My View: An open letter to George Lucas - we need your independent vision
November 8th, 2012
04:15 AM ET

My View: An open letter to George Lucas - we need your independent vision

Courtesy Anthony CodyBy Anthony Cody, Special to CNN

Editor’s note:Anthony Cody worked in schools in Oakland, California, for 24 years. He taught middle school science 18 of those years. He lives in Mendocino County, California, and leads workshops for teachers. He writes the Living in Dialogue blog, and you can follow him on Twitter, @AnthonyCody.

(CNN) - Dear Mr. Lucas,

I have recently read of the $4 billion that you will receive for selling your movie empire to Disney, and your plans to give most of this money to support education. This is wonderful news. I deeply appreciate this generosity. I am writing a letter to encourage you to think outside the box as you decide how to spend these funds. It is critical to consider where educators find ourselves in 2012.

The George Lucas Education Foundation already has made a substantial impact on our schools. Edutopia has been an amazing resource for years, sharing news and examples of project-based learning, authentic inquiry and other innovations. The emphasis is almost always on giving students rich challenges, with opportunities for creative expression.

This emphasis is decidedly at odds with the direction of the other giants of “education reform” such as the Gates Foundation. It also runs counter to the mainstream of No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top and other government-led reforms, which place their faith in standardized test data and curriculum aligned to standards and tests.

Students have suffered through an entire generation of test-centered reforms. The results are very poor. The National Academy of Sciences released a report last year that concluded a decade of ever-higher stakes attached to tests has yielded no growth.

In high-poverty schools, students are receiving an impoverished curriculum. I work with teachers to encourage them to engage their students in meaningful projects, and they are under tremendous pressure to prepare students for tests, which often leaves them with little time for open-ended investigations. We are seeing increased economic and racial segregation as charter schools increasingly stratify our students, often leaving the more difficult (and expensive) to teach students behind in the public schools.

Creative teachers find ways to enrich their classrooms through meaningful projects. They find ways to collaborate and share what is working in their classrooms, and Edutopia has offered us a place to find one another. There are discussions there of social and emotional learning, authentic assessment and project-based learning. We need these alternatives now more than ever, and we need them for all students, not just those in private schools, or those attended by the wealthy.

We will eventually emerge from this educational dark age. Eventually people will wake up to the fact that test scores have never been any sort of a ticket to a creative and innovative economy. We did not become the most vibrant economy in the world by having the best test scores. And we will not out-compete the world by dumbing down our educational system in this endless pursuit of standardization.

Every student, especially those living in poverty, needs the chance to develop his or her ideas. Every student needs the challenge of open-ended projects. We need solid academic instruction as well, but we need to be open to other ways of assessing learning and escape the trap that says we must script and standardize every day of instruction. (See an example here.)

I urge you to continue to stake out and expand the unique role Edutopia has played in promoting authentic learning.

I hope these new funds will not be used to further the destructive agenda that other philanthropists have set. Do not embrace the idea that due process for teachers is the enemy of quality. Do not yield to the technocratic vision of perfectly aligned standards, curriculum and tests. Do not try to raise test scores by rewarding or punishing teachers.  Do not advance the privatization of education, but rather, support our public schools as the surest vehicle by which this is made available to all. Insist on this for every child, not just those with high test scores.

Continue to develop another vision, one driven by authentic, open-ended learning, driven by student curiosity and imagination. Look for ways to elevate the voices of  classroom teachers and students in education policy. By working with and empowering the creative teachers and students of the nation, you can be a guiding light leading us out of this dark age and into a new era. Thank you for your vision - we need it now more than ever.

Anthony Cody

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Anthony Cody.

soundoff (68 Responses)
  1. Don Corley

    Bravo, Anthony! Your beliefs are supported by teachers, students, and parents across the country.

