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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

George Lucas: Teaching "Communication"

An interview with the founder and chairman of The George Lucas Educational Foundation on the new visual language of learning and teaching.
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George Lucas: Teaching "Communication" (Transcript)

George Lucas: The issue we’re discussing here in terms of multimedia literacy is that we stress so hard learning English and learning English grammar and then we shove music and art and most schools don’t even get into cinema. We move those over into some sort of artistic which means sort of therapeutic or fun thing. It’s not approached as a very valid form of communication. Kids know this. When you take a five year old, they can speak, they can use words, they don’t know how to write very well and they may not know much grammar, but they know how to speak, they also know music, they may not know the grammar of music, they know cinema because they spend a huge amount of time in front of the television so they know visual communication, they know the moving image. They intuitively know a lot of the rules, but nobody’s actually taught them anything, anymore than they’ve taught them anything about grammar in English. So we go through school and then later on we start to learn the grammar of English, you have punctuation, capital letters, you’ll run on sentences, what a verb is.

But nobody teaches anybody about what screen direction is, what perspective is, what color is, what a diagonal line means. Those are rules; those are grammatical rules that appear in an art class. If you’ve taken art class, the first thing you’ll do is get into graphics and you start learning well a jagged line means this and a blue color means this or red color means that. So if you’re trying to convince somebody that what you want to do is excite them, then you use red or yellow. If you’re doing it with music then you use a fast rhythm, not a slow rhythm. You don’t have to teach them necessarily how to read music and you don’t need to have to teach them how to be an artist, but you do have to teach them how to use the grammar of the language. Somehow we’ve gotten to the point where the words have gotten way up here and these other forms of communications, which all started out equal and at the beginning, much more equal before we had words.

Somehow in the educational system they’ll need to be balanced out. So the kids could communicate using all of the forms of communication, not just put it into little categories and say you really need to learn how to use a verb; that’s much more important than learning perspective or learning screen direction. But it’s not really, especially in this day and age where the power of multimedia is coming to the children. It used to be like with cinema, only the very elite professionals worked in this medium. But now anybody can work in it.

Moderator: Are we talking about a new way of teaching?

George Lucas: It is a different way of teaching in that I think English classes should broaden themselves and my personal thing I think we should rename English to be-- I mean I know in some schools we call it language arts, but I think it should be renamed communication. It’s a communication class and you learn the English language, learn how to write, you learn grammar, but you also learn graphics.

If you take graphics out of the art department, take cinema and put it into the schools, take music out of the music department. If you want to learn how to play an instrument, if you want to learn how to be a composer, then you can go to the music department. If you want to learn how to do beautiful renditions of paintings and follow the great artists then you go into art class. But if you really want to just learn how to communicate, then what is the basic grammar of communication then that should be taught basically in the communications class, it shouldn’t be taught in some esoteric arty thing, it should be taught as a very practical tool that you use to sell and influence people and to get your point across and to communicate to other people.

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  • Miwa Yokoyama


  • Duncan Sinclair
  • Jason Watkins
  • Miwa Yokoyama

Comments (24)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Zsuzsa's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Fully agree with you Mr. Lucas, especially since I just finished my PhD and have learned that it seems that we engage all our senses even when we complete individual tasks, like listening comprehension. Would love to contribute to your wonderful endevours. Education makes the world a better place, Zsuzsa Londe

Amy Ziegert's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thank you! Being a middle school English teacher who strives to keep the interest of my 8th grade students, I have long been incorporating art, music and other forms of self expression into my teaching. The use of the multiple intelligences is a fantastic way to reach the variety of students in class who have a wider variety of needs. I will often surprise my students with "another strange approach" and all levels of my classes engage a lot more than they did with the "traditional" lesson plans. Finding and planning these more captivating plans is a bit more difficult than the old open your books to page 34 and do exercise a, b and c. It is so worth it to try new things. It is extemely time consuming and requires a lot of energy, but it is so worth it.

