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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Celebrity Q&A: Ashley Judd Does Good Deeds for Schools

In praise of teachers, arts education, and surviving algebra.
Credit: Courtesy of Debm Productions

Known for her roles on the big screen in Where the Heart Is, Double Jeopardy, Eye of the Beholder, and the newly released (December 2008) Crossing Over, Ashley Judd is adept at infusing her characters with grit and determination. But in that respect, she might not be acting: Judd brings the same spunk to her off-screen humanitarian endeavors.

Moved by the plight of children and communities hit hard by the AIDS epidemic, in 2002 Judd became global ambassador for the YouthAIDS program through the nonprofit organization Population Services International. In that capacity, she travels the world, providing education and outreach to underserved communities.

In 2007, Judd partnered with Goody’s Family Clothing, a retail chain in the Southeast, to create the Ashley Judd Collection of women’s wear; this year a plus-size line was launched. Thanks in part to proceeds from the clothing lines, the chain’s Good Deeds for Schools program annually awards each of fifty schools a grant of $10,000 to help pay for items they can’t afford through regular funding. In this era of budget shortfalls, that can make a world of difference.

With fiscal cutbacks in education nationwide, the 2008-09 school year started over $40 billion short, meaning grant programs were needed even more than usual, and the $500,000 in grants through the Good Deeds for Schools program definitely helped build the bridge to access otherwise unobtainable resources for many schools.

What is your idea of a perfect teacher?

Dynamic, warm, principled, firm, motivating, compassionate, and funny!

What was your most memorable school experience?

Really, beginning to learn to write in AP English my senior year. It was outstanding preparation for university schooling and laid the groundwork for the writing I do now. Wait, maybe reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s entire oeuvre is my high point!

What was the low point of your school career?

Hands down, Algebra II, junior year. My home life was horribly chaotic and scary, and that class defeated me every day.

Did you go to public school, or private school?

I went to twelve schools in thirteen years, so both.

Where did you fit in your school’s social hierarchy?

Top of the heap, but felt at the bottom inside, most of the time.

What was your favorite subject?

AP twentieth-century history and American literature.

If you could change one thing about education in America, what would it be?

Teachers would be exalted to cultural-hero status with paychecks commensurate to their real worth; the arts would be a fundamental part of every curriculum.

What is impossible to learn in school?

Nothing, if the teachers are creative enough.

What should they teach that they don’t teach now?

Inequities in public health, grassroots and community organizing, human rights, and social justice.

What did you learn today?

Once again, that when I make a list at the start of the day and move through it, I have better, more orderly direction than when I try to keep it all in my head. And that meditating helps me work better.

What did you teach?

That it’s important to “hold things loosely” -- not get so attached to our own ideas -- and to check out our assumptions with someone else.

What is in your dream lunch box?

A fabulously flavorful vegetarian meal prepared from organic food raised in a sustainable way, with a piece of my own homemade peach pie for dessert.

If you wrote a textbook, what would it be called?

Learn This Now and Be Forever Grateful.

If the prom were tomorrow, whom would you take?

My sweet husband, professional race car driver Dario Franchitti, and all our pets -- they like to dance, too, you know.

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