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CTU Interviews Actor, Activist Matt Damon

by Kenzo Shibata  |  05/15/2012

Chair of the CTU Truth Squad Drew Heiserman and Chicago Union Teacher Editor Kenzo Shibata had the opportunity to sit down with Matt Damon before a performance of “The People Speak Live! at the Metro. Damon explained the project, his skepticism about charter schools, and how his high school drama teacher played an integral role in his writing the screenplay for “Good Will Hunting.” 

Shibata, Heiserman, filmaker Chris Moore, Matt Damon

[This is an excerpt. For the full version, check out the May issue of Chicago Union Teacher -- in schools now.]

CUT: The speech last July [at the Save Our Schools March In Washington, D.C. -- see video below] has made every teacher a Matt Damon fan; if they were not already. What would you like to tell teachers right now?

MD: This is a disheartening time. It doesn’t feel like it’s enough to say, “Hang in there.” I’m hoping that event in July was the beginning of an attempt to… organize and try to counter the narrative that’s out there. I do have hope that can happen. There’s a lot of money and power standing on the other side of the argument. The charter myth has been pretty much debunked now, they’ve had their decade and it didn’t work. If there’s going to be a serious discussion about education policy, it should include teachers. Somehow that’s a heretical thing to say right now. These policymakers just continue to ignore the people who know how to teach.

CUT: Your mother opted you out of standardized tests as a kid, how did that make you feel?

MD: Back then, a teacher’s job and salary [were not] tied to how well I did on a test… Nowadays when you talk to teachers in public schools, one of their biggest complaints is that they don’t have any time to teach… all they really can do is teach to these tests… That’s not really a template for trying to learn anything, except maybe how to take a standardized test.

CUT: Was there a particular teacher who inspired you?

MD: My high school teachers were phenomenal. All of them, even the ones I had in math, for instance—which is not something I particularly loved or spend time doing now—they made it interesting and fun for me. My high school drama teacher, Jerry Specca—Ben Affleck was in the class, too—he was an English and drama teacher. So I took writing classes with him, I took speech classes with him, I took every drama class he offered. I did all the plays with him. He taught us an incredible level of selfdiscipline. Kids who came out of his class, even if they didn’t go into acting, were really better for having taken his class. He was like a life coach in a lot of ways. He also taught us how to write. Every year he would do a play that was kind of this thing that was emergent, where we’d improvise stuff and he’d kind of direct and write the whole thing as we were kind of doing these scenes. He’d say, “Well, try this scene,” … and a play would emerge out of that process. That was basically how [Ben Affleck and I] wrote Good Will Hunting. We used those same techniques… He was a teacher who affected my life in… incalculable ways.

Matt Damon is promoting the Voices of People's History project which includes an educators toolkit.

The Chicago Voices Educators Toolkit includes a DVD, several books, and a pre-loaded 2GB carabiner USB flash drive packed with educational material, all collected in an organic cotton tote bag from The People Speak tagged with the film's message: Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport.

The Chicago Voices Educators Toolkit is suitable for middle and high school and introductory college classes. Relevant subject areas include Social Studies, U.S. History, English, Language Arts, Drama, Writing, Sociology, Women’s History, Labor History, African-American Studies, Race and Ethnicity Studies.

Over the course of the 2011-2012 school year, the Chicago Voices project will provide the free toolkit to one thousand Chicago educators.

For more information and to request a toolkit, click here

On May 31st, TEAM Englewood High School will host "Englewood Speaks," inspired by this project. Click here for details. 

For the full interview, check out the May issue of Chicago Union Teacher, now in schools.

Chicago Teachers Union