Education Issue Update: Matt Damon’s Schooling on Schooling

Hey all, this is Owen checking in. We've got a lot to catch up on in education news: everything from anti-gay discrimination to celebrity robot lovers to a Matt Damon verbal sparring. So let's not waste any time.

  • Did you see what Matt Damon had to say at a recent "Save Our Schools" rally? Following an impassioned speech decrying standardized testing as a method for rating teachers, Damon stood next to his mother (a teacher) and gave an interview with the Libertarian website Check out the VIDEO here. The reporter tries to goad Damon into a philosophical debate, to which Damon responds with a Good Will Hunting-style string of verbiage about "MBA-style thinking" and an "intrinsically paternalistic view of problems." Then the cameraman gets in the act, stating that "10% of teachers are bad." But when Damon asks him for a source, he admits to making the stat up, and says to Damon, "10% of people in any profession maybe should think of something else." Damon responds: "Okay, but maybe you're a shitty cameraman."
  • While Damon may be out there spreading the word, the acrimony between teachers' unions and state governments is just as intense as ever. In Michigan, the Republican Majority Leader is pushing for legislation that would allow private companies to compete with public employees for work as teachers in public schools, and let those companies offer lower salaries than union teachers would get. The chance of this legislation passing is up in the air.
  • In wildly unrelated news, likes robots. The Black Eyed Peas' singer is coming out in support of science education, and particularly of Dean Kamen's FIRST organization, which hosts annual robotics competitions for high-school students (an organization for which I personally have a soft spot, having gotten involved myself back in the day). The reason? He believes that technology should be the focus of both the content and method of education for the future. Maybe he's on to something. Schools are rapidly adopting new technology in their teaching methods. Still, the New York Times has its doubts about the effectiveness of current technologies in school. This article runs for several pages but is well worth a look.
  • Lastly, I want to follow up on an issue from last month's update – the new California law mandating that history classrooms include mention of the contributions made by LGBT historical figures. It was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown, and as it stands now, its conditions are due to take effect fully in 2013-14. Within two weeks of its passage, however, opponents of the bill had put together a referendum to attempt to stop the bill. They have to submit several hundred thousand signatures in order to get the issue on the ballot and have until October 12th.  Meanwhile, the California Senate has passed a second bill that attempts to protect LGBT students from bullying. It is called Seth's Law, named for a 13-year old who took his own life after being taunted and intimidated by classmates.

There are a million things to talk about, but I'd better cut it off here. Email me with any thoughts, questions, or information you think I should see.