As we only have a few weeks of school left, I found myself this weekend a bit worn out. My husband and I went to your new Indiana Jones movie on Saturday, and it energized me again with your wonderful message about teachers and the importance of education. Today, I happened upon your edutopia site, and I became an even bigger fan of yours. Thank you, George Lucas, for such wonderful support of teachers and the importance you put on the arts. I am now energized to go back to school tomorrow humming the Indiana Jones theme song all the way!

Christine Passarella's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Mr. Lucas your words here are right on...I recently finished a two year project with a looped class. We went from first to second grade communicating through music. Over time we worked with the music of the brilliant John Coltrane. Reporter Corey Kilgannon from the New York Times asked me how I had the courage to teach through Coltrane. I told him that children welcome what is complicated and then take it apart. They heard Coltrane and all the other musicians communicating their thoughts and feelings through the different genres of music. We worked on a similar project using the visual arts in what is called Artful Thinking. There will be an article in the Wall Street Journal about my work by Nat Hentoff using jazz to educate children. It is all about communication, and creating the connections needed to help human beings follow their bliss. Joseph Campbell would be very proud of your work here. Congratulations!
Christine Passarella
New York

S Barrows's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

More people in positions of educational leadership and direction need to hear Mr. Lucas, as he is right on target. Although many of us believe visual learning and interactive learning are some of the best ways to teach and learn, it is not all that new. Reading the words of Leonardo daVinci, he advised teachers of anatomy to use pictures, drawings, and dissections over the written word. This is from 1492, and while most of current medical education incorporates as much of the visual and interactive teaching as time permits, the web offers even greater opportunities. Even more so for K-12 populations.

So with epidemic obesity, failing national science achievement, and yet, a growing internet of resources, why isn't this incorporated more into our classrooms and at home? Learning health can be fun, and can also inspire and perhaps change outcomes, but the message is not getting out there fast enough.

Just as Star Wars excited generations about the outer worlds, so can the same attention to visual learning when applied to the inner world. Thanks, George Lucas, for putting this together! I am "on board."

marnie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I came across this interview tid-bit by accident and I was thrilled by the core idea. I spend a great deal of time working to integrate various curricula with art/craft programs and projects. I am convinced this heightens the learning experience in general, but, as Mr. Lucas says, I also believe it helps the learners become more precise and skilled communicators. More confident communicators, as well. Being able to think and communicate in a precise and, even, creative way also seems to yield more success for all parties concerned. This has convinced me that we need to take our national leaders and put them back in school with some lessons in history or social studies or civics or all of the above, COMBINED with some music and film and visual arts and theatre. Heck, maybe a visit to the craft closet would be enough to get them to re-think the muck and mire of their typical process. And, oh, I suspect a math class couldn't hurt.
At any rate, bravo, George, for focusing attention (and resources)in some productive arenas.
marnie in san anselmo, ca

Patty Wise's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am so glad to hear that someone of George Lucas' stature has decided that this is an important enough banner to take up!
I have an extremely creative ADHD 4th grader who has a "failure to thrive" in what I am continually told is "one of the best school systems in the country". However, when I sit in those dreadful IEP meetings and say, "There's got to be another way of teaching are children!" I am met with blank stares. Because, I guess it's working for the majority of the kids who, apparently, require less of the educational system. But even those kids - what could be opened up for them if their minds were allowed to soar rather than forced to conform? What do we want to create in our children? Mindless following of rules? Or innovation?

Donna Bashaw-Benvie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I was inspired by the idea of evolving the Language Arts class to include and integrate graphics and music as a means of communicating literary concepts and to support grammar instruction. What an interesting way of teaching the intonation of an exclamation as compared to a question, by challenging students to use music and a colored line on a sheet of elongated paper! These ideas challenge me to learn more about art and music AND to consider whole new aspects of my student's potential learning experiences. I would enjoy having access to resources as examples of video and music clips as well as graphic images that support such instruction. I currently teach grammar using a program called Framing Your Thoughts. In that text there are graphic examples of the "path" the voice follows when reading a the four basic sentence types. I have had students run the sentence path, following a straight line that swings up on the end to denote a question. I never thought to ask for a painting of a question, or music that followed the question or a video clip of a question. Thanks for chance to improve my instruction.

