Thursday, July 2, 2009

The History and Influences of the DeWitt Creativity Group

Please disregard the original post on this blog. The gardening topic was required as part of a computer class I am taking (nothing against gardening or gardeners!). The focus of this blog will be on a group that I helped to create along with Jeff Croley called the DeWitt Creativity Group (DCG). I plan on giving weekly updates on the progress of the DCG. Please feel free to send comments.

The DCG was founded in February 2008 as an attempt to create a culture of innovation at DeWitt High School in DeWitt, Michigan (a suburban community just north of Lansing). The group is comprised of teachers (including Jeff and myself), students, parents, and other community members who are interested in building a high school that prepares students for the creative economy. Michiagn is struggling to make the transition from an industrial based economy to one centered around services, information, and knowledge. Our initial starting point was how can DeWitt High School best help the City of DeWitt and Michigan make this transition?

Two sources of inspiration for the DCG are Richard Florida and George S. Counts. Many people are familiar with Dr. Florida's ideas from The Rise of The Creative Class. This work was the inspiration behind Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm's Cool Cities Initiative. This was an attempt to create funding for communities to develop Michigan cities into places that would retain and attract members of the creative class, highly skilled and educated individuals ages 24-34 who Dr. Florida identified as the primary agents driving prosperity in the new economy. Jeff Croley and myself attended one of the Cool Cities conferences in Lansing to participate in brainstorming how Lansing can become a haven for the creative class.

Several Michigan communities achieved Cool Cities designation and received funding for various community projects. Unfortunately, the program was shelved due to a lack of funding. The Cool Cities Initiative did help to increase an awareness of how far Michigan has fallen in developing cities and communities that spur innovation. I remember thinking at the time what role can schools play in helping to bring about the necessary changes for Michigan to blossom into a place that fosters innovation and creativity?

The Creative Class prescribes three elements essential for communities to develop and strengthen in the creative economy: tolerance, talent, and technology. Schools to varying degrees impart these elements through the traditional curriculum. There are numerous examples of unique programs, classes, and community projects that go above and beyond in giving students opportunities to develop their creativity. A local example is Viking Design, a program where students design logos for local nonprofit organizations. Viking Design is based out of Everett High School in Lansing, Michigan. Several of the students' designs were featured in a story in the Lansing State Journal. The program is headed by Chad Sanders. There are probably thousands of great programs throughout the United States such as this that help to link student creativity with entrepreneurialism. What if a school made its core mission to become a catalyst for economic growth by encouraging and promoting students to create innovative products and services? The DCG wants to build a culture of innovation at DeWitt High School that not only prepares students for the careers of tomorrow, but to transform society in the present.

This notion of changing society is best summarized by a slogan that appears on the back of the official DCG t-shirt: "Innovate or Perish!" George S. Counts wrote a book entitled, Dare the School Change the Social Order? Schools can take the lead in helping to bring about social change. Counts believed with the correct leadership and organization students can be mobilized to use their talents to help create a more compassionate society. Part of creating a more compassionate society involves building sustainable economic growth. The DCG is trying to implement practices that will promote student creativity in such a way to contribute to innovative and humane growth. DeWitt High School - and other schools as well - have the human capital and facilities (computers, fax machines, copiers, telephones, etc.) to make a significant impact. What remains to be seen is how to best mobilize these tremendous resources given the restraints (curricular and other established practices) that are remnants of the 19th and 20th centuries. In my next posting I will explain how the DCG is responding to this key point in terms of its projects and relationships with other like-minded groups.


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