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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Beyond Superman: A Guest Blog by George Lucas

George Lucas

Filmmaker and Founder, George Lucas Educational Foundation

Twenty years ago when we started The George Lucas Educational Foundation, we thought it would be 10 years before the general public would understand that the education system was in serious need of fixing. Today, in the wake of new energy in Washington D.C., new focus in the educational and philanthropic communities, and with the recent release of the film "Waiting for Superman," the nation is getting a better picture of what is wrong with public education in America. And people are finally talking about it.

It's time to have a conversation about what's right in our schools, what's working. And as we debate what to do to fix the problems, let's remember that there are successes in education everyday we can emulate. In districts of every stripe and demographic make-up, educators are dedicating themselves to providing their students with a high quality 21st century education, and using new technologies to make it happen. They are showing kids how to find and analyze information and how to creatively deploy their analyses to solve problems. These educators are beginning to re-invent the learning process, guiding students through rigorous, real-life projects that integrate core academic topics and personalize the learning experience based on a child's strengths and weaknesses. They are building confidence and ambition in children, by supporting them emotionally and providing a safe, engaging environment to learn. Most importantly, these innovative educators are creating a next generation of citizens with academic knowledge and problem solving abilities that will serve our country for years to come.

Are there enough of these teachers and principals? No. Will the work of fixing our schools and re-inventing the learning process be long and arduous? Of course. But as we move on from the debate and get busy building a better way, let's remember that the solutions--and the people who are implementing them--are not far away. In fact, they are nearer than you think. Check out our video library for hundreds of examples.

--George Lucas, Filmmaker and Founder of the George Lucas Educational Foundation

This blog also appeared in the Huffington Post.

George Lucas

Filmmaker and Founder, George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Larry Fliegelman's picture
Larry Fliegelman
Principal in Vermont

Your convenient argument about all school administrators pre-supposes much knowledge about my work with students and teachers. There is so much that students need that is tangential to my original comment and thus not mentioned. I assumed any reader would understand that I am far more complex an educator than one blog comment could convey. I apologize for that assumption.

Be that as it may, my classic liberal shibboleth concerning poverty is matched only by your classic conservative shibboleth that socialism in public schools enables poverty. (BTW, I'm surprised you didn't add in something about students pulling themselves up by their boot straps. I could have replied that so many kids can't afford boots with straps. Oh well; a lost opportunity).

On to the main argument. Students who arrive at school in the same unwashed clothing and with nothing in their stomachs since the previous day's lunch, are hardly interested in their own learning. They are interested in breakfast. Students who arrive at school without a single suitable book in their home and no reading role model (unlike both of our homes), are hardly ready to learn to read. (Perhaps reading to these students will help. I am saddened to hear about the devaluation of the picture book. I have been fortunate to work in schools that value picture books and reading aloud to students throughout elementary school).

For students who live in poverty and for any student who seems to lack motivation for any reason, it is the obligation of the teacher to take responsibility for the student's learning. It is far too easy to give up on an "enabled" student who has not assumed responsibility for himself. It is far too easy to blame the child. The teacher must push even harder with those students so that the child may have success. The teacher must also use a gradual release of responsibility for the child's learning and teach the child how to take that responsibility. Over time, that student will take pride in his success and in his ever increasing amount of personal responsibility. That is called education and growing up.

Finally, I vigorously disagree that the phrase "increasing learning" is empty. It is the core of what public schools are meant to do (although that is another argument for another day). It is a phrase that very specifically does not connote test-measurable achievement. After all, school is all about learning.

Thank you.

