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Posted at 11:30 AM ET, 12/31/2009

Talking Out of School: Claire Danes on college, getting tutored on TV and her so-called life

By Valerie Strauss

Here is another in an occasional series of conversations about education I am having with people from different walks of life. Earlier I spoke with Attorney General Eric Holder, musician John Legend and legendary producer Quincy Jones, Zac Efron, and chef Paula Deen.

Claire Danes is a 30-year-old actress whose early entry into the industry made for an unusual educational experience that involved tutoring on television and movie sets. She is well known for her role as Angela Chase in the TV series “My So-Called Life,” and starred in a number of films, including “Me and Orson Welles,” now in theaters, with Zac Efron.

Q) Where did you grow up and go to school?
A) I grew up in Soho, in New York, and went to public schools. But I started working when I was young--I began earning money when I was 12. I went to Dalton [a private school in New York] but I didn’t go for long.

Q) Why not?
A) I got “My So-Called Life,” and I was tutored on the set.

Q) What was that like? Did you learn anything?
A) It was interesting, and surprisingly effective. But it was strange. I was schooled in 20-minute increments in a trailer on some remote location.

Q) That does sound like it could be strange.
A) I would be doing a death scene and then go back to my geometry lesson.

Q) What about college?
A) I went to Yale and was prepared to be outrageously behind the other students. But it took me only a month to adjust and catch up....

Q) So you learned more than you might have imagined.
A) My education was not orthodox but I traveled and learned a lot. And some of the roles I played taught me a lot, too. I played Juliet at the age of 16 in a Shakespeare play. We think about education in rather strict ways. But there are a lot of ways to learn.

Q) What was your favorite subject?
A) My best subject was English but I really liked all subjects. I was balanced as a kid, and I was nerdy. I was the person who raised her hand in class and went “ew ew, I know the answer.’

Q) What was your worst subject?
A) Chemistry. I probably was not so suited for it, and I had a bad teacher.

Q) Did you graduate from Yale?
A) No. I went for two years. I went there thinking I would be a psychology major, and then a fine arts major. But I didn’t stay. I’m sure I missed something but I learned hot to think critically and read and write. I felt basically fulfilled.

Q) What subjects do you think kids today should be studying?
A) Every subject is important. My one regret was that I wasn’t encouraged to learn a foreign language until junior high. We should teach foreign languages at a younger age. And somehow, we have to allow kids to travel and see the world. It’s a real education.

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By Valerie Strauss  | December 31, 2009; 11:30 AM ET
Categories:  Talking Out of School  | Tags:  Claire Danes, Talking Out of School  
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I stumbled upon your post when I was doing some online research on issues related to early childhood education. Thanks so much for sharing this interesting interview with Claire Danes. She was astonishingly mesmerizing as Angela Chase (MSCL is one of the best shows ever on TV) and I'm not surprised that she had an unconventional education. It seems to fit her somehow--she's so unique and talented. Thanks again, Valerie!

Posted by: sara12 | January 2, 2010 7:32 PM | Report abuse

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