damon claims he wouldn’t be where he is today if his teachers had resorted to “desperately drilling” him.  Well maybe with some drilling, I would not be where I am today – and will remain for the next 30 even with good behavior.

Ms. Teacher, my group of low-income males sees the same 55% of failures from third grade who then drop out of high school seven or eight years later because we never learned to read or to do the math.  You had K, 1, 2, and 3 to get me ready for the 3rd grade tests.  Then you had another half decade to catch me up.

What were you doing all those years? Oh, I see. Like Mr. Damon says you were “encouraging creativity and original ideas,” teaching us to “know who we were, seeing our strengths and helping us realize our talents.” Right on.  I sure do appreciate that.

But surely you must wonder why “encouraging creativity” and avoiding “desperate drilling” does not bring success to me and my brothers? Who told you that “encouraging creativity” and avoiding “desperate drilling” was the right thing to do?  Who was supposed to train you to teach me and my 25,000 annual non-reading dropout friends how to read?

So do we congratulate, in turn, your teacher, Ms. Teacher? Is Mr. Damon a wealthy star because of the education schools who trained you in “encouraging creativity and original ideas,” who trained you to teach us to “know who we were, seeing our strengths and helping us realize our talents”? If he says so, it must be so.

But Ms. Teacher, why didn’t they train you to teach me to read? You saw my 3rd grade test results. You knew I could not read or do math. Why did you not then teach me?

If I could read, my time might pass more quickly.

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9 Responses to Matt Damon’s dunder-headed SOS speech

  1. Craig says:

    Some testing is necessary. But the current crop of educrats want to test almost non-stop. And then they want to reward good test results. This is the heart of the problem – they are rewarding the wrong thing. Actually, rewarding, extrinsically, is just plain wrong. The real reward is the gaining of knowledge and this comes from curiosity which is fostered by teachers. Not sure about anyone else but I never became curious about a subject because it appeared as a question on a test. Teachers need time to inspire kids and they can’t do it if they are spending what time they have administering standardized tests. And the additional stress of knowing you are going to be ‘ranked’ just adds to the problem. But you know this don’t you Baker Mitchell. The current discourse suits people like you who by running charter schools are in turn undermining public education at every opportunity.

    • bakeramitchell says:

      Sorry, Craig; but the same tiresome diatribe about extrinsic rewards being wrong doesn’t pass even cursory examination. The teachers who demand raises while decrying extrinsic rewards is nonsensical. Pick one or the other.

      The portrait over your left shoulder appears to be Lenin which tells me all I need. It was easy for Lenin to extoll intrinsic rewards as he was born into a very wealthy family. The Marxist hero Piaget is probably on your other wall.

      Finally, and as you know, charter schools are public schools, and we admit every applicant. Growing from 53 students in 2000 to over 1,500 now hardly qualifies as undermining public education.

  2. Bev DeVore says:

    I am responsible for my education. That said, when I sat in the classroom my teachers did not allow me to give up on myself; my parents expected me to do my best but I was never told by my parents or teachers they expected only “As” from me; they expected me to do my best. If my best wasn’t enough to learn to read, write, communicate, calculate, think, then I had to spend more time to make my best effort better.
    Luckily I loved learning back then and still do; luckily I was judged by my efforts and successes, my failures were all the more reason to give me necessary assistance along the way.
    Mr. 84746 is the only one responsible for his actions; not his parents unless he was still living at home when he committed his crime; not his teachers; no one but himself. If he did not learn to read or write in K, 1-3 grades, what was he doing with his time? What was he doing during the day at school? Now that he is older, he is even more responsible for his self; if he still cannot read or write, then what is he doing in prison? It seems he certainly could use his time to learn now. . .unless he would rather just blame everyone else for his actions, mistakes and life.

    • bakeramitchell says:

      Dear Ms. DeVore,

      You echo the thoughts of Henley who once wrote:

      “Out of the night that covers me,
      Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
      I thank whatever Gods may be,
      For my unconquerable soul.

      It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
      I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul.”

      Apt, but perhaps pretty raw stuff for a poor, minority 5-year old kid.