Jackie Corbett's picture
Jackie Corbett
Graduate Student- MSEd in Adolescent Literacy and Technology

Mr. Lucas,

Thank you for recognizing the teachers who are not simply educating students about calculus, biology or global studies. Rather, you have given credit to the educators who are teaching problem solving skills, confidence, critical thinking and humility. Technology has given us unlimited resources in creating engaging exciting lessons that promote critical thinking and problem solving skills. As many people have alluded to, with the dedication and work, teachers can create learning environments that foster all of the above qualities. Every teacher I have had through my educational studies has said to celebrate the small successes, because no success is small. Though many problems exist, it is important to not lose sight of what is right, what is working and those teachers and schools who continue to make a difference. We must celebrate every success, every teacher who creates new lesson plans each year, and every time a student goes home in awe and tells their family about their day at school. As teachers, we must remember that our students may not always understand the content, but it is important to celebrate effort, the relationship between teacher and student, and the willingness of both the teacher and student to try. It is these educators that in ten years, when their students are asked, will be able to recite a specific reason why they loved this class and teacher.

Buffy Burroughs's picture

Mr. Lucas,
Thanks you for sharing a glimpse of what's working out there. As an educator it helps reinforce the work being done in the classroom as well as ignite the flame to continue on this mission of educating children without fear of change.

Donald Johnson's picture
Donald Johnson
Fired ex-Geography/Journalism/English teacher, Houston, Texas

I had to consult with my wife, also a veteran inner-city teacher, as to whether your original post was facetious; I thought perhaps you were putting me on, but apparently, you believe the John Dewey kool-aid being spoonfed by our teaching institutions.

"Your convenient argument about all school administrators"
I'm not addressing ALL school administrators, but I've yet to see exceptions here in the Houston area where I've taught for 24 years. The occasional maverick who puts the needs of his students before the dictates of the administrative bureaucracy exists no more than a couple of years before he's either "kicked upstairs" or forced out (our prep schools use HISD as sort of a feeder system.)

"pre-supposes much knowledge about my work with students and teachers."
I can only surmise by what you write, and its since it implies a lack of understanding of the total environment.

"There is so much that students need that is tangential to my original comment and thus not mentioned. I assumed any reader would understand that I am far more complex an educator than one blog comment could convey. I apologize for that assumption."
Apology accepted if sincere and substantial. "Complex" can also mean "obfuscatory," however. What I'm looking for are solid indications that you have implemented useful strategies and assessed students' needs. I don't see it.

"socialism in public schools enables poverty."
Uh, yeah. In order to get students to pass the standardized tests, an inordinate amount of "babysitting" is necessary, depriving the students of any opportunity to read for pleasure, create individualistic solutions, or rise to meet a challenge. Since the exigency is that they pass, how high doesn't matter. This is the educational abandonment public school administrators have accepted by catering to the legislators enacting "No Child Left Behind." Hopefully "Race to the Top" will re-instill some competitive fire, but I see administrative and union opposition.

"(BTW, I'm surprised you didn't add in something about students pulling themselves up by their boot straps. I could have replied that so many kids can't afford boots with straps. Oh well; a lost opportunity)."
More baloney. Practically all of our students on reduced lunches apparently can afford new Nikes; it's simply a matter of what is deemed important. Far more of my students had X-boxes than a working Internet connection. We have the richest "poor people" in the world in urban areas, most of whom have access to far more resources than are evident. The poorest people in America are in isolated rural areas, but even they can uplift themselves with the Internet (third world countries are doing just that), yet we can't seem to get a laptop in every child's hands. Could that have something to do with the monopolistic power of the Textbook companies?

"Students who arrive at school in the same unwashed clothing and with nothing in their stomachs since the previous day's lunch, are hardly interested in their own learning. They are interested in breakfast." We feed them free breakfast here. They're still too unambitious to get to class on time, perhaps because so little effort is needed on their part. Churches and numerous food pantries also provide what they need, though not always what they want.

"Students who arrive at school without a single suitable book in their home and no reading role model (unlike both of our homes), are hardly ready to learn to read. (Perhaps reading to these students will help. I am saddened to hear about the devaluation of the picture book. I have been fortunate to work in schools that value picture books and reading aloud to students throughout elementary school)."
Now we're reaching a point of some agreement. Books can be had relatively cheaply, but there is no discernable effort to get them into students' hands. Pedagogues are pushing Chapter Books on students at ever-younger ages (according to NPR). Community activists are blaming politicians rather than pitching in to build and support community reading rooms. The entire public school discussion is unfocused and subject to political whim. I'm asking for a more unified approach by those of you in a position to effect change in pedagogy, yet you seem to be satisfied that what you're doing is good enough. It isn't.