    November 15, 2012 at 3:07 am |
  2. kitten

    The problem with education resides in the lack of insight into child development and, consequently, the approach to teacher training. The child is not just a little adult. There is a lawful unfolding of formative forces and inner capacities that , when properly supported, has the potential to encourage every individual to reach an optimum potential. The teacher must be trained in this progression of human development and deliver a curriculum that is appropriate for each stage. The Waldorf curriculum is a powerful tool with which to nourish the stages of development and support the journey from childhood to maturity with age-appropriate learning! It has nothing to do with more money, longer school days, or standardized testing!!!

    November 14, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
  3. how can make money blogging

    I got useful information from your article.

    November 13, 2012 at 11:47 pm |
  4. Goose66

    What education in this Country needs is good teachers. And to ensure we have good teachers, you have to set high standards and hold teachers accountable to them. Your bleeding heart teacher's union rhetoric doesn't help anyone but yourself and other teachers. None of us out here in the real world believe for one minute that teachers such as yourself cares about students or the quality of education more than you care about your union.

    November 13, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • Alice in PA

      And yet states with unionized teachers outperform states without unions. The evidence is clear that unions are not to blame.

      November 14, 2012 at 6:48 am |
    • tiedyedeb

      Dear Goose66: I have no clue what ivory tower you're in where you see teachers who don't care. We're all over the place out here where the rubber meets the road.

      We'd like to be able to reach these kids, to reach their families, to help them learn, but our hands are tied by policies made by people who don't have a clue what goes on in classrooms, especially classrooms in poor public schools.

      Are you part of the solution? Are you IN those schools, mentoring kids, volunteering? Have you any idea how hard it is to learn when you're hungry and your house is cold because there's no power (or your car is cold because there's no house)? Do you yourself care about those kids and families? If not, you're part of the problem.

      November 14, 2012 at 7:51 am |
  5. Goose66

    "Every student, especially those living in poverty, needs the chance to develop his or her ideas." Why especially the students living in poverty. Do you think poor children deserve to be better educated and provided more opportunities than those that are not poor? That is pretty biased of you. I would think that one would at least believe that every student should be given opportunity, and leave it at that.

    November 13, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
    • Alice in PA

      We have known for almost 50 years that poverty is the largest factor in a child's learning. But children in poverty ridden neighborhoods often have schools where the curriculum is so scripted that the child's actual needs are ignored. THey have programs in art and music cut, despite the fact that these programs lead to increased academic success in other areas. Wealthier schools have more fluid and individualized curriculum. That is why Mr. Cody specifically addressed children in poverty.

      November 14, 2012 at 6:51 am |
  6. Any Mouse

    That man spent a lifetime amassing a fortune, he can blow it all on escorts and hooch for all I care. It's HIS MONEY. Regardless of what your wonderful plans and recommendations for HIS MONEY are, it is still......HIS MONEY. Any recipients should be thankful if he donates to them. It seems very arrogant to make an appeal/argument as to HOW he should spend it.

    November 13, 2012 at 7:33 am |
    • glassBlown records

      Too often those who have large sums of money and donate it have no idea how to appropriately apply it to the problems they want to help fix. If any person has a right to voice an opinion on how that money could be spent, it's a teacher. Not a board of directors, certainly not the government.

      November 13, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  7. Alfred

    What a great letter/message..............

    November 12, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
  8. jj

    Teachers' salaries need to be raised. That will attract more qualified people into the profession, and the excellence will benefit the students.

    November 12, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
  9. Meh

    I was expecting this to be about the next Star Wars films, with points such as "don't use another Jar Jar character", etc. Bah, why did it have to be grounded in reality? That's no fun.

    November 12, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
  10. imuneekru

    I'm grateful to hear that he's putting the money toward a worthy and neglected cause! Though I must say, I don't think technology is the answer. Stuff as simple as a fresh chalkboard, office supplies, and reimbursement for the countless odds and ends that teachers fund out of their own practically-empty pockets, would be a good start. Paying teachers fairly for their immense work would be an even better one.

    School success isn't for the gifted or technologically advanced, it's for those who want to learn. I was homeschooled practically all my life and, apart from standard curriculum bought from a catalogue, I dragged myself out of bed at 6am every morning to study out-of-print garage-sale texts, wade through the Autobiography of Ben Franklin, and figure out how to make a working clock out of pasteboard parts, because my parents showed me the value of learning. I came to college asking questions and knowing how to think and research for myself. I taught myself to speak Russian like a native using a beat-up text and some cassettes, because I had a burning desire to be use the knowledge I gathered to communicate with people. I was full of ideas, of where I wanted to go in the future, what I wanted to do with the life that was given to me.

    We didn't have money growing up. I had a dollar-a-week allowance and a library card. We didn't even have Internet until I was in college.

    Kids don't need iPads and fancy overhead projectors. What they do need is love. They need to grow up with the sense that their lives matter, both now and in the future. And that is as much, if not more, the job of their parents as of their educators. When a child or adult starts to look for the learning opportunities around them, they will find abundantly more than money can buy.

    November 12, 2012 at 8:09 am |
  11. Lizard Lance

    Shop classes have diminished from public schools across the country as we attempt to force what would be mechanics, carpenters, HVAC repairmen, and so forth into higher level math and science classes that these students may not be suited for. In other words, we are pounding square pegs and hoping they will go into round holes for the benefit of school district administrators who want to beat their chests and proclam that XX percentage of their students are college-bound while dismissing the fact that not all students are college material. Furthermore, the lack of a college education does not mean failure. However, the fact that our schools are increasingly removing alternative learning programs will reduce the chances of success. We have too many lawyers, businessmen, and politicians trying to run the schools and they have failed miserably.

    November 12, 2012 at 6:23 am |
  12. Kim hyun na

    Great job man and i hope you continoun write it

    November 12, 2012 at 2:43 am |
  13. Rolly

    I can't quite recall who uttered the following statement: Money is like manure, it doesn't do any good if you don't spread it around.

    November 11, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
  14. Milton Platt

    I wonder if "teaching to the test" also contributes to lack of critical thinking skills.

    November 11, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
  15. coolermaster912

    One of the most important subjects in this country that never is a major political bullet item is Education. Anthony points out that "eventually" we will fix this problem. I say this problem will not get fixed because of the amount of money it will take to fix it. Socially lack of education can seen as a modern form of slavery. To get a quality education you must come from money, obtain a scholarship, or promise to give up a portion of your paycheck for the rest of your life to pay for the education you receive. I applaud G. Lucas for what he is doing, but if Bill Gates / Oprah / U2 and others didn't funnel their money into Africa (and I'm a Thug turned Black Man who made it out of the ghetto by giving up a portion of my paycheck to pay back student loans) whose government is more corrupt than any amount of corruption I have ever read about then maybe juts maybe this country would make better strides and use those strides to help less fortunate countries like Africa.

    November 11, 2012 at 7:31 am |
  16. Rob

    There will be special incentives given for students who want to specialize in archaeology and Nazi hunting; phys ed will focus on running away from boulders and whipcracking, and they will learn that all ancient things belong in a museum.

    November 11, 2012 at 12:37 am |
    • Junior

      They also need to be taught to drink from the right grail cups. Students that fail will prematurely age then crumble into dust...

      November 12, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
  17. MashaSobaka

    Bravo, bravo, bravo. I teach composition to college freshmen and it is so sad to see them unable to think out of anything but the "Find the answer for the test" box. These kids have no idea how to have an independent thought and they will suffer dearly for it as their lives go on. We need more voices like this.

    November 10, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
  18. A. priori

    Bless you Mr. Lucas and thank you Anthony Cody If teaching students the lifetime ability of authentic inquiry is not the greatest gift and loftiest purpose of education, I don't know what is. This is the germ for the principled soul. This is the hope for the excelsior society.

    November 10, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
  19. Jason Glugla

    I really very much doubt that he will be giving most of it away. Since when has Lucas been so generous?

    November 10, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • Miriam Hamsa

      Uh, because George Lucas has stated that he is doing so.

      November 10, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
      • envisualize

        Actually he has not stated that he is giving it away, he has stated that he is donating, to his own charity which means by moving the $4 billion he saves about a 1/4 of that in taxes. It will take him a lifetime to donate the amount he's saving.

        November 11, 2012 at 7:05 am |
    • Daniel J.

      George Lucas ha always been very generous and proactive with his wealth. He recently gave half (half!) of his entire fortune away to charity. Look up some of his charitable endeavors. He's a man to be admired.

      Great article!

      November 12, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
  20. Paul232

    It's about parenting...if parents read to their kids, and show an interest in their own intellect thru reading and disucssiions at dinner, kids will too. Bodes poorly for USA.

    November 10, 2012 at 7:34 am |
    • The Truth

      You hit the nail on the head, education starts and ends with the parents. Your kids can go to a badly funded school, but if you actually take an active role in their learning the kids will be fine. Of course this does not mean helicoptering, but more of pushing your kids to learn, testing their retention and setting the example. The funny part is you do not have to be well educated yourself and you may even learn with your kids.

      November 12, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
  21. Jabba

    All the money George Lucas donates goes to Jedi training.

    November 10, 2012 at 2:16 am |
  22. KnowledgeSTRONG

    See our passionate Business Development Intern, George Lucas fan, and avid gamer's blog response to Mr. Cody's letter – Its good!

    knowledgestrong.blogspot.com

    November 9, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
    • kb

      I just read your reaction to the letter Mr. Cody wrote to George Lucas, and I am so tired of everyone who has no idea what goes on in the school, the classroom, or the homelife of each child announcing that they know exactly what is wrong with our education system and all of you that know, say the same thing, it is the teachers and the administrators faults. This makes no since to me. Every state has failing schools and in a large portion of those states the failing schools out number the passing schools. So that means that about 60% or more of teachers are bad and so whats happening is that schools are closing and then reopening as charter schhols who would rather hire non teachers, because that makes so much since. I would really like to know from you because I really don't understand this narrowness of thinking from so many people. Why can't it be other reasons? Why can't the test be a big problem. Why can't parents be a part of the problem. Why can't it be that every year something new is thrown at the teachers to teach in a whole new way so that they have to be trained but the training depends on whether or not their district wants to pay for the training or how much they want to pay for? This year the new thing is common core. Or why can't one of the issues be the fact that teachers arn't actually just teachers any more. They are psychiatrists, psyclogists, policemen, parents, tutors, peacekeepers and what ever else you can think of but the majority of teachers only went to school to be teachers. Why can't there be a problem with the system? Why can't it be the fact that most schools don't have P.E. anymore? Many have lost a large portion of their recess, many schools don't have any extra curricular activities. The arts are pretty much nill to none in most schools and most sports are gone. Why can't these be a big part of the problem. I just don't understand blaming administration and teachers. I would say a large portion of teachers want their studets to learn and care about how well they do. Most teachers go into school early and stay late preparing for their class. Until people start thinking for themselves and stop believing the rhetoric and propaganda and start demanding real change that is really going to do something. Not just close schools, fire all the teachers and then hire very young nonprofessional teachers to teach the children things are going to stay the same. So I am begging you to stop listening to all the politicians and the stars and really look into what the problems, heres a thought ask a teacher, a real teacher.

      November 9, 2012 at 11:06 pm |
      • kb

        I just thought of something else. Teachers are doing everything they are told to do by the state, the school board and their administration and believe me with the atmosphere in education today with teachers losing there jobs left and right they are being delligent in doing all that they are told to; Why wouldn't that be the state, the school boards and the administrations fault I mean if they are following their directions. Another thing I don't understand.

        November 9, 2012 at 11:22 pm |
      • Freeman Lowell

        Nice paragraph. Good luck in College.

        November 11, 2012 at 2:18 am |
  23. Reinvent_ED

    Anthony,

    I think you jumped the gun on this one, and I have no doubt that GL has already thought long and hard about where the money is going – and it will go towards innovative approaches to learning, enabled through technology.

    After all, Lucas was a pioneer in using technology for special effects in his myriad of film credits, including Star Wars.

    Unfortunately, letters like this, in my experience, serve the opposite purpose that the author intended. This will be met with deaf ears, because GL has a grand plan, and it will be one that breaks down barriers that have plagued real reform in public education. GL is going to join the list of "giants" of education reform, and he will do it HIS way, and truly "reinvent" public education in America and the rest of the world.

    Al Meyers
    ReinventED Solutions

    November 9, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
    • Charles

      I'm not informed on this question but what you said makes sense. George is a pioneer and will follow his instincts outside of the status quo to serve his community.

      November 9, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
  24. Rob

    after reading this article, I am saddened to have to say that teachers should focus on their subject matter rather than the budgeting and funding of the school systems....unless the teacher specializes in school district financial matters, they are no more educated or informed than most other people...

    November 9, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
    • arjay

      And what exactly makes you qualified to ascertain this? As a public school teacher, I am
      quite aware of budget issues, as it does directly pertain to my profession. This does not
      in anyway detract from my focus on teaching my subject, anymore than your comment would
      suggest you do not pay attention to whatever profession you happen to be in.

      November 9, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
    • Matt Williston

      Rob, you sound like a school administrator. You sound like one of those pressuring teachers to teach to pass tests instead of encouraging critical thinking. Listen to yourself: "You don't know enough about the budget you're forced to work with", you said, adding the like of "Ignore the man behind the green curtain and just do your job"

      Well, Bob, when the Wizard of Oz reveals that he has no idea what's going on, you can't blame Dorothy for calling foul.

      November 9, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
  25. BD

    Came to this article expecting Star Wars. I was very disappointed.

    November 9, 2012 at 9:16 am |
    • Layne

      These weren't the droids you were looking for?

      November 10, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
  26. max maxwell

    Finally a person who sees through the fluff. Testing, either pass and the teacher gets a raise and another year added to their tenure, or fail and as the class faisl so does the school. Ther is no room for the individual to shine, to grow to develope putside of the "box". to you smarty pants losers, can you spot the next Potus, or cure for stupidity? funny me either so if you can't understand the above open letter go home and dress up in your Princess Leia outfits.

    November 9, 2012 at 5:14 am |
    • Well Wellmax

      From your post I can guess that you were dressed up as Princess Leia when you typed it.

      November 9, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • Joe

      The real crime in the school systems is you can throw all the money you want at a school and a good amount of the money ends up going to the over-bloated administration. But then why would anyone expect any less since schools mirror the bureaucracy of government? You have schools like here in my town in NJ which go from only Grade K through 3 and they have a Principal, a Vice Principal and another huge administrative staff. Then you go to the next school up. 4 through 5. Different school. Different Principal Different VP, different over-bloated staff. All of that money could be going to help the kids but instead it goes to the empire running the tiny school. Then on top of that you have the Unions which cause all sorts of issues that are not related to education but to keep the dollars flowing to the union leadership. Lets face Randi Weingarten can care less about children and their education. She is a criminal!

      November 9, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
  27. Amir Ali

    I am sitting in edhi ambulance for going somewhere i got one friend name is aslam he is volunteer in edhi center star gate ,yesterday rangers got bomb very said

    November 9, 2012 at 2:10 am |
  28. Amir Ali

    The name is ghazi rangers the same rangers who dlvd korean girl in nazimabad and she is alive got one baby girls there is mr mushraf park..

    November 9, 2012 at 2:05 am |
  29. Amir Ali

    If pak rangers never give neck and when i start talk and in throat got dirty hair when we said leave neck they said if mr biden say they will free the neck..

    November 9, 2012 at 2:01 am |
  30. Amir Ali

    Yesterday pak rangers got bomb blast in near hq and responsible of milk attachmnt from mr joseph biden 24 hrs attached in milk small packet also pak rangers..

    November 9, 2012 at 2:00 am |
  31. lolwut

    The man responsible for Jar Jar should stay the F away from our children. He'll ruin the next generation like he ruined Star Wars!

    November 9, 2012 at 12:29 am |
  32. lolololol

    boo hoo, i though this article was gonna be about Star Wars...who cares about educational charities?

    November 8, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
  33. Richard Mavers

    I dont buy that we need to dump more money into education and develop more advanced teaching methods to improve education. At my school, different students had the same teachers and the same materials: some failed out and ended up working at the post office, others excelled and became doctors and lawyers. What was the difference? The support and interest of their families.

    November 8, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
    • David

      People working at the Post Office can make good money and no student loans. Don't knock it.

      November 9, 2012 at 2:09 am |
    • saganhill

      Its not the money. Its the class room environment. Testing one after another does nothing. It teaches nothing. THe whole way of teaching needs to be over hauled. Many people do not learn the same as others and get left behind. The only thing a test shows is what you dont know. Nothing more.

      November 9, 2012 at 8:24 am |
  34. sido

    Lick everieone else hear I thenk the edukationul we hav is not as good as wen I wuz a kid.

    November 8, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
  35. Have and have nots

    When those that "have" are robbed to give to those that "have not," no one benefits. Those that have are robbed because they can't decide on who or when to give. Those that "have not" are robbed because then they don't have the opportunity to do the work themselves. The "have nots" don't appreciate the gift nor the giver.

    November 8, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
    • scanboy

      And your solution is...?

      November 8, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
      • sido

        I think his solution is Soylent Green

        November 8, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
      • LTrain

        Soylent Green is people!!!! Sorry couldn't help myself.

        November 10, 2012 at 12:58 am |
  36. Have and have nots

    Just read a neat story about some Laborers in a Vinyard. It's funny how the laborers have a better idea on how the owner of the vineyard should spend his/her money.

    November 8, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
  37. Sergio

    Mr. Lucas,
    Please don't leave out special education. My son is 12 yrs old and has autism, he is high functioning and does not really have a fit in the regular mainstream schools. We have fought the district tooth and nail for any kind of services. I'm sure there are many parents like us out there who need the help in knowing what to do and having resources available.
    Many of these children are very intelligent and need the support for there thirst of knowledge and understanding.
    There are many charities that push awareness and thats fine, but many parents are lost after they have become aware of the child's diagnosis. I hope this comment is read by you as this may be my one and only opportunity of contact.
    Regards, Sergio

    November 8, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
  38. clayfan

    All ultra-rich people should donate huges chunks of money to charity. How many houses, cars, and cling-on friends to you need anyway? Give it away once you've taken care of yourself. Excess is ugly.

    November 8, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • Loll

      Too late. Barry already got it.

      November 8, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • DE NP

      Um Yeah, Romney donates millions a year but was villified and painted something he's not... how much have the obama's donated over the years.... hmm someone that puts their money where their mouth is, someone that doesn't need the government to tell him to help his community. Lucas is another example, somone with huge amounts of wealth that doesn't need the gov't to redistribute their wealth to bloated gov't programs. The way it should be

      November 8, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
  39. fiftyfive55

    Thanks George,your a good man for your artistic as well as educational donations,you embody what wealthy people really should all be like. Now,enough of the compliments,get back and make some more movies.

    November 8, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
  40. Lee Barrios

    Thanks Anthony. Great letter as usual. We need to have the support of private and public organizations that have a vision for serving all kids.

    November 8, 2012 at 10:13 am |