James D. Weston II's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I train adults and also volunteer to teach kids to get them interested in education. I talk to kids visually to keep them engaged and interested in learning. I work with the Navy's Blue Angels in supporting them when they come to the Bay Area for Fleet Week and the kids love it, when I talk aircraft and show them video and posters. I remember how bored most kids were and are when going to school. I also train adults (mechanics & support personnel) civilian and military in "Human Factors in Aviation". Most times this is on the graveyard shift, so the class better be interesting to keep them engaged. I use alot of pictures and video (some humorous) and have gotten great feedback.
As a past member of the Bay Area Tuskegee Airmen, and graduate of Aviation High School of New York, I hope to use this approach in educating the youngsters today about the Tuskegee Airmen, an important part of Aviation history. As a member of the Screen Actors Guild using cinema as one of my training tools is right up my alley. Mr. Lucas good luck with the "Red Tails" project. Wish I could participate. Thanks again
James D. Weston II (

Martha McManus's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Lucas describes movement toward a broad based communications program in school which uses multiple communication methods in learning. One real life challenge for kids (where kids say they are never bored!) is dealing with real life problems. As a peacemaker i work in coaching kids on ways to deal with bullying. The director's chair is there for the person to describe the problem- setting- characters, etc... then the director has actors (fellow class mates or themselves) take the roles and act out at least 10 different ways to deal with the situation.

Thinking of ten different responses and playing them out gives kids the chance to look at the situation from multiple perspectives and do many 'takes' the idea that there is no 'one way' to do things has the students using the scene clap board (I do not know if that is the name of the thing) to do many takes both as bully and as the person being bullied and the net result is a new confidnece in many choices and perspectives.

The science behind this is important as it builds skills, moves the upsetting nd traumatic situation of bulling into the frontal lobs of problem solving, and it also teaches sequencing. ADD, ADHD and feotal alcohol kids often struggle with- 'what would happen next' sequence and here it is acted out.
Try it:

a child is standing at the microwave, waiting to heat up his pizza for school lunch. A kid behind him/her pokes them in the back with a fork.

Think of ten choices:
here are some this grade 5 child came up with...

tell the lunchroom supervisor
turn around and break their fork
step out of line
punch them
ask why they are doing that
grab the fork and stab them with in
ask them to scratch higher where the itch is
say thank you
say STOP THAT loudly to embarrass them

acting this out produces lots of laughter, teaches skills sequencing and problem solving and helps kids make a safe choice in debriefing what worked best.

Martha McManus MA MA MPhil

Jesus Rodriguez's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

There could be a time when technology allows an individual student to drive the course based on what will engage him/her at that precise point in time. Need to teach Nepolian? Start with the student's interest in horses for example. Or possible a boy's interest in weapons and map this to the curriculum content.

To Lucas' point, I was unable to learn Spanish in the traditional classroom setting util I had a Junior High School class with a teacher that forced us to speak and hear Spanish 3/4 of the class time. We were all engaged. No workbooks, multiple choice quizez - we SPOKE the language every day - there are different ways to learn different things. The classroom is not ideal for everything.

Speaking. Public speaking classes and verbal communication are not stressed enough. Even the format of this video is verbal and speech-like. We don't have time to make a movie for each and every communication or learning moment. Verbal communication represents the vast majority of a person's daily communication. Listening, comprehension, and communicating thoughts by verbal (and nonverbal) means, if improved could have a profound impact on our society and civilization as a whole.

Thanks for putting this org. together Mr. Lucas.

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