"For students who live in poverty and for any student who seems to lack motivation for any reason, it is the obligation of the teacher to take responsibility for the student's learning. It is far too easy to give up on an 'enabled' student who has not assumed responsibility for himself. It is far too easy to blame the child. The teacher must push even harder with those students so that the child may have success. The teacher must also use a gradual release of responsibility for the child's learning and teach the child how to take that responsibility. Over time, that student will take pride in his success and in his ever increasing amount of personal responsibility. That is called education and growing up."
Wow, do you really believe in this much paternalism or are you putting me on again? Only rarely can teachers instill intrinsic motivation, especially those of us who are only "pretty good." By assigning that much responsibility to the teacher, you're effectively shifting the locus of control and allowing the parent to blame the school for everything that student cannot do and with some validity. KIPP and schools that effectively change lives do so only with the full cooperation of the parents; without a signed contract, students are not allowed to attend KIPP of YES schools here.

"Finally, I vigorously disagree that the phrase 'increasing learning' is empty. It is the core of what public schools are meant to do (although that is another argument for another day). It is a phrase that very specifically does not connote test-measurable achievement. After all, school is all about learning."
Such platitudes are virtually meaningless, for if there was any validity to what you're saying, our educational system wouldn't be in the state of slipping world position that we're in now. I'm still looking for any indication in your post that you have a concrete plan in place that can even keep pace with the rapidly-increasing volume of information provided by modern technology. Your ideas seem rooted in the sixties and Jonathan Kozol's books. I suggest you begin by reading John McWhorter's "Losing the Race" which clearly affixes blame and proposes workable solutions.

sheryl's picture

I feel there are a great number of teachers out there doing their best to incorporate technology into the curriculum. Unfortunatley, my school district is lacking in funds and computers are few and far between. I believe we have a lot to do to prepare our children to survive in this global world of technology.

Samuel Garrett III's picture

I absolutly agree with you. There is a push for using technology but, the funds are not available and more importantly tech savvy teachers are not availabe. Classrooms are filled with students that know more about using technology than the teacher.

Samuel Garrett III's picture

The problem with technology in the classroom is that there is not enough of it and more importantly, there are not enough tech savvy teachers.

Andre McCrea's picture

As a child I watched Superman the cartoon and the TV show. I looked forward to seeing what challenge he had to face and anxiously awaited the outcome. I quickly learned that his mission was to fight wrong and that whatever he faced he would win in the end. Kryptonite may have slowed him down but it never stopped him. I am still a fan of Superman. I have discovered as a teacher that I am superman. I have through knowledge, experience, professional development, reflection, emotional commitment, the help of my colleagues and being concerned for the overall warfare of my students been the one to deliver them from a life of despair. When we sacrifice our self to help students improve academically we all become the Superman that we are waiting for.

Amy's picture

Mr. Lucas,

Learning through the use of the latest technology is an amazing concept. It is true that children today must be exposed to all the latest technology in order to keep up with their foreign counterparts. However, the exposure to such technology needs to be fair and equitable in each and every school let alone the country. Unfortunately my students do not have the same educational experience as some of their classmates because I do not have access to a whiteboard or laptops. I teach math with chalk and a blackboard. My students use pencils, notebooks, and calculators. In order to give my students a fair shake at success shouldn't my school district be forced to provide its students with the same opportunities for the poor students as those in the magnet schools??? Just some food for thought :0)

Tre's picture

Teaching in a very rural area, we are in great need of more technology in the classroom. As it stands now, there is only one computer in each classroom and teachers are not allowed to use the one Promethean board in the school because the powers that be are afraid that we'll break it! Absurd! If America is ever going to step up our game, funds must become available for ALL students- urban and rural- to be on equal technology ground.

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