The education of Claire Danes

September 25, 2013
Claire Danes (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
Claire Danes (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Over the last several years I have done an occasional series of interviews with people from different walks of life about their own education. Among those I’ve spoken to are Attorney General Eric Holderlegendary producer Quincy Jones, actor Zac Efron, and New York Times writer David Carr. (There’s a galley here.) My favorite may be the hilarious exchange with Spongebob, the one and only interview he has consented to give in all of his time as a Nickelodeon star.

Because I have become a big fan of the show “Homeland” (yes, even the second season), and because the star, Claire Danes, just won her second Emmy for her performance, and because the third season is starting (finally) on Sunday, I’m rerunning the interview on education I did with her in 2009.

Stay tuned for new interviews on education

Danes had an unusual educational experience as a child because she was a young actress who was mostly tutored on television and movie sets before she enrolled at Yale University. Here’s the interview:

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,” [a television show] 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 how 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.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss | September 25, 2013