Jan. 5, 2012, NY Times
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.