Lawrence O’Donnell’s Rewrite for Teachers

On the August 2 broadcast of his MSNBC show, Lawrence O’Donnell dedicated his Rewrite to defending public school teachers. He also played a clip of Matt Damon‘s speech at the July 30 Save our Schools protest in Washington, DC. Between O’Donnell and Damon, they say it all and the say it best; I couldn’t begin to add anything to what they said.

(Transcript from Lexis Nexis)

O`DONNELL: Time for tonight`s Rewrite. When I brought home a bad report card, it never occurred to me or my parents to blame my teacher. We knew what the problem was. The problem was I just didn`t study hard enough. Or in some cases, I didn`t have much aptitude for the subject. And some subjects I was simply afraid of, like chemistry. I never really knew what was going on in chemistry. And that was not the teacher`s fault.

None of my older brothers did well in chemistry. And they all promised me that I wouldn`t do well either. And I met their expectations. I also hated and did badly in anything involving writing of any kind, which is kind of like wicked ironic, since I then grew up to be a writer.

That just points to the unpredictable ways we learn things. I couldn`t be taught writing in school. But later, as an adult on my own, I could somehow get the hang of it. None of the teachers who tried and failed to teach me how to write should be blamed for my failure as a writing student.

There are countless complex variables that go into what we call student achievement. The teacher is only one of those variables.

More important factors are home learning environments, individual student aptitudes, individual student effort, the student`s expectation, the student`s family`s expectation, the number of students in the classroom, the temperature of the classroom, undiagnosed eyesight infirmities that make reading difficult.

The list goes on and on and on. And the more professional educators have consider the factors that go into student achievement, and the more they have attempted to address those factors, the more our politics have oversimplified them to the point that, by the end of the first decade of the 21st century, our politics, Democrat and Republican, has reached the consensus that all perceived underachievement by students is entirely the fault of teachers.

This idea has taken hold across the political spectrum. Show business liberals make documentaries that they think prove it`s all the teacher`s fault. A Republican president followed now by a Democratic president adhere to the belief that there`s a regime of standardized testing of students that will measure not just the student`s achievement but teaching excellence.

The blame the teacher movement began not as the product of reliable research on academic performance, but as a right-wing Republican political movement, an anti-union movement, specifically an anti-teacher`s union movement. Teachers unions were targeted by Republicans to take the blame for any disappointing academic achievement statistics in America.

Republicans targeted teachers as soon as they saw teachers aligning themselves so often with the Democratic party. Now which party should the teachers unions have seen as best representing their concerns? The party that wanted to cut taxes and cut spending on public schools, cut sports programs, cut arts education, cut the band, cut educational resources across the board, so that we could then have even more tax cuts?

Or the party that wanted to deliver to teachers the resources they need in the classroom and the resources that every school needs to provide a full educational experience? In a cris de coeur to both parties, teachers went to Washington on Saturday for a Save Our Schools Rally. And they were joined by exactly one celebrity.

Matt Damon flew overnight from Vancouver to New York and then to Washington to address the rally and to address a right-wing website that has blind faith — blind to the facts that is — blind faith in the blame the teacher theory.

Matt Damon’s complete speech, including his introduction by his mother, who is a teacher:

Matt Damon’s interview with ReasonTV, a libertarian, right-wing outlet:

O’DONNELL: That`s how crazy the attack on teachers has become. Comparing public school teachers work incentives to the work incentives of movie stars. It has never occurred to the teacher haters that teachers want to be teachers for any reason other than job security. It has never occurred to them that teachers might want to be teachers because they like teaching, because they love teaching, and because they care about their students.

The right-wing attackers of teachers have never even shown the slightest curiosity about the job performance of another group of government workers who have very, very high job security, police officers. And police officers carry guns instead of textbooks. And as we`ve seen in New Orleans after Katrina and in countless other cases around the country, police officers have sometimes used those guns to shoot and kill innocent people.

They have done so accidentally, which is in some cases understandable and forgivable. And some of the them — statistically very few to be sure — have done so deliberately, maliciously, with full criminal intent. They have summarily executed people.

The worst teacher in America could never do as much damage as the worst police officer in America. But the right wing has never even been slightly curious about evaluating the job performance of police officers. Never once has Republican world said hey, maybe we should look into how police officers are carrying out their solemn public responsibility to serve and protect.

No — no right wing website in America is investigating or will ever investigate how well police officers do their jobs. The targeting of teachers has been a vicious and politically deliberate action. And it has been so successful that many of its fundamental falsehoods are accepted as true by both Republicans and Democrats in our ongoing dialogue about public Education.

I spent a few years after college as a Boston public school teacher and I loved it. But I was never committed to it, committed to it as a career. I moved on to easier, better paying jobs, like this one. Teachers who have committed their lives to the classroom deserve better than our politics has given them. And no one has offered a better Rewrite of the current political caricature of the lazy, uninterested teacher clinging to tenure than Matt Damon did on Saturday.

And no more important speech was given in Washington that day.
(End of transcript)

About Sharon

**Writing, both personal and professional, has always been an important aspect of my life. **Personally, whether I write from experience or invent fictional characters, I learn so much about myself. Writing has always helped me understand and deal with important events and issues in my life. The blog, "Boxelders and Blackberries" serves this purpose. **My "gravatar" is a boxelder tree, which I hope provides a way to bring together my personal and professional writing. The boxelder tree branches into multiple trunks, each representing a different direction my life and career has taken.
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6 Responses to Lawrence O’Donnell’s Rewrite for Teachers

  1. So calling a “right-wing” website, and accusing the most prominent critic of police brutality in the country of never criticising cops, is your idea of “saying it best”?


  2. Sharon says:

    Since (Reason TV) self-identifies as Libertarian, I think it is fair to label them right wing. If, as you say, they are the “most prominent critic of police brutality in the country,” good for them. However, O’Donnell’s commentary was largely about teachers, teaching, learning, and public school education, and Damon’s speech was all about that. So, yes, they both said it best. O’Donnell’s tangent about bad policeman was, I agree, a bit of a distraction, but, nonetheless, his commentary on education was spot on. And both the Reason TV interviewer and her cameraman (didn’t anyone teach him it’s not his role to jump into an interview?) demonstrated their complete ignorance of teaching and teachers. Damon did a great job of responding to purveyors of a public discourse that is designed, like No Child Left Behind, to destroy public education and turn education into a profit-making industry run by bureaucrats and CEOs who only care about making the almighty dollar.


    • Sharon says:

      I have to correct myself on calling a right-wing outlet because it is Libertarian. Clearly, Libertarians are not right-wing–maybe they are so far left that they are coming around on the other side. In any case, I consider them radical, especially in their allegiance to Ayn Rand’s philosophy of “me, me, and only me,” caring little about doing good works on behalf of others.


  3. Would be good if everyone saw/read this.


  4. Lisa says:

    Matt Damon’s speech was great! Thanks for posting it! However, I don’t think it right to move attention from teachers (I am one) to police officers. My brother is one, and neither of us have an easy job. Criticism for police officers is increasing, especially with edited videos of police “brutality” coming to light constantly. Let’s be supportive of all of our public servants!


    • Sharon says:

      I agree, Lisa. I thought O’Donnell’s rant on the police came out of left (no pun intended) field and was a distraction from the more important point he was trying to make. I considered editing it out of the transcript, but decided I should let it stand as it was delivered. And you probably noted that one of the comments addressed that digression as if it were the sole topic.


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