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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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Linda Keane AIA's picture
Linda Keane AIA
NEXT.cc Director, Prof Arch/EnvDes, School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Digital Fluency + Eco Literacy
Accomplish these as learning standards with students today.
Thanks for your encouragement. The US is far behind other countries in what needs to be taught and how it needs to be taught, but I too, agree that the answers and ways are here with many of us.

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

Mr. Lucas, with all due respect, it is my belief that the innovations espoused by Geoffrey Canada are highly unlikely to trickle down to Houston-area public schools at any time in the near future. Entrenched bureaucracy and a cynical view of how schools can be manipulated to keep minorities "in their place" effectively block every attempt to change the system beyond the doggedly persistent KIPP adherents who've since been absorbed and soon likely to be co-opted out of effectiveness. Testament to this truth is the story of how an ex-coach with terrible grammar rose to the Superintendency of one of the nation's largest school districts despite any plausible qualification and was eventually appointed President Bush's Secretary of Education. Rod Paige was that laughingstock widely supported by Houstonians seeking to rid ourselves of this under-educated political appointee whose presence on the Cabinet level justifies the main thrust of attacks on affirmative action. If Mr. Canada and Davis Guggenheim think that similar results can be attained anywhere in this urban district, I'd like to be at least present at one of the meetings with self-appointed community "leaders" who will wholeheartedly agree to implement his programs, then proceed to conduct business as usual, ignoring all but a veneer of his premises.

Norma Sonson's picture

As a parent, I am vigilant that my 2 children receive the best public education possible. And as classroom teacher, there are challenges in our educational system that I don't have control of. It feels like every year, they put more pressure on teachers on the quality of education that these students receive. Leaders expect miracles to happen in a classroom while teachers receive less in many ways. Teachers need basic needs in the classroom to teach like books, copy paper, pencil, and enough computers for the class. Unfortunately, these basic needs are hardly meet, how much more for the bigger projects that a classroom teacher needs to perform in the class. But the commitment to place students' learning the utmost priority, classroom teachers and administrators can make a difference in the life of every student in their own school.

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

Also a parent and former teacher, I remain vigilant that my children participate in the educational process as well. To that end, we've always provided access to literally thousands of books, scouring The Salvation Army, Goodwill, dollar stores, Half-Price Books, and garage sales for bargain books with the full knowledge that most would remain unread. But when you are paying a dollar or less per volume, those collecting dust are less important than those actively pursued. Okay, so our house is a bit cluttered, but research has shown that an information-rich environment contributes mightily toward a child's mental growth; we spend too much on books to afford a maid.

Given the availability of tons of unwanted books, it stands to reason that schools could obtain them rather cheaply if not for free, thus ameliorating that need in the budget. In addition, the support staff large districts tend to create to meet a supposed need for "Instructional Specialists" should be questioned. Simply granting teachers more autonomy to create lesson plans in a less restrictive environment (including an extra planning period) would be enough to retain good teachers without having to boost pay. Employee appreciation is consistently listed as the leading factor in determining where people want to work rather than pay scale.

While I applaud your devotion to your children and students, the fact remains that such support for education rarely exists in many underprivileged environs. The liberal solution of simply throwing money at the problem has produced an unwieldy bureacracy, an inevitable drift towards socialization of the variety that lowers the bar of expectations so as to give the illusion of success. Charter Schools are not the complete answer as this documentary would have us believe, but they do address the need to change the way education has been conducted and provide for innovation.

Perry Kacik's picture
Perry Kacik
Organizational Consultant

Let's get a grip, folks.

In the face of the current media one-upmanship about the failing public school system I wish the media moguls and political provocateurs would simply sit back, take a deep breath and chill for a few minutes. While there are clearly problems in sectors of the education industry (certain urban or otherwise impoverished communities, drop-out rates amongst minority populations, under funding and removal of enrichment programs for the expansion for singularly focused "teach to the test" mandates) the solution is not simply to turn the otherwise popular respect for public school teachers into disdain, and call most or all our Mr. and Ms. Smith's in the profession incompetent! Otherwise we'll also need to fire all the doctors that "let" people die, all the lawyers that lose cases, all the scientists whose experiments prove inconclusive and all the accountants who determine that I need to pay more taxes than I wish.

