George Lucas gives his views on education

By Murray Bourne, 31 Dec 2007

George Lucas recently had a Q&A discussion with Bob Thurman at Dreamforce 2007.

It turns out that George Lucas is passionate about education and is keen to promote the use of technology to help kids learn.

He set up the George Lucas Education Foundation in 1991 and it has been a force for educational change ever since.

The Foundation produces Edutopia, whose tagline is:

Edutopia: Information and Inspiration for Innovative Teaching in K-12 Schools

The description of the Edutopia site tells it all:

Hundreds of articles, expert interviews, research, and resources highlighting success stories in K-12 education. Short videos provide case studies in technology integration, project-based learning, emotional intelligence, teacher preparation, assessment and more.

George didn't do very well at school and particularly not in math and science, which he complained was:

curriculum inside a box

He began to enjoy learning at college (many of us do) and studied anthropology. He found his film-making passion and the rest is history.

He began to mix with educators who were trying to fix the sorry state of institutional education. Of course, it is not surprising that technology features in his proposed solutions.

He's so right when he says:

Take the computers and use them as a tool like a pencil to help the educational and learning process. ... [It] facilitates age-old learning techniques, which is cooperative and interactive learning.

He gives a definition of "real learning" that resonates well with me:

It's project-based learning. It's collaborative. It's interactive. Cooperative learning is Aristotle. He never taught anything. He never said: 'Well, the way you do it is this and this and this.' He always said: 'Well, how would you do it? Here's a problem, what do you think about that'. It was a dialogue. The students did the learning and the teacher was there to facilitate. That is the way education should be, and it has worked for thousands of years. And that's the way young children learn — they learn out of curiosity.

On math education, he says:

Instead of saying 'learn math', you say: 'Here, I want you to build an airplane, but it has to be a real airplane because we are going to simulate it on a computer. But you have to learn all the science, you have to learn all the math and you have to learn all the stuff in order to help you build this airplane.' So they learn because they need it as a tool and they know why they are learning it. That suddenly engages them in a way and they are learning to do something. Our philosophy is to teach kids how to find information. You teach them how to access information and see how true it is and then you use it in a creative endeavour — to build and do something.

The key thing in that paragraph is "... and they know why they are learning it."

Lucas goes on with something I am also passionate about - the need for meaning in education. He says:

The biggest problem with the educational system is that every student will come to you as a parent or a teacher or an educator at some point and they will ask the very critical question: 'Why am I learning this? How does this relate to me? Why do I have to learn calculus?' But when you say: 'Here, build a rocket ship to Mars' they will say "Oh, I need calculus..."

While I totally agree with the sentiments expressed here, I'm not sure that I agree that his "build a rocket ship to Mars" is the best problem to get students working on (not everyone is into space, or rockets or going to Mars). How about getting them to work on real Earthly problems, like reducing energy demand, reducing pollution, reducing income disparity, providing clean water for millions in Africa, and so on?

In conclusion, he says:

We have to develop an education system that is not about learning facts but learning about how to get the facts.

Check out the rest of the interview.

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