The Bourne Hypocrisy: Matt Damon’s Peculiar School Choice

The movie star and public school advocate is sending his four daughters to private school

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Matt Damon at the "Elysium" premiere in Los Angeles on Aug. 7, 2013.
Steve Granitz / WireImage / Getty Images

Matt Damon at the "Elysium" Los Angeles Premiere at Regency Village Theatre in Westwood, Calif., on Aug. 7, 2013.

Oscar winner Matt Damon has earned millions successfully playing a super spy, tortured genius, rugby icon, and poker player.  Yet a new role is turning out to be a challenge for the actor and activist: Parent forced to square his public stands about other people’s children with his private choices about his own.  When the avowedly liberal actor revealed in an interview last week that he was sending his children to private schools – despite his vocal criticism of education reform efforts and statements about his staunch public school support – it was catnip for conservatives.  Damon’s choice also raised the question of whether it is hypocritical for education reform opponents to make choices they would deny to others through public policy.

The hypocrisy issue is well-trod ground in education. Activists putting themselves forward as public school champions while shipping their own children off to tony private schools is an old story.  Advocates of various ideas from busing, to teacher tenure, to economic integration of schools frequently make choices that don’t align with those ideas. On the other side, many supporters of private school choice plans tout various schools as great options for low-income parents while they wouldn’t let their own children spend an hour in them.

(MORE: Why Are the Rich So Interested in Public-School Reform?)

I’m less interested in the choices someone makes for their own children – it’s naïve to think that any parent won’t seek to do what’s best – than what they do to ensure that all parents, especially poor parents, can make similar choices.  I’m a strong public school supporter and public school parent but if the schools were not working for my kids I wouldn’t hesitate to make a different choice for them. It’s too bad all parents are not similarly empowered. For a family like the Damon’s I can think of any number of reasons from security to schedule flexibility that might make a particular school the best option.

Instead, in his private school reveal Damon told the Guardian there were no longer public schools progressive enough for his family so private was the only choice in their new home of Los Angeles. “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.” Even by Hollywood standards that’s a remarkable lack of self-awareness (in the same interview Damon also remarked that, “I don’t know any actor who grew up with any particular privilege” so awareness may not be his thing).You can know next to nothing about the Damons and still be sure that, along with most of the nation’s elite, one thing they have is choices.

In Los Angeles, specifically, there are educational choices. The city has one of the fastest growing charter school sectors in the country and despite the district’s challenges there are also plenty of traditional public schools in demand by parents. The superintendent of schools in Los Angeles, John Deasy, flatly rejected Damon’s claim.  When I asked him if there were no progressive options in the school system he said that was, “Not true at all.” Deasy said he is, “glad to help [Damon] find a school that works for him and his family. Glad to help him tour a number of schools so he can have choices from our amazing portfolio of schools.”

(MORE: Your First-Grader is Going to be a High-School Dropout)

In addition to the traditional and charter schools in the LA system there are Mandarin immersion schools, magnets with different focuses, and even schools that focus on activism. If none of those schools turn out to work for the Damons that’s still a powerful argument for the ideas he works against publicly: Letting parents and teachers come together to create new public schools that meet the diverse needs of students. That’s precisely the idea behind public charter schools, an idea derided at the rallies where Damon is celebrated.

Most fundamentally, for someone so self-avowedly progressive, Damon’s claim about the lack of progressive options was a head-scratcher.  Los Angeles now has a number of charter schools that are propelling first-in-family students into and through college. Research shows that’s about the best thing we can do to increase social mobility and reduce structural inequality in this country. If that’s not progressive enough, then what is?

229 comments
Fed_Up1
Fed_Up1

And if he sent his kids to public school, they'd be the target of every stalkerazzi out there - or worse. Leave him alone.

grape_crush
grape_crush

 > Damon’s choice also raised the question...

The question is being raised by school privatization advocates who are looking for ways to de-legitimize their opponent's arguments...which makes the 'raising of the question' suspect. It's also a sign of weakness - leveling accusations against Damon instead of the position that he has taken.

That's weak, Andrew. Especially considering the nature of your work for Bellwether, which is primarily "thought leadership" - which is a really nice way of saying that you fabricate propaganda - and also considering what services you provide through Whiteboard Advisors, which provides information services to the investment, educational content, and charter/online schools.

Time needs to have someone writing for them that doesn't have a vested interest in promoting his own particular brand of school reform. The disclaimer should be at the top, right next to the headline.

> ...of whether it is hypocritical for education reform opponents ...

If Damon was taking public voucher money to help pay for his kids going to private school, you might have a point. Is he?

