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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

Sonja Dziedzic, Art Teacher, Emerson Middle School's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

While I agree with the necessity of needing to engage students in learning to communicate and read visual information, I call it visual literacy and so do many others. I DO think that it can and should be taught by those that have a visual background. I DO think the place to teach it is in the art room...and I think it IS being taught in the art rooms where there are certified art specialists to teach and where students have meaningful amounts of time to be engaged in making and discussing art and all that is visual. Teaching graphics and design is certainly best taught by someone with that background. I think the struggle is with the current paradigm in our society that the only type of literacy that matters is the written word. I think you would be hard pressed to find a teacher of the arts that would not love to have it recognized by those in society at large that we need to engage students in ALL kinds of communication. I DO NOT feel that the better way to do it is to lump all forms of communication together into one class. There would not be many human beings qualified to teach every area well. The most effective way to accomplish this is to open the dilaogue among teachers of the arts, including writing and languages, music too (although not visual is communication in its own right) and helping students to see the connections in all areas of communication.

Michael McDowell's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree. You might say that our native tongue is images, since we were processing them long before we could speak.

Sara Lanier - Belfast's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

At the risk of teaching my Grandmom to suck eggs...

George, are you familiar with the work of Charles Sanders Peirce on
the logic of communication?

Liszka's book on Peirce is a good place to start.

Also the pre-war German Gestalt philosophers are seriously worth
looking at.

Oh, also Aby Warburg's work on visual literacy.

Lesson over.

Robert Patrik Winston's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Dear Mr. Lucas,

A Buddhist Monk taught me the quote:

"Communication is the essence of the Holy Spirit"

I agree with you 100%, and thank you for "communicating" on this topic!


Robert Patrik Winston

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