Matt Damon and Mother Reject Union's Award

Thursday, January 05, 2012 - 11:25 AM

Matt Damon in Contagion Matt Damon in Contagion (Claudette Barius/Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.)

7:19 p.m. | Updated The actor Matt Damon and his mother, a professor of education, on Wednesday turned down the opportunity for an award from the country's largest teachers union after reading an opinion article that the union's president had co-authored with the founder of Teach for America.

Writing that she was "confused by your collaboration" with Teach for America, Dr. Nancy Carlsson-Paige said she and her son, Mr. Damon, no longer desired to be nominated for the National Education Association's Friend of Education Award.

In the opinion piece that Dr. Carlsson-Paige referred to, Dennis Van Roekel, president of the N.E.A., and Wendy Kopp, founder of T.F.A., urged the importance of evaluating and improving teacher training programs across the country. Yet in her e-mail to Mr. Van Roekel, Dr. Carlsson-Paige said she finds this message somewhat disingenuous on the part of T.F.A.

"I am very familiar with TFA and believe that its short-term, minimal training of teachers undermines teacher quality and harms children who too often get an inadequate education with its teachers," the e-mail states.

Already a celebrity in the entertainment arena, Mr. Damon became one in the education world during a rally in Washington last July, where he publicly opposed the emphasis on standardized testing in public schools and the pressure educators are under to teach to those tests.

"This has been a horrible decade for teachers," he told the crowd, according to a report by the Washington Post. "The next time you feel down or exhausted . . . please know there are millions of people behind you."

Dr. Carlsson-Paige is an education teacher at Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass., and founded the university's Center for Peaceable Schools and Communities, and focuses on the impact of violence on children.

On Thursday, Mr. Van Roekel issued a written response to Dr. Carlsson-Paige's letter, saying:

"I respect Matt Damon and thank him for his support of public education."

"I believe NEA should talk to those who support public education, even if we don't agree on everything, and work together to serve students.

Wendy Kopp and I agree that students will benefit from stronger
recruiting and teacher preparation.

"NEA isn't going to quit fighting for students and our members, or for stronger teacher preparation. In fact, better teacher preparation is part of our 3-point plan on Leading the Profession that was released last month."

Dr. Carlsson-Paige's letter:

From: Nancy Carlsson-Paige
Date: Wed, 4 Jan 2012 20:03:02 -0500
To: Dennis Van Roekel, Paul Toner
Subject: Friend of Education
January 4, 2012

Dear Mr. Van Roekel,

You wrote a lovely letter of appreciation last August to my son Matt Damon after he stood with teachers at the Save Our Schools rally. I was so happy to read your letter and forward it on to Matt.

In October, Paul Toner, President of the MTA, asked if Matt and I would accept the nomination for the Friend of Education Award to be given by the NEA in July, 2012. After some discussion and deliberation, Matt and I decided we would accept the nomination if it became a reality.

Recently, I read the opinion piece you wrote with Wendy Kopp in USA Today and was upset and confused by your collaboration with Teach for America. I am a life long teacher educator. I believe that one of the first things we must do to improve our nation’s schools is to extend, strengthen, and support teacher preparation. I am very familiar with TFA and believe that its short-term, minimal training of teachers undermines teacher quality and harms children who too often get an inadequate education with its teachers.

In your letter to Matt in August, you wrote about a first-grade teacher who was retiring because she wouldn’t teach to a script. You said that teaching to the test strips teachers of their professionalism. Yet it is the best-trained, most knowledgeable teachers who can offer the most meaningful, excellent education in this test-driven climate. It’s the under-prepared teachers who are most often teaching to tests and using scripts because they don’t have the knowledge base to do otherwise.

I have decided that because of your collaboration with TFA, it would not be wise for me or for Matt to be nominated for the Friend of Education Award. I regret this turn of events.

Nancy Carlsson-Paige
Professor Emerita
Lesley University


Comments [5]

Saundra from Washington, District Of Columbia

Jul. 29 2014 10:50 AM
John MacArthur from NYC

Just to clarify - Matt and his mother are correct and I'm not dissing them - I just mentioned that very few can do freely what they love to do in this world without being tested for the role.
Teaching in private schools and pleasing parents is very different from my experience teaching in public school. TFA may be trying to be the McDonald's of education. These types exist in every field, not everyone can afford a 'better' education but I do give some credit for trying.

Jul. 27 2014 08:11 AM
John MacArthur from NYC

Spoiled problems of the 1 percent is what I see :(
It is not the standardized testing, but the insecurities of the teachers that ruin the education preparing for the testing.
If a students of mine were to give a series of speeches in 60 days time, there would be some practice in public speaking - but the lessons and discussion on the subjects involved would certainly have more purpose for the students than if they had no series of speaking opportunities at all.
Matt Damon auditions (those are tests), people interview for jobs (again a test), Giants and Jets train for Sunday games (tests!). I teach chess - general education, ideas and concepts but there is a certain small amount definite prep for the tournament (test) involved.
When you are at the top of your field as Matt Damon is - perhaps you don't have to be tested to see that you have the skills for the task - but 99 percent of us are not that lucky.

Jul. 27 2014 08:00 AM
Ben Cassel from National City, CA

I am a member of the Board of Directors of my local, but I am responding on my own, and not as their representative.

I am very pleased that Dennis Van Roekel is gone. I believe in Lily Eskelsen, but we will be watching her very closely. If she turns out to be a Roekelite, I'll start working within my local to disassociate with NEA. Ms. Carlsson-Paige and Mr. Damon may not be accepting the award, but they are truly Friends of Education.

Ben Cassel
Member of the Board of Directors
Sweetwater Education Association
(representing secondary educators in Chula Vista, National City, and Imperial Beach, & part of San Diego, CA)

Jul. 25 2014 01:12 AM
Karen from Washington

It's a sad commentary when our union leadership has to be schooled (though his comment shows he didn't learn the lesson) about colluding with the enemy and not standing up for teachers and students.

Jul. 23 2014 12:30 PM

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