      Mr. 84746, at the age of 5, was a perfectly logical, rational being. And because he was a logical, rational being, we can accurately predict his behavior that follows most antecedent circumstances. As we all learn, he behaved in the manner that his experiences taught him resulted in the least pain or brought him the greatest reward. By the age of five, his behavior repertoire was replete with avoidance strategies when faced with the prospect of failure so as to avoid failure’s pain. His experiences probably taught him that other people typically shunned his requests for help. And numerous studies have shown that his vocabulary is nearly an order of magnitude less than his middle-income peers.

      As a result upon entering kindergarten, he doesn’t understand many of the words that his teacher is using in her instructions. Thus he doesn’t understand the task being assigned and is reluctant to ask for clarification. So he punts and dips into his reservoir of avoidance strategies. This may earn him a “punishment,” but he is so used to being subjected to such consequences that it is not punishing – or is less punishing than the failure.

      The teacher must be trained to initially teach her instructional vocabulary to these children. Then she must be skillful at reinforcing the children’s small successes and must avoid giving them tasks unless she is sure they have mastered each of the component skills needed to complete the composite task. Catch them succeeding and reinforce that behavior. Ignore failure except to circle back and reteach the skill.

      The behaviorist successfully uses direct instruction methods to engage the student and carefully sequence the introduction of new skills so that all children succeed.

      Ms. Devore, you are correct that each child is responsible his own behavior, but please do not ask him to be illogical or irrational in coping with his environment. If the teachers are not trained in the proper instructional methods or behavior management and the child repeatedly fails, do not expect him to continue to subject himself to this failure. He has learned that “trying” does not pay off in this environment.

      A teacher’s training and use of the properly design curricula are crucial: see what can be done…

      Also check out Project Followthrough.

  3. bakeramitchell says:

    Inmate 84746 responds: Maybe my parents were not the best; I was raised by a great aunt. But I was in school for 8 hours a day, 180 days a year, for 4 years before I flunked the 3rd grade reading and math tests. Maybe the teachers did care. Maybe they did love me. Maybe they did try. But they failed to teach me to read after having me in their classrooms for nearly 3,000 hours. I don’t believe they knew how to teach me to read. Maybe later in middle school I did quit trying, but continuing failure is very aversive.

    [See and }

    • Greenkelleen says:

      [Replies to Greenkelleen are intersperced in brackets.]
      Some of what the original blogger stated echoes my own sentiments:
      “Mr. Damon claims he wouldn’t be where he is today if his teachers had resorted to “desperately drilling” him. Well maybe with some drilling, I would not be where I am today…” With this, I do sincerely agree. There was [and still is] a “movement” in education training in the ’90s and early 2000s that vilified all forms of “rote learning.” New math curricula were developed and touted as the only way to go because they were supposed to “teach students how to think about problems and come up with their own algorithms.” Teachers were, indeed, told NOT to use daily drills of any kind in any subject; everything was supposed to be connected with “meaningful learning.” I was in school to earn my teaching certificate during this time, and I remember thinking then (as I have EVERY TIME I have come across bright students who have given up in math and do nothing because they never memorized math facts) that this way of thinking is a HUGE mistake, especially in the lower grades. Children NEED to have those basic math facts, most common words, et cetera COMPLETELY memorized (Yes, MEMORIZED) in the early grades, so that they can USE that foundational knowledge to develop skills and reasoning abilities throughout the rest of their school careers. Yes, they should also use numbers and counting in useful, everyday activities such as “class store” and calendar and sharing cookies… and they should learn to love reading, and have an opportunity to create and imagine. But drills, memory-songs, flashcards and repetitive worksheets SHOULD be used, as they were when I was an elementary student; these are fast, effective ways to get the necessary fundamental knowledge to stick in kids’ brains.

      Most of the blogger’s other assertions, though, really [bleep] me off. He seems to believe that ALL teachers want to do is stroke kids’ self-esteem and teach them creativity, and that REAL learning doesn’t happen because of this. I call BS! Teachers want to build kids’ confidence in their ability to learn and utilize their new knowledge and skills — and they want to encourage curiosity and creativity so that kids will continue to wonder and learn and come up with new ways to use what they are learning. But of COURSE teachers want their students to learn to read and write well and to understand and use math! [This was asserted neither by me or by Mr. 82746. The main assertion, borne out by the statistics, is that schools of education do not adequately train teachers in effective methods of reading instruction and behavior management.]