Let's get focused here, folks. If we need to reform our schools or produce better and more enriched students, good, let's do it. Let's create constructive, national dialogues about where we want to go, with whom and at what cost - and including (gasp) individual teachers, (double gasp) their unions who they have chosen to represent them collectively, the people paid to manage the schools (administrators), the people who design the funding of schools (politicians), and all the other stakeholders, including parents, in the system. Let's decide to use constructive, creative methods of inquiry, dialogue, and conversation, and swear off the current trend of school-yard name-calling, bashing and bullying.

Let's consider what is and is not okay with our schools, and, move on. I'd suggest setting the tone for these discussions by reading the current New Yorker commentary by Nicholas Lemann, a dean and professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York City, managing editor of the Washington Monthly, and President of The Harvard Crimson. His commentary describes the current "overblown crisis in American education".

Then, let's talk.

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

While I appreciate your effort to bring more focus to the subject of public education, I don't see that message in mainstream media which though sensationalistic in nature, will interview "moderates" as a sort of a base from which to measure extremists. Mostly what's missing here is a topic other than Evolution that all lay people can grasp in its complexities and applications.

Every approach to fixing education has its problems, even the need to "fix" schools can be called into question. What I don't see is the spokesmen for the underprivileged exhorting books and reading as a means of self-extrication from the mire of poverty. My post demonstrates how cheaply this can be done; for the price of an X-box (which I'll not have in my household) I could purchase a small library of classical novels, pop lit, coffee table picture books, and nonfictional biographies including several tons of National Geographic magazines.

A recent story pointed out that the picture books I found so interesting as a child have fallen into disfavor among parents and teachers micromanaging the basic aspects of education. They think by pushing "chapter books" at ever-lower ages, sans pix, that they can improve test scores, the bane of modern education.

I suggest that intrinsic motivation is stymied more by "affluenza" than by well-meaning, but rather dull teachers. Efforts to get children to read by example are rare; only token attention is paid to the need to read for pleasure and thus constructing an imaginative, individual reality.

And let's hear it for Garrison Keillor, the last (and perhaps the greatest) of the radio readers!!

Becky Sherman's picture
Becky Sherman
Graduate Student - MSEd with Specialization in Mathematics

The desire to read is not a natural one for many students, especially those who find learning another language difficult or who have learning disabilities that make reading a huge task. I have noticed that books tend to not be important to many children, some not even showing evidence of directionality or tracking. This is a symptom of a big problem in that children do not see adults read books much anymore. As technology grows and finds ways to discard the traditional textbook or reading book, children are slowly learning to be satisfied with a very flat, non-tactile, virtual version that will never smell like a library, whose pages never whisper as they are turned, and that which should become a personal treasure in their own library at home.

My parents taught me, and I passed onto my children, the notion that we can go anywhere, be anyone, experience things we normally could not through the pages of a book. Big family outings were to libraries in other towns. Our passports were the inter-library loan service.

We have to invigorate children to love books. The love of reading has to be modeled for them. I once worked with a teacher who read her own book while her students read theirs. You could hear a pin drop in that room. They saw, they absorbed, they adopted the behavior of their teacher. Kids are sponges. We just have to throw buckets of good habits at them and they will eventually soak them up.

jeannine ryan's picture

i'm so tired of hearing politicians and newspaper complain about the problems in education while i work so hard to help my students grow and love learning. edutopia is refreshing look at what is right in education! thank you for your commitment to leading the way.

Larry Fliegelman's picture
Larry Fliegelman
Principal in Vermont

OK, I will stipulate that there are some bad teachers and bad people teaching. There are also some GREAT teachers out there.

Now, let's be realistic, in all professions, there are a tiny number of BAD and GREAT and a huge number of PRETTY GOOD.

I remember reading about surveys where people will complain about public education but then say that their child's teacher is pretty good. That's because there are lots of PRETTY GOOD teachers out there.

The quality of the teacher is not the primary issue troubling some of our schools. The districts that a movie like Waiting for Superman are describing are places with high poverty. There are all kinds of studies and stories about the effects of poverty learning. Just use common sense, poor kids have far more to worry about than learning.

We need to refocus this debate on two things

1. Ending poverty
2. Increasing learning by any and all means available (there is much written right now about ways to do this).

Thank you.

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

Your classic liberal shibboleth that poverty is at the root of education's failures re-inforces my claim that school administrators are out of touch with the reality of what students need and how to provide it. To even suggest that anything you do can "end poverty" is a specious assertion easily refuted by the conservative contention that the socialism inherent in modern public schools enables the cycle of poverty by removing stigma and assigning responsibility for a child's learning to the teacher, despite your protestations to the contrary. "Increasing learning," therefore, becomes a platitude unsupported by anything but empty rhetoric.

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