George Lucas believes our educational system is stuck in the past: "It's imperative that we create new kinds of schools."Credit: Howard Roffman
I've been interested in education for many years now, with vivid memories of my boyhood growing up in Modesto, California. Frankly, I was not very engaged in my classes; in fact, as a boy, I liked to daydream and write stories. I was also interested in philosophical questions. I remember I once asked my mother, "If there is only one God, why are there so many religions?" That question is rich with intellectual possibilities, integrating studies in history, culture, and comparative religion, but that richness was absent from my grade-school textbooks.
In addition to my curiosity about ideas, I also liked to work with my hands, fixing and racing cars. I even thought of being a car mechanic. Outside of school, I learned about the history of automobiles and the economics of the industry. But again I had to find my own way to learn about topics I was passionate about, as my school days were filled with memorizing isolated names and facts.
It took a serious car accident weeks before my high school graduation for me to reconsider my life and chart a new path. I decided to go to college and explore my beginning interests in philosophy, art, photography, and writing. After junior college, when I attended the USC School of Cinema and Television, I found a calling in which I could use my hands and my head, recording and editing pictures and sound, using technology to realize my imagination on the screen. In my own films, and the work of my companies, I have continued to develop technology's ability to transform filmmaking and the entertainment world, much as all of us have seen the benefits of technology in health care, transportation, manufacturing, and many other fields.
Now I'm a parent of three children, and my interest in education has become even more urgent. It's imperative that we create new kinds of schools, freed from an educational system deeply rooted in the distant past and the kinds of schools so many of us attended many decades ago. History dies hard, especially when it involves our schools and our own lives spent in them. Perhaps Allen Glenn, a professor and former dean of education at the University of Washington, is right when he says, "The biggest obstacle to school change is our memories." Creating schools for the twenty-first century requires less time looking in the rearview mirror and more vision anticipating the road ahead.
My passion for engaging students in deeper learning during the thirteen formative years they spend in schools led me to start a foundation that is now a decade old. I am certain there are many young learners -- many more than most of us acknowledge -- who, like myself, learn visually as well as verbally, who like to use their hands as well as their heads, and whose creative and artistic talents go untapped in the traditional textbook-based classroom. Granted, in the history of our nation's schools, a decade is not a very long time. But this Digital Decade has brought enormous change to our nation and our world, and has offered up many exciting new possibilities for organizing schools, the curriculum, the professional development of teachers, and the use of digital technologies.
Though it is still in its early stages, the Internet is showing us ways of connecting students and teachers to new sources of knowledge and expertise, such as the impressive collections and curators in our best museums or the creative scientists in our research centers. Such experiences offer the opportunity to break down the traditional isolation of the classroom. Businesses and community groups are developing new partnerships with schools through, for instance, school-to-career projects giving students valuable real-world experiences and helping them see the practical value of their classroom lessons. Teachers are taking on new roles as learners, and students in middle school and high school are learning to teach each other and to act in a role formerly reserved only for graduate students: serving as teaching assistants to their own teachers.
This book tells the success stories of schools leading the way to this new future. These stories are not hypothetical, they're actual accounts of courageous pioneers -- teachers, principals, superintendents, and educators at all levels -- who are blazing trails to a new horizon. They have taken risks, experimented, and in many cases, had to "buck the system." I believe these committed educators are among the most important individuals in our society. By telling their stories, we honor them and their unselfish dedication to the best hope we have for ensuring the future of our democracy: our children.