Does Matt Damon's choice of schools for his kids make him a big ol' hypocrite? Damon is Mr. Rah Rah Public Schools! every chance he gets -- but he sends his daughters to private schools, he just admitted in an interview. So does that make him a big jerk who doesn't mean what he says? How can he say he supports public schools when he doesn't think they're good enough for his own kids?
Well, easy. I completely understand where Damon is coming from. It's not about public schools not being "good enough" for your kids. It's about the kind of education you want for them. Here's how he puts it.
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.
By progressive education Damon means education that's more open-ended and creative. Maybe you're spending the afternoon on a nature hike, using reading, writing, and science skills all at the same time, in a collaborative project. The idea is your child grows up knowing how to think independently and take risks, cooperate with others, and contribute something meaningful to the world.
This is compared with a more traditional education, where you have lots quizzes, homework, worksheets, totally separate academic subjects, time spent sitting in chairs inside classrooms. And in the past decade or more, traditional education has also meant standardized testing, LOADS of it. And that's an aspect of education Damon rails against the most.
I don't know that it's really accurate for Damon to say he doesn't have a choice -- but the choice is pretty tough if you value progressive education. There are just a handful of progressive elementary schools in Brooklyn, and the demand for them is insane. They're crowded. You have to live within the school zone to attend most of them, while a couple others are charter schools with lottery admission. Guess what the odds are for getting into those schools? Nearly impossible.
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I really wanted to give my local public school a shot. I enrolled my son in the Pre-K program, and I got involved with the PTA. I got to know the principal. I studied up on education trends, and I pestered the education specialists at the school. But at the end of the school year, almost all of the most active PTA parents had fled to other schools. I discovered that my principal was pretty inflexible about teaching to standardized tests. And I realized that in order to make the school work for my son, I'd have to volunteer every day and forget about working full-time.
Meanwhile, a good friend of mine was pestering me about a new private school. "We aren't private school people," I kept telling her. I had no idea how an artist and a writer could possibly afford it. But she insisted, and we did a tour.
Oh my God, they had me at the front door. Creative play integrated into instruction. Meaningful field trips (not just parading kids through museums and handing them a worksheet after). The exact same math program I'd been pining over obsessively. Small classrooms. No testing. No homework for younger grades. Lots and lots and lots of blocks. It was exactly what I wanted for my son.
The thing is, once you find out what they're doing in progressive private schools, it's pretty hard to keep your own kids on the front lines of your battle for more progressive public schools. I found it impossible to deny my son that education. I couldn't look away. We would make it work, somehow.
Damon is still committed to fighting the good fight for public schools. "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." Yeah, it's really tough. Change comes slowly -- too slowly for my son. He's young now, and he needs the right education now. I know spending my time and resources on private school means less time and resources spent on public schools. But even though I know I have a choice, I feel like this is the only choice for us.
How do you feel about sending children to private school?
Image via Thore Seibrands/Flickr