George Lucas Educational Foundation
Professional Learning

Celebrity Q&A: John Lithgow on Supporting Schools

“I would like to see ten times as much money put into education, and see it well spent.”

June 14, 2007

After getting nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of a transgendered quarterback in The World According to Garp, John Lithgow won enormous critical acclaim, as well as three Emmy Awards, one Golden Globe Award, an American Comedy Award, and two Screen Actors Guild awards, for his starring role in the television comedy series 3rd Rock from the Sun.

He also is well known for his film credits, which include Shrek (voice of Lord Farquaad), The Pelican Brief, Terms of Endearment (for which he was again nominated for an Academy Award), Cliffhanger, Ricochet, Memphis Belle, 2010, and Footloose. Lithgow has starred in eighteen Broadway shows, earning four Drama Desk awards and two Tony Awards.

Lithgow is an accomplished author as well. His seventh children's book, Mahalia Mouse Goes to College, was recently published. Read more at his Web site.

What is your idea of a perfect teacher?

A perfect teacher makes learning exciting, is interested in far more than his own subject, cares about his kids, and hasn't stopped learning himself. Or herself, by the way.

What was your most memorable school experience?

Two periods of art class, first thing every morning, during my entire tenth-grade year in Akron, Ohio.

What was your favorite subject?


What was the low point of your school career?

When an art teacher smushed my entire pastel still life, right in front of me, because he wanted to change my technique. This was a different school, by the way.

Did you go to public or private school?

Public schools -- eight of them, in fact.

Where did you fit in your schools' social hierarchies?

Because I went to so many schools, I was always the new kid. Just when I started to fit in, my family usually moved. This was frustrating but not all bad: I got very good at adapting. I arrived in a new school at the start of eleventh grade, and at the end of the school year I was elected president of the Student Council.

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

That's simple. I would like to see ten times as much money put into education, and see it well spent. We should have better schools, equipment, and security, and much more highly paid teachers. Schools should be kids' favorite places to be.

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

Everything can be taught in school, including elusive things like generosity, courtesy, and compassion.

What did you learn today?

I learned a couple new maneuvers on the computer. (Everybody knows more about computers than I do.)

What did you teach?

I spent six hours recording an audio book full of information about fifty famous poets.

What is in your dream lunch box?

A really good chicken-salad sandwich on whole wheat, pickles, Orangina, cole slaw. I'm getting hungry.

If the prom were tomorrow, whom would you take?

My childhood sweetheart, Mary Yeager. We've been married for twenty-five years, and I met her when we were both thirty-five, but she's still my childhood sweetheart.

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