Your humble blogger has a piece in the upcoming issue of Education Next looking at Edutopia, the George Lucas Educational Foundation’s effort to “spread the word about ideal, interactive learning environments and enable others to adapt these successes locally.” The piece is on EdNext’s website, along with a blog post about it.
Edutopia confidently bills itself as “What Works in Public Education” but substantiating that claim, not surprisingly, is a tall order. The Edutopian ideal owes a lot to Dewey, and the degree to which you’re a fan of the “21st century skills” movement is the degree to which you’ll feel comfortable with the Edutopian vision, which tilts heavily toward project-based learning and technology.
One big question that remains unanswered in my mind after working on the piece is the degree to which Edutopia and its six “core principles” are the brainchild of George Lucas himself, and how he got interested in education in the first place. By most accounts, Lucas was an indifferent daydreamer of a student, and an unlikely education philanthropist. If he was ill-served by his own public school education, it doesn’t seem to have hurt his prospects very much. Still, once GLEF started raising its profile, I wondered if Lucas was bidding to counterbalance the muscular accountability-and-structures ideas backed by his fellow billionaires Bill Gates and Eli Broad with the ultra-progressive, teacher-friendly Edutopia. The short answer is no, Edutopia has a very different mission. Unlike Gates and Broad, Lucas and Edutopia are not policy-driven, and they don’t give out grants to spread (or enforce) their agenda. It’s essentially a nonprofit media company that covers education. “Working for a filmmaker, we make films,” says executive director Milton Chen. “And we surround those films with other kinds of information that can support learning about how these innovative classrooms came to be.”