Acclaimed actor of film, television and stage Richard Dreyfuss is best-known for starring in a number of films including “American Graffiti,” “Jaws,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “The Goodbye Girl,” “Stakeout,” “Always,” “What About Bob?” and “Mr. Holland’s Opus” (for which he won an Academy Award). His television work is prolific — most recently he played the title role in the television drama “The Education of Max Bickford.” Dreyfuss also has preformed extensively on Broadway and London stages. He is involved in a nationwide effort to encourage the teaching of American history in primary school (www.thedreyfussinitiative.org), and is a senior associate member of St. Antony’s College, University of Oxford.
ROBIN BRONK: If you had five minutes in the Oval Office with President Obama, what would you discuss with him?
RICHARD DREYFUSS: That we are in an endgame unlike any other moment in our history, that our obsession with computer tech has caused the unintended consequence of removing time from decision-making — not poetry, but fact. We do not value rumination, contemplation, thinking things through. And in geopolitics, we cannot afford it. The aim of terror as described by the theorists who wrote it has been successfully achieved: that of a public in a steady simmer of hysteria. We are out of time, and because our education system is in such shambles our kids aren’t being taught the basics. They don’t know how to hammer a nail or sew or cook or understand due process. No wonder selective due process sounds acceptable when it isn’t.
RB: What issue would you like him to know about?
RD: That we can turn education on its head without it costing a penny more, and we could have a sense of surety that we’re teaching students things that are relevant. The mandate of public education is to enlarge the intelligence of the resource pool known as the citizenry.
RB: If you could give Obama one piece of advice, what would that be?
RD: Can we say that our kids know what our country stands for? People have the right to know who they are, and why they are who they are. Our kids don’t know what the hell I just said.
RB: If you could ask Obama one question, what would that be?
RD: I would ask if he had a sense of ease and comfort at the thought of the future we’re passing on to our kids. A hundred out of 100 people now feel an unease, an uncertainly for the first time in our history. The solution is right in front of us, mysteriously invisible. “It’s about intelligence” is the mandate of public schools, and President and Mrs. Obama would no more allow their kids to drive the family car without any instruction than they would jump off a bridge. We only have to teach the tools of enlightment, the reality of political power to our progeny. We don’t do anything like that now; why that is, is either neurotic or stupid, and we are not stupid.
RB: Would you ever consider a political career?
RD: I’m already in one, and quite satisfied with staying out of the system because I can see it better. Go to www.thedreyfussinitiative.org and go to it again. The goal is not only to get civics taught in schools, but also have American values reflected in the culture. And don’t kid yourself, there are unique American values, gifts to mankind that everyone knows make our nation a miracle. The only ones who don’t know that miracle are our own kids, because we don’t teach them.
We think we have no power when we have all the power. We just have to learn it. When the court says the police aren’t obligated to tell us our rights because we should already know them, ask: Where are we supposed to learn them?
Bronk is a seasoned Capitol Hill strategist and advocate. She started her career at The Creative Coalition, a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group for the arts and entertainment industry, in July 1998. During her tenure as CEO, Bronk has taken The Creative Coalition from a New York-based entity to a national organization. www.thecreativecoalition.org