Angelina Jolie, education reformer

The star speaks out on her "team" of teachers -- but makes a valuable point about learning

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published June 3, 2011 7:30PM (EDT)

U.S. actress Angelina Jolie poses for photographers in London August 16, 2010.    (© Suzanne Plunkett / Reuters)
U.S. actress Angelina Jolie poses for photographers in London August 16, 2010. (© Suzanne Plunkett / Reuters)

Angelina Jolie's kids are too cool for school. No really. In a Friday interview with the Independent, the Oscar winner talked about the challenges of being a globe-trotting celebrity while trying to raise six children. And unfortunately for the conventional education system, it "hasn't caught up with our children and our way of life."

Does it take a village to raise a child? It does if the kid's last name is Jolie-Pitt. Jolie, who has a few million more resources than most, explained that "for us it's about building a team around us where we can all be enhanced culturally and they can help with following a curriculum legally ... I'm the first person to say, 'get the schoolwork done as quickly as possible because let's go out and explore.' I'd rather them go to a museum and learn to play guitar and read and pick a book they love."

Few among us get to build a "team" of individual teachers for our kids or sprint off to Cannes or sleep with Brad Pitt -- though I keep looking for that job posting on Craigslist. And not every mother can say, with the voice of experience, "We love safari adventures and living in tents, we love to go to Asia. Really any place new, something beautiful that's also physical." For many more of us, the concept of going "any place new" means driving all over town looking for that Dora the Explorer doll your kid's been screaming for. No wonder then that Jolie's comments inspired a fair amount of Internet eye rolling, from commenters who noted that it's "easy to say when your children will never NEED a job. Such arrogance. Sorry, but my kid isn't going to earn a living traveling and playing guitar," and more pithily, "Why do people buy this crap from these celebrity idiots?"

But Jolie's dilemma is a surprisingly familiar one -- how do you fit your own unique, amazing, curious children into our increasingly rigid, test-oriented modern system?  How do you trust that learning isn't just a matter of sitting quietly and filling out little circles? And when Jolie says, "I wish there was a book every parent could read that tells you how to navigate through the school system, and how to tailor the education system for your children and their interests," she sounds a hell of a lot like most of the moms at my local playground.

All kids are born learners --but very few conform to the narrow academic ideal that standardization breeds. One size fits all models fit almost nobody. But what do you do with your kids if you're not oh, I don't know, an international superstar? What then, Angelina Jolie? Do have to spend a month in a yurt on Kona to give your kids the kind of education that doesn't come from test prep?

Any involved parent knows there are teachable moments to be had everywhere --in all the "bunny chasing and melon smashing" available right outside our doors, right inside our homes, and in the crucial opportunities for advocacy as near as the local Department of Ed. And even though she's rich and famous and beautiful, Jolie's opinion on education, that "We as parents need to think about how we can shake it up and make it better," is a valuable lesson. School is a just a place. But learning is a lifetime adventure.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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