Reason.tv's video featuring Matt Damon from Saturday's "Save Our Schools" rally is making the rounds. In the vid, Matt Damon tees off on the "shitty" salaries that teachers make and argues that teachers do what they do out of love, so that structural arrangement such as early-and-easy-to-get tenure have no impact on what sort of job educators may do in the classroom.
As a point of fact, Damon's understanding of teacher compensation relative other professionals is wrong. It turns out that when you control for education level and hours worked, public school teachers do quite well (especially compared to private school teachers, who on average make $13,000 a year less). And that's before fringe benefits, such as employer-paid health care and retirement packages are tossed in to the mix. Or job security.
But we were talking about Lawrence O'Donnell, host of MSNBC's Last Word, who used his "Rewrite" segment to question not simply whether public-school teachers should be scrutinized but whether Reason is anything more than a Republicanoid hack factory that would never dare question, say, the police.
After showing a part of the Reason.tv video in which host Michelle Fields questions Damon about whether the relative insecurity of acting jobs pushes him to a higher level of performance, the wise and all-knowing – and, according to his Wikipedia page, exclusively privately educated – O'Donnell delivers the following screed:
[This is] 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.
Emphasis added. And while I realize that being Lawrence O'Donnell means never having to say you're sorry, let me add some emphasis to the plain truth:
Because Reason magazine, Reason.com, Reason.tv and Reason Foundation (the nonprofit that publishes all these things, including this blog) are not right-wing or Republican, I can't speak for those groups or folks inclined those ways.
However, I can and will gently direct O'Donnell to have at least some goddamn inkling of what he's talking about:
Reason has been all over issues of police abuse like those Fullerton, California cops were all over the homeless man they beat to death.
Or all the other law enforcement types who are waging a War on Cameras because it makes them have to respect civil liberties.
And while I'm sure that O'Donnell has guests up the ying-yang for his show, he might want to think about asking Cory Maye, the Mississippi man who was first taken off death row and then released from prison altogether in large part due to the efforts of Reason journalist Radley Balko, along with Reason.tv's Drew Carey and Paul Feine, whose "Mississippi Drug War Blues" documentary is a must-watch to any American interested in how the criminal justice system has major problems. Balko, now with the Huffington Post, was even named "Journalist of the Year" this year by the Los Angeles Press Club due to his Reason work on the Cory Maye and other cases.
And when O'Donnell is done digesting all that, he can relax with Reason magazine's July issue, which was dedicated to what we called Criminal Injustice: Inside America's National Disgrace. It's online right now. For free. He just has to click the link.
Or maybe, like Matt Damon, a truly gifted actor who is totally untroubled by the basic facts when it comes to questions of teacher compensation, O'Donnell will elect to live exclusively in a world of his own making.
Make no mistake: Reason in all its iterations supports and applauds the work that the law enforcement system – from the U.S. Supreme Court down to the most local of meter maids and the least-honored of rent-a-cops – does to help keep the country and its citizens safe. Like good teachers, good cops have a tough-as-hell job that is made immeasurably harder by all the bad ones out there. And make no mistake, too, that Reason has been and will continue to look at ways to identify and call out bad actors in public and private life. And suggest ways in which education and law enforcement can be improved to better serve the citizens who pay for both.