> ...to make choices they would deny to others through public policy.

Bull. Average tuition for private school in LA is around 25K a year. Median household income for LA county is around 45K. People without Damon's means aren't sending their kids to the same school, even with a voucher funded with taxpayer dollars leeched from the public school system. People can't be denied something they would almost never have a chance at using in the first place. You're making a fake argument. 

All this push for school reform ends up being is a way to shift public money to far-less-accountable religious organizations and commercial education enterprises. There's money to be made in disassembling the public commons.

jcomelatelyemail
jcomelatelyemail

"to make choices they would deny to others through public policy" ?!?


NOBODY is denying others choices.  What they are doing is requesting others do exactly as they are doing - PAY FOR YOUR OWN DAMN PRIVATE SCHOOLING, AND STOP RAPING PUBLIC SCHOOLS FOR THEIR FUNDS.

UpYoursJack
UpYoursJack

He came to Australia to promote a movie then opened his imbecilic mouth about Australias Policies...go back to your private little world fan boy ...You are a hypocrite of massive proportions

kwmom
kwmom

I don't know about Matt Damon's choices, but I do not blame him for wanting a good education for his children. I am sure he weighed his decision and discussed it as a family.  Education in this country is a business, and more money is spent on administration and how to implement ideas than actually implementing the ideas and educating the children.  In our school district, the superintendent, the student accountability person along with several other high ranking staff all send their kids to private school. These schools are at the least 30 miles away and over 12K a year. So for me, that does not give me a lot of confidence as to how they think our schools are performing. To lump all public or private schools into one group shows the lack of critical thinking that should be in place when making a statement. All schools are not created equal-even within a district. You can't tell me that a school with an average ACT score of 18 has as good as of a program as one with an average of 25 (keep in mind a 36 is the highest you can score so there is still a lot of room for improvement).  Although I don't believe that testing is a great use of time, kids need the scores and the gpa to get into a good university and hopefully some scholarship to offset the cost. One day we may use a different method to measure what students learn but until then this is all we have. I won't even mention the difference in an academic and athletic scholarship-that is a riot all in itself. 

On a side note, just because Matt Damon or any celebrity wants to fight for a cause does not mean they have to "live the cause". He may fight for clean water, but that does not mean he and his family to drink non-purified water to make his point. Maybe he recognizing that the public education system is failing in a lot of students in a lot of places and he would like to change that. He has the money to send his kids anywhere so the fact that he is even speaking out for the cause is remarkable. I don't take his interest in making sure that all kids can get a good education as a bad thing. The system needs help and soon. 

john_rambo
john_rambo

Celebrities ( especially left wing proletariats ) love to dictate to others how to live their lives. ( as if they know better because people sometimes take their picture and put them on a pedestal).

BruceBecker1
BruceBecker1

Public schools' primary task is prepare robots for submission to their WTO masters.  

Private schools prepare the scions of the rich and powerful both to be the masters of their generation and to enjoy the fruits of great wealth.

StephenSwain
StephenSwain

Why is this Mr. Rotherham's business?  Mr. Damon has every right to send his children wherever he chooses to further their education.  Given the generally parlous state of public education in the United States now, I suspect that any parent who could afford a better option for his/her children would want to opt for that.  If one-size-fits-all were a workable proposition, all shoes would be the same size, all clothing the same, all automobiles the same, and so forth.  The same principle is a work in schools.  The challenge in so many public schools is their sheer size and noise-level, both physically and metaphysically.  We do not invest enough in America in education.  We force too many students into tracks for which they are not well suited, and we have not created enough work-to-learn/learn-to-work apprenticeship programs, such as they have in Germany.  Good for Matt Damon.  I just wish every promising student who wanted such a great opportunity could find it.

moni222
moni222

I could understand it better if he explained it as a security issue because he is a celebrity.

blancob82
blancob82

Matt Damon, as a citizen of the United States, did not give up his right to the pursuit of happiness because he became an actor and Hollywood celebrity. In fact, most of us would probably respect that those from all walks of life and levels of wealth speak their minds and support causes publicly the matters that they believe in privately. Mr. Damon has both the right to send his children to any school, and the duty to do the best for his ward. In the same way that the original author of this article has the right to add cinder to the flames and endeavor to cause a controversy to ensure his employer can justify his salary.

chacalcdn
chacalcdn

How many public school teachers and or adm. send their children to public schools?

Watch out for your windows if you start throwing rocks around.

Sparty57
Sparty57

Another example of the priviliaged elite espousing one thing and doing another.  If I had his money I know I would send my kids to private school, but at least I would be honest about it.  He is another elitist talking down to the dirty masses.

