One-on-One with M. Night Shyamalan

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Jim Gardner's One-on-One series continues with writer and director M. Night Shyamalan.

My One-on-One series continues, this time with local boy made good, famed movie writer and director M. Night Shyamalan.

Shyamalan went to Episcopal Academy, then NYU, and now lives in Williston, Chester County.

He became a sensation in 1999 when The Sixth Sense became a huge hit. He followed that with Unbreakable, Signs and The Village.

All bore the unmistakable feel of a Shyamalan movie, and critics were generally admiring, if not unanimously overwhelmed.

Jim: Can we talk about the movies for a minute?

M. Night: Sure

Jim: Do you still love making them?

M. Night: You know, that's a good question. I don't think anyone has ever asked me that. Umm, (long pause) ... You know, I guess before when no one cared, you know, about the movies, it was all a win, right? There was no way to lose. And I just sat down and wrote something and someone wanted to make it. My God, that's amazing! It's that feeling that's not there anymore that I wish was there.

The movies all made a lot of money.

Then came Lady in the Water, The Happening, The Last Airbender and After Earth. And while the money kept coming, the critics turned on Shyamalan - sometimes savagely, sometimes mockingly.

M. Night: I've never been a critic's darling. I think primarily - this is a guess - because I'm a fairly earnest guy, as you can probably tell. I'm a very positive guy. Umm, I'm nave, I'm very emotional - I'm OK with being emotional. These are all sins. Everything I'm saying is sins. This will get you obliterated.

M. Night: I do have an edgy dark side, and when I go there I'm "good." You know? But I don't like to be told that. That, you can even feel it on me, it gets me angry.

Shyamalan is apparently returning to his roots, although he may object to such categorizing, with a self-financed thriller called The Visit, which he shot in and around his home, for release next September. And then he'll rejoin forces with Bruce Willis with a labor of love - a mystery, comedy, drama shot in Philadelphia, Chester Springs and Royersford.

However, it's not his movies that we discussed the most, but rather something else that moves him.

The M. Night Shyamalan Foundation was founded in 2001. It describes its mission as "Empowering communities, one leader at a time."

The foundation has formed partnerships with organizations in places like South Sudan, Liberia and Tanzania.

Originally, the driving force behind the foundation was Shyamalan's wife, Bhavna.

M. Night: I don't really wake up in the morning with a philanthropic kind of drive. That's my wife. So she's the one that has kind of brought a bigger world and said it's more than movies, basketball and your family. There's something else out there.

And one of the other things out there is the education achievement gap in America.

The Shyamalans wanted to know why some students, why some schools fail, and what's needed to help them succeed. So, they spent five years conducting research, and his book, I Got Schooled: The Unlikely Story of How a Moonlighting Movie Maker Learned the Five Keys to Closing America's Education Gap, details the data and conclusions.

M. Night: It's still a country that has racism and inequality built into its genetics. It is a part of the history of this country and it still exists.

Shyamalan seems to say racism, America's history of sin, still lies at the heart of the achievement gap. But in his book, he outlines five keys that suffering schools need to adopt to close the gap:

- Eliminating low performing teachers
- Having good principals and giving them time to teach teachers
- Using good and frequent data on student performance
- Smaller schools
- And topping the list, more time in school

According to Shyamalan's research, the summer may be paradise for kids, but for some of them, it puts development in reverse.

M. Night: There's an African American inner city low income child, and a white affluent suburban kid. They're at the same level when they graduate in June, let's pretend. When they return in September, the low income African American kid is three months behind where he was. And the white suburban kid is one month ahead of where they were in June. There are other teachers in life than the teachers in your classroom, right? These two kids in September are four months apart. Four months apart. It had nothing to do with the teachers, the principals, or school. Imagine that constantly happening year after year after year until they get to, they hope to graduate. You know, they don't even look like the same species of kid at that point. You can't win unless you extend the school year, unless you extend the school day, and you have preschool.

It's obviously impossible to give anything more than a quick glance to this issue here. But you can watch the entire One-on-One with M. Night Shyamalan below, and I must say, he makes the issue, and the outcomes of his research very readable in his book. I got schooled.

There are hundreds of books on education reform out there. This is one by a writer and director of movies.

Unusual, and yes, worth noting.

Watch the FULL interview
VIDEO: "This country was built on a sin"
VIDEO: Shyamalan's education plan
Related Topics:
educationJim Gardner One on Oneeducationentertainment
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