George Lucas Educational Foundation

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

In praise of teachers, arts education, and surviving algebra.
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share
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.

Comments (5) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Barbara Nolen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with the idea about the Arts. Ha Ha. It is really hard to have students understand and respect the Arts when they live with parents who do not value the Arts. We must learn others' cultural backgrounds if we are to proceed to work and live in the fast paced change of our global climate of learning. It would be such a help to the Art Teacher of any school if all of the faculty would use Art vocabulary in everyday teaching of whatever subject they teach and connect it so that our students can see how important Art will be in their future. Thanks....

Melinda Wissel's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that to educate the whole child, the arts aren't a side subject. Both music and art address the individuality of students in an academic world and in a humane world. Through music students succeed, dream, explore, relax and can tie in every other subject matter. It scares me to see so many schools talking about budget cuts including elementary music and art. Your communitities need to rise and address these issues before they become one.

Rachel Evans's picture
Rachel Evans
Theatre Ed Teacher-Prep at Kean University, New Jersey

Since this was originally published in 2008, I'm wondering if Ms. Judd has any updates or new thoughts on her answers. Have we made any progress since she first considered these questions?  Edutopia:  any chance of asking her?

Elana Leoni's picture
Elana Leoni
Edcamper, Former @Edutopia, Founder of Social Media Marketing Consultancy aimed at helping educational orgs.

Many of you have asked on Facebook if Ashley Judd is currently doing work in education. Although we cannot verify these details with her team, we did find some articles on the web detailing what she's been up to in the philanthropic realm:

:: To further her career as a political activist, in 2009 Judd enrolled in the Harvard Kennedy School's Mid-Career Master in Public Administration (MC/MPA) program. Source:

:: Here's a website that lists Mrs. Judd's recent philanthropic activities, which include speaking out against mountain top mining, supporting women's rights, and Aids/Malaria in Africa. Source:

Bobbi Combs's picture
Bobbi Combs
High School Language Arts, Cincinnati

Language Arts courses that are taught in isolation are really missing the mark and aren't making the impact they can and should be.  History and Social Studies are obvious topics to connect to literature and to writing. Perhaps less obvious, but JUST AS SIMPLE to incorporate are, well, EVERYTHING else: Art, Music, Science, Physcial Education and Health, Foreign Languages, Ethics, Business, Careers, Family and Consumer Sciences, Technology, and yes, even Math! It is incumbent upon we Language Arts teachers to keep these content areas thriving, even if budgetary concerns take the courses out of day-to-day curriculum.  Barbara, you are right about using Art vocabulary in everyday teaching in other content areas. In fact, it would benefit everyone if "jargon" from every content area found its way across the curriculum, just as teachers of all content areas should be proficient writers in their own areas of speacialty and should teach students how to write effectively, if not passionately, about those areas.


Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.