MikeSmith5
MikeSmith5

Matt Damon can afford to  give his daughters a good education; why shouldn't he?  And that does not conflict with his trying to better lesser school by  his position. For him to speak out to better lesser schools does not mean his daughters have to suffer those lesser schools. Would you prefer he ignore the plight of lesser schools in order to give  is daughters a good education? Why should the daughters pay for their father's good efforts to better other kids?

jimmyharpoon
jimmyharpoon

The author of the article acts as a consultant to both the public school system and charter schools. He would borrow your watch and sell you the time.

AnthonyMcMillan
AnthonyMcMillan

The writer of this piece seems disingenuous himself. If I was a successful actor, I would be sending my kids to private school, regardless of how good the public school was, just for security reasons. Considering the lunatics that seem to be filing into schools with guns, I wouldn't be a leap to figure someone coming after his kids, just because of his status as a actor.

tomdavis2020
tomdavis2020

This is the same Matt Damon who lectures us about the environment and then gets on a private jet that burns more carbon fuel on one cross-country flight than the average car burns in five years. 

Until he sends his kids to private schools and flies commercial like the rest of us, he's just another Hollywood hypocrite. 

JamesHaddock
JamesHaddock

I would have thought TIME magazine would be above muddying itself in the quagmire of such 'tu quoque'

swcowan3
swcowan3

Heck, I'm a single Gay male, with no kids.  Does that mean my opinion on public schools, ciriculae, teacher salary, textbooks, etc, etc, etc isn't worth airing?  I don't think so, since I have to live in the society where the majority of our kids go through the grind of public education.

Omeskeren
Omeskeren

He thought public school is (at the moment) "bad". So he put his kids in what he thought is (at the moment) "good". Where's the hypocrisy? What did i miss?

JohnAlport
JohnAlport

After I had written my comment below, I went back through the article and followed a link to another article, "Why are the rich so interested in public school reform".   Buried within the article is a paragraph that will show you just how good our public schools are --- as long as you choose one that is not in an area of high poverty.  As I said before --- Matt, if you want great schools in L.A., I can find them for you.

"Striking a serious blow to the contention that it’s bad teaching — not bad luck in life — that makes some American students perform much worse than others (and all of them much worse than students in other countries), Ravitch noted that on a recent international test, the Program for International Student Assessment, “American schools in which fewer than 10% of the students were poor outperformed the schools of Finland, Japan and Korea. Even when as many as 25% of the students were poor, American schools performed as well as the top-scoring nations. As the proportion of poor students rises, the scores of U.S. schools drop.”"


Read more: http://ideas.time.com/2011/12/09/why-are-the-rich-so-interested-in-public-school-reform/#ixzz2beB9m66M

ATLAPL
ATLAPL

@StephenSwain Matt Damon made it public business because he is an activist for public school education and against school choice. 

RichSimpson
RichSimpson

@StephenSwain You miss the point!

Matt Damon thinks he can tell others how to raise their kids and then does something totally different than what he tells others to do. He can send his kids to any school he wants but he should keep his stupid pie-hole shut about what others should do with their kids.

But that's what liberals do - they tell others how to live their lives. I'm a Libertarian. We are for freedom.

proudteacher
proudteacher

@chacalcdn My son and daughter both attended public schools.  He's a software engineer and she graduated summa cum laude. 

JennySmith1
JennySmith1

@Sparty57 I would not work in a school where I wouldn't take my own kids or grandkids. After 25 years of teaching in public schools in NYS and VA, I have much more confidence in them than in the private or parochial schools  where my husband and friends taught.

joecoleiscool782
joecoleiscool782

@MikeSmith5 the problem is, he contradicts himself. He is against school choice for poor kids, while enjoying it for himself. He is against standardized testing, but in favor of standardized schools. Do you think the teachers at his daughters school will not be held accountable for performance.

collioure
collioure

@MikeSmith5 

I recognize good ol' liberal hypocrisy anywhere.

It's so prevalent.

Do as I say, not as I do . . .

achmed.aziz
achmed.aziz

@AnthonyMcMillan You must have stopped reading after the first paragraph. The author specifically cites this as a potentially valid reason for Damon to choose a private school;  Damon, however, did not cite this as a reason for his choice -- instead asserting "there just aren't public schools that are progressive enough anymore in LA".   The rest of the article (which you apparently didn't read) correctly pounces on that laughable justification.

tomdavis2020
tomdavis2020

*Typo- send his kids to "public" schools

StephenSwain
StephenSwain

@swcowan3 curricula, sir.  The singular is curriculum.  The plural ends in a.  Think datum/data, medium/media.

