Ya know, Matt Damon is no genius, but sometimes he pretends to be in his movies… and apparently, at political rallies. A video is making the rounds of Reason reporter Michelle Fields allegedly being “schooled” by Damon on the oh-so-hard life of the average public school teacher and their horrible salaries.
Damon makes the following statement during the encounter:
I want to be an actor. That’s not an incentive. That’s the thing. See, you take this MBA-style thinking, right? It’s the problem with ed policy right now, this intrinsically paternalistic view of problems that are much more complex than that. It’s like saying a teacher is going to get lazy when they have tenure. A teacher wants to teach. I mean, why else would you take a [expletive] salary and really long hours and do that job unless you really love to do it?
“Intrinsically paternalistic” thinking. Oh, that’s good. Notice Captain Harvard’s attempt at showcasing his Brobdingnagian vocabulary? Although, if we’re going to talk about the dangers of paternalistic thinking in the public realm, maybe he should have reconsidered stumping for Obama. But I digress… onto the issue of public teachers and their salaries: Reason decided to do a little research after the scuffle, and here’s what they found:
According to Department of Education statistics for 2007-2008 (the most recent year listed), the average public school teacher brought in a bit over $53,000 in “total school-year and summer earned income.” That figure, which is about $13,000 more than what the average private-school teacher gets in straight salary, does not include health and retirement benefits, places where teachers almost always get better deals and bigger employer contributions than the typical private-sector worker.
So while the media has been parading this as a victory for public school teachers and Matt Damon, aside from groundless assertions…he didn’t really say much. I agree with his opposition to standardized, state-run testing, but let’s get serious about incentives and teacher compensation. While teaching itself is an admirable profession, to make the assertion that all teachers are heroic beings that do it for the love of the job is a blanket statement ignorant of human nature.
True, the joy of teaching can be an incentive for those truly faithful to the craft, but that’s simplifying things. Not everyone commits the same action for the same motivation as someone else. So no matter how much one loves a profession, a craft, or a trade, we are all incentive-motivated creatures; movie stars, writers, and teachers alike — and we don’t all have the same motivations.
Here’s the point: While tenure, health insurance, summer vacation, and a “crappy” middle-America salary may not sound phenomenal to a millionaire movie star or his mom, it probably sounds pretty good to the 85% of under-employed college grads living in mom and dad’s basement who bankroll the public education system with the tax dollars coming out of their McPaychecks. Even the ones not qualified to teach.