Sunday, November 18, 2012

A project-based loving billionaire with no education expertise is still a billionaire with no education expertise.

Another billionaire is out to reform education. George Lucas has sold Lucasfilm to Disney for $4 billion in cash and stock and plans to spend most of his fortune on education. Lucas is already involved in education with an educational foundation that includes the website Edutopia.

Lucas's announcement has led to calls for him to take a different, more enlightened and humane road than the standardized test-based approach to education championed by Bill Gates, the Waltons, and Eli Broad. And rightly so. It has also led to some public hand-wringing from edu-thinkers who feel that Edutopia's approach to education is too nebulous and sparky but bland and will accomplish a bunch of "visionary" nothing.

Look, when people like George Lucas say things like:
"It's scary to think of our education system as little better than an assembly line with producing diplomas as its only goal."
I brace myself for the descent into pseudo-scientific, new-age hokiness. The school-as-factory metaphor doesn't work for me. I don't know what it means. I may have various negative reactions to some of the things that are done in public schools today, but I never think of them as factory-like, partly because I haven't spent much time in factories, and I bet George Lucas hasn't, either.

I also feel the same way about terms like "21st Century learning." Did people's brains work so differently in past centuries than they do today? I don't think so. When you comb through information on the internet, you are relying on the same skills and knowledge-base that you did when you were searching reference books in the library. It's just the tools (books vs. computers) that have changed.

On the other hand, I am just as averse to the term "progressive education," not to mention "ultra-progressive education." Again, I don't know what those terms mean. While policies and the content of some curricula certainly can be so, education and teaching methods are not progressive or conservative any more than a computer or computer software is progressive or conservative. They are tools and ways of doing things.

Edutopia is not some project-based boogeyman that is coming after my children. It's not some cult that has brainwashed teachers. While I may have reservations about some of the ideas they promote, I and most people recognize that Edutopia is a clearing house, a resource. That's all. Also, at this point I'd be happy to see my children spend a little more time on projects and much less on awful high-stakes testing.

I, for one, am glad that George Lucas seems to be staying out of policy, but mostly I think that George Lucas's foray into education is a symptom of a bigger problem. The money in our country is concentrated too much at the top: a few uber-wealthy individuals have out-sized power and influence and the rest of us have too little. There is no more expertise, just wealth and celebrity. This is not the way a democratic, educated society functions.

Whether or not I am sympathetic to George Lucas's ideas, his money will ultimately disrupt and corrupt public education the same way Gates, Broad, and the Walton's money has. The best he could do would be to just give grants for underfunded and unglamorous staples. Your school has no library? Here's a grant to make a library. Your school has no nurse? Here's a grant to hire a registered nurse. The kids at your school have no supervision after school? Here's a grant for sports and extracurricular activities.

A plutocrat is a plutocrat is a plutocrat. And I've had quite enough of the lot of them.

1 comment:

  1. Rachel,

    As usual, Robert beat everyone to the punch (by about two years) in asking whither George Lucas' influence.



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