Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Jeb Bush vs. Matt Damon on schools and testing

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
August 12, 2013 -- Updated 1239 GMT (2039 HKT)
Jeb Bush tweeted a criticism of Matt Damon for not putting his support of public schools into practice.
Jeb Bush tweeted a criticism of Matt Damon for not putting his support of public schools into practice.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ruben Navarrette: Testing is controversial but provides needed accountabiity in schools
  • Matt Damon, a proud graduate of public schools, questioned emphasis on testing
  • Damon said he didn't send his kids to public schools as they lack "progressive education"
  • Navarrette: Jeb Bush was right to call out Damon for not living up to his ideals

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette

San Diego (CNN) -- Here is an unlikely duel: It's Jeb Bush, former Florida governor and possible 2016 GOP presidential hopeful, vs. Matt Damon, actor and activist.

The topic: School accountability measures that rely on high-stakes testing to determine which students are learning, which educators are teaching and which schools are working.

Bush supports the tests, Damon opposes them. More on how their paths crossed in a minute.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

First, take it from someone who taught for four years as a substitute teacher in my old school district in Central California and who has written about education reform for more than two decades: Many educators don't want to advertise to the world how well their students are doing academically because, from there, it's a short walk to grading teacher performance.

That is what accountability is all about. You probably have it in your job. I have it in mine. But a lot of public school teachers want nothing to do with it.

Accountability includes the No Child Left Behind law, which set forth the radical proposition that all students should be at grade level in math and reading by 2014. The law also broke down testing data according to race and ethnicity, so minority communities could see how well the public schools in their neighborhoods are serving their students. 

Matt Damon on new sci-fi film 'Elysium'
Jeb Bush for president in 2016?
Analysis: Jeb Bush's 'fertile' comment

Enter Damon, whose mother, Nancy Carlsson-Paige, is a professor of early childhood education at Lesley University in Boston. Damon is himself a product of public schools, a fact that he eagerly shared with the crowd of teachers that he addressed in Washington in July 2011 as part of a protest called "Save Our Schools."

The protesters had gathered because they were upset with the Obama administration, which has picked up the mantle of high-stakes testing from its predecessor through its own education reform initiative, "Race to the Top."

In his remarks, Damon looked back fondly on his own educational experience while criticizing high-stakes testing and other school accountability measures.

"As I look at my life today," he told the crowd, "the things I value most about myself -- my imagination, my love of acting, my passion for writing, my love of learning, my curiosity -- all come from how I was parented and taught. And none of these qualities that I've just mentioned -- none of these qualities that I prize so deeply, that have brought me so much joy, that have brought me so much professional success -- none of these qualities that make me who I am ... can be tested."

The crowd roared.

More recently, Damon -- who grew up in the Boston area but now lives in the Los Angeles area -- has opened a can of worms by recently revealing to the Guardian newspaper that, his love for the public schools notwithstanding, he made other arrangements for his own kids.

"Sending our kids in my family to private school was a big, big, big deal," Damon said in the interview. "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."

The public schools are not progressive enough? In Los Angeles? Really?

So despite his fondness for public schools, the 42-year-old actor doesn't want his children anywhere near them.

Oh, oh. This caught the attention of Jeb Bush, who last week took to Twitter to denounce Damon's hypocrisy.

Jeb Bush (@JebBush) tweeted:

"Matt Damon Refuses to Enroll Kids in Los Angeles Public Schools. Choice ok for Damon, why not everyone else?"

Fair? You bet. Damon has long been a cheerleader for the public schools, and so the actor deserved this spanking for his self-serving "good enough for thee, but not for me" defense of a public school system that he and his own family have abandoned. Others have said the same thing.

Yet now it is Bush's turn to get spanked.

The liberal media is already -- surprise -- attacking the Republican presidential contender in defense of the Hollywood celebrity. Some have even pointed out that Bush also sent his kids to private school and insisted that this makes the Republican the real hypocrite.

I don't agree. Bush supports school choice and he practiced in his own family. Where's the inconsistency?

The real issue in this story isn't the personalities. It's the policy.

It was not smart of Damon to attack high-stakes testing -- especially since his own kids, because they attend private school, don't have to worry about how bad some of our public schools would be without the accountability measures that their daddy opposes so vehemently.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 2310 GMT (0710 HKT)
If Obama thinks pushing out Hagel will be seen as the housecleaning many have eyed for his national security process, he'll be disappointed, says David Rothkopf.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
The decision by the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney to announce the Ferguson grand jury decision at night was dangerous, says Jeff Toobin.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 0857 GMT (1657 HKT)
China's influence in Latin America is nothing new. Beijing has a voracious appetite for natural resources and deep pockets, says Frida Ghitis.
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 2151 GMT (0551 HKT)
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in the capital Tehran on June 14, 2014.
The decision to extend the deadline for talks over Iran's nuclear program doesn't change Tehran's dubious history on the issue, writes Michael Rubin.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1925 GMT (0325 HKT)
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1244 GMT (2044 HKT)
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2329 GMT (0729 HKT)
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0134 GMT (0934 HKT)
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0313 GMT (1113 HKT)
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2256 GMT (0656 HKT)
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 2011 GMT (0411 HKT)
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1519 GMT (2319 HKT)
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 0258 GMT (1058 HKT)
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 2141 GMT (0541 HKT)
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT