Welcome to the more than sound podcast. Traditional classroom models have been shown to inhibit learning and disengage today’s students from the joy of education. For his audio series Wired To Connect, Daniel Goleman sat down with George Lucas to investigate project-based curricula that utilize high technology to excite and motivate students. This episode of the podcast features an excerpt from their conversation, titled Rethinking Education: Educating Hearts and Minds.
George Lucas: I’m a very big believer in entry points, which is how we used Young Indiana Jones and now Star Wars. We have a museum show, Science and Star Wars, which was developed by the Boston Museum, which allows students who are excited about Star Wars to say this actually applies to the real world and applies to all those classes I go to and I can relate to these things. You get something they are interested in and then you broaden it out and say this actually relates to all these other things. I think it is a very powerful tool and we are trying to push more of these programs where there is entertainment value or game value so that there are other ways that students can be engaged into the academic setting.
Daniel Goleman: We know that there is some research that looks at the strongest teachable moments in the classroom, when everyone is inspired, focused and energized and it seems that you are creating and analog of that, in which you are focused on the student and what is energizing to the student and capitalizing on that. The story of Indiana Jones or Star Wars and then unpack it in terms of the lessons embodied in that. What would be an example of how you would get to a philosopher from a moment in Star Wars?
GL: Well, in that particular book what they’ve done is gotten a lot of philosophy professors around the country who are Star Wars fans and one will do an article about stoicism and Yoda and why he is stoic and explain stoicism and how that reflects in his character. There is an unlimited supply of philosophical ideas in Star Wars. The people who have done that book have done philosophy and South Park, philosophy in all kinds of popular culture to try to bring a rather esoteric academic subject into the everyday world so that younger people can see that it relates to their world. The philosophy isn’t just from some person who lived thousands of years ago, but is actually a real issue. It’s trying to bridge the gap between the academic world and contemporary culture and trying to put them together. I have other strong feelings about communication skills and the fact that we should treat painting and music as communication as well as as an art form. You can teach it as an art form, but it is also a very big communication device. Music is the primary communication that not only all babies understand but animals understand it also. Even though they teach you how to read music and play an instrument, they don’t really focus for every student on issues like what does a minor chord make you feel like? How do the elements of music communicate feelings and ideas? You can use music to aid people in pursuing a particular idea. What kind of a drum beat do you use? What kind of tonality do you use? More and more kids are beginning to speak in multi media not just the written word. With cinema, the basic grammar isn’t taught. Screen direction is like understanding punctuation. More people are communicating in other forms. Painting and graphics: the whole world of advertising comes down to graphics. What does red mean? What does blue mean? How does a diagonal make you feel? If you are trying to convince someone to do this or that, what do you use? What kind of design do you use to express that idea? Most people experience graphics as communication. They experience it in everyday life more often than in a museum; in a magazine or on a sign when they are driving down the street.
DG: This reminds me of the theory of Howard Gardner, the Harvard educator who talks about multiple intelligences and how people can be good at the usual academic intelligences, like math and verbal abilities, but also how there is a spatial intelligence, a musical ability, a visual modality. It seems to me you’re really talking about educating people within those domains of ability.
GL: What I’m saying is that there is more than one form of communication and the written word, or verbal communication has so dominated that we have lost sight of the fact that these other forms of communication that we have now relegated to the esoteric world of art, are much more than that. They are necessary forms of communication that you must learn, just like you must learn how to construct a sentence, and learn grammar, and use a capital letter. You must learn the same things in graphics and in cinema and in music and part of it is how it works. Mathematics is the least emotional form of communication: it’s mostly logical. The word is logical, but can be used in emotional ways. Graphics, which gets to be much more emotional and unconscious, is something that works on a different system than when you are reading words. Cinema is graphics and motion. Motion relates to dance and other forms of movement. How do you communicate using motion? And then with music you communicate with sound and how do you get people to understand certain ideas using sound. Music is the most emotional form of communication. There is hardly any intellectualism in real music. It is all emotional. But it is communicating very important ideas and feelings to you, but in ways that math which is not emotional and is very precise doesn’t. The wonder of it is that music and math are the same thing. So when you make a circle that goes from the least emotional to the most emotional, you end up with a circle right back where the most and the least emotional, the most intellectual and the least intellectual are actually the same thing It is a kind of duality of opposites. That’s why it is so wonderful but I do think they should teach communication in toto, not in these little bracketed things where you go to art class to learn about perspective, you go to the music school to learn about notes, chords, and phrases, and you go to the math class to learn about being precise and explaining theory, or the English to do this or that: it should be more integrated into one class where you are learning to express yourself and communicate ideas to another human being, whether they are completely emotional or completely intellectual or somewhere in between.