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Damon Takes the Stage, but Ravitch Wins the Applause

Chase Niesner | October 3, 2013

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Matt Damon with Diane Ravitch

Matt Damon with Diane Ravitch

When the actor Matt Damon stood before a capacity crowd inside the Cal State Northridge student union last night, he smiled sheepishly and said he wasn’t surprised to see so many star-struck supporters in attendance. After all, he said, he was introducing the education historian and anti-corporate reform activist Diane Ravitch.

Ravitch was appearing as part of a nationwide tour to promote her new book, The Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools, and was welcomed to the campus for the school’s Education on the Edge speaking series. She spoke the night before at Occidental College.

In this appearance, she blended wit and sarcasm to attack the pillars of the reform movement, using the simple refrain, “This is a hoax.” She drew strong support from an audience of more adults, many of them teachers, than students in the 770-seat auditorium.

Race to the Top? “This is a hoax.”

“A race has a few winners and a lot of losers,” she said. “American education should be about equal opportunity, not a race to the highest test scores.”

Standardized testing? “This is a hoax.”

“Test scores reflect who is in the classroom,” she said, “not the ability of the teacher.”

Technology will save all our problems? “This is a hoax.”

“You could buy iPads for everyone in the district; you could even spend $1 billion dollars,” she said to roars of laughter, a clear response to LA Unified. “But as this money is spent, there are schools that are crumbling and there are class sizes over 40, and frankly that’s just wrong,” she added.

Martin Gonzales and Michael Ontell, both veteran teachers at Liggett Street Elementary in Panorama City, said they showed up because they were familiar with Ravitch’s previous writings and because they were emailed a notice by their union, United Teachers Los Angeles. Both bought Ravitch’s book after the event, though they opted out of the long line for a signature and a photo-op. (LA Unified board member Monica Ratliff, however, could not resist the opportunity).

“I support her on all counts and appreciate that she’s research-based,” Gonzales said. “The fact that she’s admitted her previous beliefs were wrong also shows a certain degree of intellectual honesty.”

When asked whether Damon’s public school advocacy is undermined by the fact that he sends his children to an elite private school, both were admittedly taken aback and were now unsure of his ideological ground. Another teacher, who wished to remain anonymous, said that Damon’s choice to send his kids to private school “chips away at public education.”

“If he believes in public schools then he needs to put his kids in public schools,” she said. “This is a grassroots movement and it starts with parents who collaborate with their children’s teachers, and parents who go to their district superintendent to tell him what it is we need to fix.”

Previous Posts: Ravitch and Rhee: Same Goals, But Very Different ApproachesSchool Board Approves New Application for Race to the TopLA Unified Removes iPads From Hackers’ High SchoolsCommentary: Deasy-Style Reform Stresses Kids, Educators.

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