By Tim Jimenez
BRYN MAWR, Pa. (CBS) – A Main Line school gymnasium was packed last night with hundreds of people wanting to hear from M. Night Shyamalan. It was an hour-and-a-half discussion with the Penn Valley-raised, Academy Award-nominated director — but not about any of his movies.
Shyamalan says he will be the first to acknowledge a common reaction when people find out he wrote a book about education:
“There’ll be skepticism when they hear that I wrote something that has to do with something that isn’t film.”
The Baldwin School, with an estimated crowd of 500 students, parents, educators, and others, hosted the famed director as he discussed his book, I Got Schooled: The Unlikely Story of How a Moonlighting Movie Maker Learned the Five Keys to Closing America’s Education Gap.
“I think everybody, actually, that was their first reaction when the book came out (September 2013): ‘What does he know about education?’ ” said Sally Powell, Baldwin’s head of school. “I know him and I know his background and I knew it was definitely going to be worth reading.”
Shyamalan, known for directing The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, and other movies, has long been interested in education. A foundation he started with his wife, Dr. Bhavna Shyamalan, would issue college scholarships to ambitious inner-city students.
However, he said, they realized that did not do much to tackle the broader problem of closing the education gap between schools in suburban, more affluent communities and inner-city schools.
“This isn’t necessarily about the money — writing checks. We started that way. But it’s really about how to think about it and putting human capital in the right places,” he said.
His book is the final product of nearly a half-decade of research: a collection of real data that Shyamalan said he cultivated from flourishing schools in the country with a similar makeup of students also seen in underperforming schools.
“It was so hard for me to get the information. It took 4½ years, and all my influence and all the resources I could bring to the table. It really showed me how buried the real truth is,” he said, “and how an inner city mom of a low-income kid — how is she going to get the information if it took me 4½ years?”
Shyamalan emphasized to the crowd that the book was based on data and not his opinion or politically charged arguments that pit sides and organizations against each other.
“Honestly, and I say it over and over: there isn’t a villain. There are a lot of people trying to do right by these kids but don’t know exactly how to go about it,” he said.
He hopes he’s onto ideas that catch on with those trying to rethink education and close the gap.
“These kids can be taught and they can achieve at the highest levels, and we can make that happen right now. This is a one-generation problem,” he said. “And I’m determined the City of Philadelphia will be the test case and model for the rest of the country.”