01/25/2016 10:10 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Learnin' Doesn't Get Better Than This

LA is so much more than the Oscar color wars. Will the Academy lose its stature if it gives in to the crowds asking for diversity? Because so much of Hollywood's raison d'etre is the entertainment business -- the movies rule -- but every so often you come across something equally exciting.

On a previous visit to Santa Monica, I attended William Wellman Jr.'s fascinating book talk about his father, Wild Bill Wellman (W.W. Sr.), fighter pilot and film director. Afterwards I found myself chatting to his pal Paul Cummins.

Paul is the visionary educator's educator. For over forty years, Dr. Cummins has devoted his career to creating opportunities for all children to have equitable access to a quality education. He has founded school after school, transforming ad hoc buildings around alleys and trailers into nationally renowned, thriving schools whose alumni are high-achieving, lifelong, passionate learners. He works not only with privileged kids but foster children, severely underfunded youth, gang-members, and incarcerated youth He has founded and co-founded numerous schools including Crossroads School, New Roads School, Camino Nuevo Charter School, and New Village Charter School, as well as P.S. Arts, a nonprofit organization that provides arts classes to children in Title I schools.

Not being in education and having a rather spotty one myself, I was intrigued when he pulled out a piece of scrap paper and showed me the numbers spent on different types of schools. I wasn't surprised that a fairly high number went to private schools, but the highest figure was for incarceration schools, for youthful offenders. You don't have to be Stephen Hawking to understand that if these monies had been allocated to schools for disenfranchised kids in the first place, we probably wouldn't need these incarceration traps.

2016-01-22-1453503117-6240556-paulcummins.jpg(Photo courtesy of Shelby Duncan)

Mr. Cummins, himself, could have been a movie star, that strong Western type with deeply wise eyes. He went to Stanford and Harvard and writes poetry and publishes books. Where was he when I was growing up when the best teacher I had was Greek and instead of Socrates we learned to make octopus with macaroni.

Cummins' latest project is to help 20 young girls in Pine Ridge, North Dakota finally get an education. You'd think, "Great, why not?" Some of the classes will even be taught in Lakota. Native American women take a particularly hard blow in this America. Why even Malala Yousafzai is helping girls get educations across the global. But the tribal elders aren't so sure of this education and it's been a real accomplishment for Paul's group to convince everyone that's what good for women is good for the whole.

His work is closely aligned with Herb Alpert's Coalition for Engaged Education and his new book Confessions of a Head Master sounds like a Good-bye Mr. Chips for the new age, without a good-bye. It is the work of one of the good guys, a brave, visionary thinker who steps out on the political platform through performing the most trans-formative type of work, creating education which does not bore, frighten, depress, stress, and defeat students. It does something revolutionary, helps build their minds for a future.