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"American Teacher": Matt Damon Sticks Up for Conservatives' Punching Bag 

Wednesday, Oct 5 2011
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One of the right wing's favorite punching bags — and even, increasingly, the left's — is the teaching profession. Director Vanessa Roth, who co-produced American Teacher with Ninive Calegari and Dave Eggers and scored Matt Damon to narrate, counters the teachers-are-the-problem narrative with a corrective that's unapologetic in its teacher boosterism. What makes the film more than just a cheerleading countermove is the towering amount of research it contains: historical data tracing the profession from being the domain of men to largely that of women, and the cynical economic ploy behind the shift; terrifying figures on the rates of those fleeing the profession as well as the looming crisis of a mass retirement of elderly teachers; the sobering numbers of teachers living at the poverty level and/or holding down a second job. Putting a human face on the data are teachers of all races and backgrounds who gave Roth complete access to both their professional and personal lives, showing how the two are so deeply intertwined. What's made powerfully clear is that we've reached a dire point of crisis that, while largely rooted in economics, is about so much more than dollars and cents. "Without effective teachers," says one interviewee, "we don't have an effective democracy."

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Ernest Hardy

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