If the word had ended in a, as for example: lacuna, the plural would be lacunae; alumna, alumnae; alumnus, alumni.  It's Latin enough to be confusing.  But check first and the old guys who were forced by their parents to study Latin will not chime in later.:)

gbearc1
gbearc1

@Omeskeren He's a massive hypocrite on several levels and there's no way around it. First, he's been a very very  vocal about the importance of supporting public schools and public school teachers yet sent his kids to private school. That's straight up hypocrisy no matter how you look at it. You can't crow about the importance of supporting public schools and then send your kids to private school without being a hypocrite. 

Second, he's also been a vocal opponent of school choice for those who want other options than public schools for their children. He wants to deny choice for others when it comes to where to school their kids yet choses, himself, to send his kids to private school. He's exercising the very choice he'd deny other parents. 

Finally, Damon's advocacy on behalf of public schools didn't happen 10 or 15 years ago. In fact, he was vocally supporting public school support just two years ago. There's no way there's been a massive change in public schools in that time. Two years isn't long enough for the entire public school system to go from 'good' to 'bad'. 

stljoe
stljoe

@Omeskeren You missed the fact that he is actively working to deny these choices to other people but insisting on having those choices for his family. It isn't rocket science.

BruceBecker1
BruceBecker1

@JohnAlport he lives where he lives.  do you know for a fact that there are good public schools near his residence?  

jimmyharpoon
jimmyharpoon

@joecoleiscool782 @jimmyharpoon  Thanks for the question. No, I am not against school choice. I simply don'y know enough about the issue to make a judgement. However I do believe that the creation of the "us - them" divisions  has been the source of far more pain than pleasure.

PhillipMarlowe
PhillipMarlowe

@achmed.aziz @AnthonyMcMillan MR/ Rotherham provides no information to back up his attack on Mr. Damon. As I noted before, this is to be expected from Mr. Rotherham who defends falsely accusing teachers of allowing child sex abusers to continue as teachers.

PhillipMarlowe
PhillipMarlowe

@tomdavis2020 It would be great if you post had some facts in it. The only fact you have is that Mr. Damon works in Hollywood.

atavales
atavales

The choices mentioned by you are not "choices" when you don't have money. School reform that is  based in privatizing schools to those who can't afford them is, to say the least, unfair and discrimanatory. Damon opposes "private schools" because it denies education to those unable to afford it. He, on the other hand, has a choice because he CAN afford private schools.

PhillipMarlowe
PhillipMarlowe

@stljoe @Omeskeren Joe,

you lie like Lillian Hellman. Matt Damon does not deny anyone sending their child to private school.

From your ranting, one would think Mr. Damon is taking acting jobs from poor people.

betsys2003
betsys2003

@BruceBecker1 @JohnAlport Pretty sure he could live wherever he wanted to. People with far less money than him move to get into a better school district.

JohnAlport
JohnAlport

@BruceBecker1 @JohnAlport  

See my post below for Chester, PA. 

Matt hasn't called my yet, but I've found 37 top-notch, interesting, varied public schools for him in Los Angeles --- just like the superintendent said in the article.  There are even a few that will be liberal enough for him.  I really think that he should be ashamed that he didn't choose one of these excellent schools.  He could have done wonders for his 4 daughters while giving them a world-class education.

joecoleiscool782
joecoleiscool782

@BruceBecker1 @gbearc1 @Omeskeren You missed the point. He is against school choice for poor kids, like vouchers and charter. He is opposed to standardized testing in public school, but sends daughters to private school, where believe me the teachers will be held accountable.

achmed.aziz
achmed.aziz

@BruceBecker1 @gbearc1 @Omeskeren Damon's pious rants against public school reform, school choice, etc. go far beyond your innocuous characterization of his position of "hey, public schools just need support".   His rhetoric & high profile willingly put him in the position of a standards bearer for public school policy as it is today.  Challenges to that policy include the ability to choose where your kids can go to school -- a choice that Damon has by virtue of his wealth, but a choice he wishes to deny everyone else on the policy level.      

All Damon needed to do was say :"You know what, I support public schools, but I don't want my kids in them because I can afford something better -- and frankly, lots of these schools suck."    Instead, he says "Oh, well, there just aren't any public schools that are progressive enough for my kids in LA...sooo, yeah, private school.".   Which. is. laughable.

BruceBecker1
BruceBecker1

@betsys2003 @BruceBecker1 @JohnAlport    I would not expect him to send his kids to public school.  They would get beat up, with wise-guys mocking them for not having fighting skills equal to the movie character. If they fought back, they would be sued.