Professional Learning

On Teachers and Teaching: The Key to Innovation in Education

George Lucas argues that educators are central to reform efforts in schools.

September 1, 2000
Credit: Edutopia

George Lucas discussed his ideas on teaching and teachers with a distinguished national expert on the topic, Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford University professor of teaching and teacher education.

A Vision of Education

People love your films in part because they give us a picture of the future and what it could be. The George Lucas Educational Foundation is sort of doing the same thing for schools and education. You're helping us see what education can be when it's great and when it's really supportive to kids. So I wondered if you would just talk a little about what your vision of education is when you think about a great school and what it does.

It's instituting things like project learning. Once you add project learning, then a lot of other things fall away because it's hard to do project learning without having communication with the students. You can't sort of do it in isolation. And obviously you're not doing things in the abstract. And you end up having to work with other students, which is cooperative learning, which promotes emotional intelligence, which is actually much more important in the real world than a high degree of intellectual intelligence, because what you're really doing is working with other people.

A lot people think you can improve education without worrying about teachers and teaching -- that you get the right curriculum package, you get the right testing system, you get the right management scheme -- and that somehow putting those things in place will make schools better. But you've really focused more on teaching.

The trouble is what we're dealing with here is humans and human brains -- children. They don't respond well to being put on an assembly line. They respond well to other people. The most powerful element in education is the teacher. Nothing will ever compete with that. One human being having human contact with another human being is the most powerful force.

And then what should the teacher do?

The teacher can be with the student and see how the student relates to that information and help the student learn to assess the information and gather the information and then ultimately use the information in an intelligent way using critical-thinking skills. That's something a teacher can do. No machine can do it. No computer can do it.

What the students respond most to is being able to have a one-on-one dialogue and argument with somebody and then have somebody say, "You're right," and pat them on the back. "That's a very interesting way of looking at it." There's no other way to do that that's going to work.

Extraordinary Teachers

This audience for this videotape is a group of extraordinary teachers who have gotten the very first professional honor created by teachers for other teachers. This National Board Certification is like board certification in medicine. They've put together a portfolio of their work over a year -- videotapes of their teaching, assessments of their students that they show other teachers who evaluate this. And they're extraordinary. Their practice is the kind of thing you've described. It's connected. It's humane. It's thoughtful.

I have strong feelings about teachers, and I think they're the most important individuals in our society. So, I would congratulate them on their good work. And I also think that teachers need to be creative and inventive and break the mold and step out of the box of the way things are being done. And I know how difficult that is, because the system is built to keep everybody in the box. So I applaud them for their bravery and courage in bucking the system -- which I'm sure they all have done.

I wish there were a lot more teachers. It is truly one of the highest callings. It is a job filled with compassion, and compassion is what brings happiness. Unfortunately, there is not as much monetary reward in this as there should be because unfortunately, for whatever reason, this society does not value the educational process the way it should.

One last question: My favorite character -- actually probably in all of film -- is Yoda, for his quiet wisdom. And when he says, "Do or do not; there is no try," that expresses a certain kind of determination that I suspect reflects some determinations that you may have as well. And I wonder, what would you be most determined to accomplish?

In the world of education, when I got involved in it, I wanted to make a lot of change and it came down to where my niche was -- where I found the thing that I could do that I thought could make the most difference using my talents and my skills and my resources. It is very, very simple to gather information about what works and then disseminate it. And even that is daunting. You want to give back and you want to try to make it a better society. Teachers are able to do this even if they only do it one at a time.

I'm trying to do it in the educational foundation even if we kind of do it a school at a time, and even if it seems like a hopeless exercise -- which it definitely does at times. But I do believe things are going to get better. "Do" is when you are going to do it. It's landing at the beach at Normandy. There is no "try." And it's the same way with teachers. It's the same way with students. It's hard to get them to understand that life is a challenge and you have to sort of be up for it. And I think as a society we must understand that. We have to really improve our thinking if we're going to be around a billion years from now.

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