      Matt Damon was not saying in his speech that those are the only things he learned in school. His point is that until recently teachers were empowered to care for, understand, and teach the “whole child” — that it was a given that the TEACHER in the classroom understands best what the students need, how the students feel about their own learning, and how best to reach each student. The teacher could develop lessons, even UNITS, based on something that had caught the students’ interest. They had the freedom to take classes on field trips meant simply to broaden students’ horizons or create further interest in a subject. Kids could share their own passions and had time to show off their own knowledge to classmates. Such empowerment of teachers, and flexibility in schedules and curricula, helped to create interested, impassioned learners. Mr. Damon’s point is that now, teachers must instead spend all of their time and energy preparing ALL students — regardless of aptitude, interests, or attitude toward learning — to perform the same on narrowly-defined “learning targets” and “benchmarks” in a few subjects, and to know HOW to correctly respond to standardized test questions. [This statement reinforces my earlier assertion. If teachers are indeed spending “all of their time and energy preparing ALL students – regardless of apptitude…” to pass standardized tests they are failing. All their time and energy are not sufficient – they need knowledge of effective teaching methods which is not being provided to them in the ed schools. Please reread your own first paragraph above. I stand by my post – Matt Damon’s speech exemplified dunder-headed constructivism in is most virilent, debilitating form. You might also read Authur Levine’s works.]

  4. Steve says:

    Who told Matt Damon that “encouraging creativity” and avoiding “desperate drilling” was the right thing to do? EVERY single study ever done supports Damon’s conclusions. This is a fact and it is not up for discussion.
    If you want a strong nation that cures polio and travels to the moon, the Matt Damon-supported style of teaching is the way to go. Then again, if the goal of education is to dumb everything down and cancel NASA, the Baker A. Mitchell process is definitely the right choice. Look at what’s happened to education since 1996 with Mitchell-style “education” took hold.
    I rest my case.

  5. I agree with mecspeer. The original post is ridiculous. A bad teacher can be destructive but nothing compared with the influence of bad parents. A bad teacher is likely to have a student for at most one academic year, whereas bad parenting is the gift that keeps on giving, often for a lifetime. While this is hardly an either/or situation, someone who needs so desperately to paint a picture in which someone winds up on prison because of some number of teachers (how many, exactly?) who allegedly didn’t do enough to help that person to learn how to read is simply propagandizing. That sort of tale may cut a great deal of ice in some quarters, but not with me. The kids who REALLY are put on the short track to prison have a hell of a lot more going against them then simply which teachers they had in elementary school. Of course, the neighborhoods most likely to produce kids who wind up in jail are also those with the worst-funded schools, the greatest poverty rates, the greatest crime rates, the greatest drug and alcohol rates, the most deleterious physical environments, and so forth. The villain of the piece isn’t the teachers, Mr. Mitchell: it’s poverty and the callousness of a nation that is both the richest in the history of the planet and the least willing to do anything about the growing number of those living in abject poverty. Blaming the role prisons play in it all on public school teachers, per se, is just ignorant.

  6. mecspeer says:

    You talk about dunder-headed? What do you call your posting? There is no “desperate drilling” that I know of that teaches someone how to read. Memorizing multiplication tables is about the only drilling that goes on in schools today, to my knowledge, and I wouldn’t call it “desperate”. There are better ways to teach spelling in most cases than just doing multiple repetitions, although it does help.

    It is a shame that many students manage to get through school without learning to read, and it is a failure of our system, but the blame does not lie entirely with this man’s teachers. It lies at least partly with a home environment which does not value reading, and a community which does not put an emphasis on doing the best you can in school and learning those things that you need to better your life, because they see no point in it, because they say “the man” will always keep you down. There is no reason this man did not learn to read, unless he has a visual problem, except his own refusal to work hard enough at it. There are many teachers all the way from kindergarten through twelfth grade and even in college who have both experience and credentials in teaching reading and in teaching even students with difficulties how to read. As a substitute teacher and volunteer, I have observed many of these classes, and watched many students, not just blacks but also whites and Hispanics, in middle school and high school simply refuse to try. That is NOT the teacher’s fault. There is also no reason that this man cannot learn to read now, if he wants to. It may not be an easy process, necessarily, but it can be done if he’s willing to work at it. Your “letter” is a cop-out to try to put all the blame on teachers, who may not necessarily deserve it.

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