Celebrity Academy

A lot of famous actors want to make the world a better place.
For example (thanks, Wikipedia!), Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie donated several million dollars to causes such as Doctors Without Borders, relief efforts in Darfur, and restoration after hurricane Katrina; Jennifer Lawrence supports the World Food Programme and the special olympics; and Johnny Depp donated a million pounds to a hospital.
Pitt, Jolie, Lawrence and Depp were just the first four celebrities that popped into my head. It’s a rather common thing: if you are famous and rich and popular, you are probably doing some philanthropy or donations or similar acts of altruism. In fact, I’m 80% confident that more than 90% of popular celebrities (say, 100 highest paid actors, to be concrete) do this sort of thing.
I’m not criticising this, by the way. It may be that some celebrities do this sort of thing because everyone else does it, and they have a public image they want to keep. But which one of us doesn’t wish for “world peace” when blowing out the birthday candles? Famous Rich Celebrities, being both famous and rich, are in a much better position to actually make a change towards that better future. If you had a spare million dollars lying around, wouldn’t you want to help end world hunger?
Alas, despite their best intentions, I think celebrities are not doing enough, or, more precisely, their efforts are misdirected. The huge fortune spent on hurricane relief and ending strife in Darfur are the philanthropist’s equivalent of giving a man a fish. A multi-million-dollar fish, but a fish nonetheless. The man will be fed, for a day. But what will happen tomorrow? What we really need is to teach them how to fish. In other words: education.
And not just any education. STEM education. If there is anything lacking in the education of the billions which throng the Earth, it is analytical thinking, healthy criticism, and a good, solid foundation in scientific understanding.

How many times have you tried watching educational videos on Khan Academy, only to be deterred by the ghostly and detached narrator? Oh, that unseen Narrator, hiding behind a blackboard of pixels. How can one learn without making eye contact, without creating a psychological link of understanding between the student and the teacher? It is beyond doubt that real, live teachers far outmatch their shadows. One cannot teach with just a voice. A teacher needs presence. A teacher needs charisma. A teacher needs to engage, to entertain, to make you sit on the edge of your chair as she nears the climax of a proof. Any seasoned lecturer will tell you, a class is a show, and the students are a hard audience. A good teacher will make them laugh, will make them cry, will make them learn without even realizing it.
Actors have presence. Actors have charisma. Actors engage. They entertain. They make you sit on the edge of your chair with nothing but a monologue. They make you laugh. They make you cry. They change your perception of life. They are performers, from head to toe.
I therefore propose “The Celebrity Academy”, an educational initiative aimed at finally giving the mindless masses the massive minds they need. In its core, it will contain hundreds of courses, most notably in STEM fields, each with both lectures and tutorials. In this aspect, it will not vary much from other projects, such as Opencourseware or the Khan Academy.
However, consider this:

  • Introduction to Linear Algebra taught by Jennifer Lawrence
  • Representation Theory of Compact Groups taught by Johnny Depp
  • Topics in Complex Analysis with Brad Pitt
  • Additive Combinatorics and Fourier Analysis with Angelina Jolie

The Celebrity Academy will utilize the strong stage performances of the celebrities in order to generate clear, empathetic video lectures. An argument might be raised that actors are not teachers, and this much is true; but it should well be noted that they need not be. Video lectures avoid much of the challenges in a live-audience classroom, and allow cutting, post-editing and retaking to achieve material of utmost quality. Further, the lectures need not be written by the actors themselves; a “lecture director”, just like a film director, will help plan them.
However, to make it clear, the actors will NOT be ignorant of the subject matter. Johnny Depp will teach Representation Theory of Compact Groups, after he himself has studied and passed the course. This will surely take some time, as most actors do not have graduate or even undergraduate degrees in scientific fields. But, given the dedication to their art, and the mental and physical preparations that some actors undertake when learning a new role, I am sure that most professionals will have no trouble meeting the required criteria.
It is important to understand that the celebrities’ presentation skills, while potent, will only contribute to half of Celebrity Academy’s strength. The other half will be gained by their reputation. How many millions of views will “Evolution Theory” have, when it is taught by Matt Damon? How many lives will have been saved, when Scarlett Johansson explains in detail the mechanism behind vaccines and why they have nothing to do with Autism? How many people will cease to be fooled by politician’s statistics, once they have learned Statistics 101 from their childhood idols?

Celebrities can inspire millions to think abstractly about things they have never thought about before. With a single word, they can distribute the world’s knowledge to hundreds of thousands. What have we to gain? Our education, our future. What have we to lose? Just a pitiful three years where our actors will cease to appear in films, and instead focus on their Bachelor of Science in Mathematics, Physics, and other STEM fields. And after those three years, believe me, the films they will produce will change your world in ways no previous film of theirs could ever come close to.celebrity_featured.jpg

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2 comments

  1. Inspired perhaps by The Martian and Matt Damon explaining the physics of survival on Mars? 🙂

    A great idea, I’d love to learn from the Celebrity Academy! I could think of quite a few actors that could spice up computer science – maybe Leonardo DiCaprio as the wolf of algorithms and data structures or Morgan Freeman narrating through those long compiler design lectures.

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