Saturday, July 4, 2009

A Tribute to Those Who Are Criminally Overlooked

On the night of Monday, June 29 the DeWitt Public Schools Board of Education voted unanimously to privatize all the district custodians. Many members of the DeWitt area were shocked, saddened, and some even outraged by the board's decision. The principle reason for the privatization was to save money. Many individuals who attended the meeting, including students spoke against the privatization measure by citing examples of excellent service the custodians provided to the district. Now that the proverbial dust has settled, I want to take the time to thank and explain how several custodians who worked at DeWitt High School were instrumental in creating an environment conducive to creativity. The DeWitt Creativity Group would never have formed without it.

Greg Cataline gave excellent and humorous performances in several holiday videos created by the DHS Video Production class. The willingness of a person like Greg to participate in such an endeavor helped to send a message to students that everyone has creative potential regardless of their occupation. Jesse Fisher became a guardian of the campus radio station WALZ 1670 AM "The Cage" by opening the radio station door for student disc jockeys throughout the early evening hours. He was also the eyes and ears of the station, making sure that students were not engaging in inappropriate behavior(s) while broadcasting. This allowed the station advisor (me) to not have to worry about student misconduct while away from school. Without his help and other useful suggestions regarding the station, it is highly doubtful it would have lasted.

The last and definitely most important custodian in regards to the DCG is Jeff Spicer. I met Jeff in 2003 when he was emptying trash in my room. Right away we began talking about several shared interests. Our mutual interest in unique and challenging music soon dominated our regular conversations. Jeff has an encyclopedic knowledge of many kinds of music (and other subjects), especially rock and roll from the 1960s and 1970s. His passion for Michigan rock bands from those decades is awesome. Numerous DHS students were exposed to the music of groups such as the MC5, Iggy and the Stooges, The Rationals, Frijid Pink, Grand Funk Railroad, and many others. I witnessed Jeff give countless free CD compilations of these bands' music and more to students that he made. One of the best shows on WALZ 1670 AM was Challenging Apathy, a show that featured music by well known classic rock bands. The students who created and put on the show expanded their musical interests and those of their listeners thanks to Jeff. A new segment appeared on Challenging Apathy that featured many obscure groups from Michigan and elsewhere that have been tragically overlooked.

Jeff was also a huge factor behind the DeWitt High School Music Club. This was a group of student performers/bands who recorded original music on a professionally produced and packaged CD compilation. Four CD compilations were released from 2003-2007 that gave opportunities for students to release their music locally. Jeff loaned half of the start up money for the initial CD compilation. Additionally, he laid out the song sequence on each of the DHS Music Club CDs. Thanks to his assistance with this project many students were encouraged and supported in their creative efforts.

One last thing that Mr. Spicer did that I will never forget is to defend some artistic work of mine that was on display in the Teacher's Lounge. The works were fairly challenging examples of mixed media. I did provide typed explanations of the meaning for each work. Despite this attempt at clarification the pieces were dismissed and ridiculed by several staff members. Jeff pointed out to these individuals that my explanations were clear and concise. He went on to elaborate how cool he thought it was that such interesting works were exhibited in a high school. Jeff did not let his occupation prevent him from expressing his opinions to people who are more formally educated. It is interesting that some teachers are so negative and afraid of anything outside the norm. Remember these people are educating future generations.

Richard Florida gave a presentation about the importance of cultivating creativity in ALL people at the Creative Cities Summit 2.0 in Detroit, Michigan (October 12-15, 2008). I had the privilege of attending his presentation and was intrigued by the idea of the importance of helping people realize their creative potential. Dr. Florida gave examples from his own family history to help explain how America traditionally afforded opportunities for immigrants to try out new ideas. Many of these ideas led to new inventions that contributed to significant economic growth. After the presentation I thought of people like Jeff, Jesse, and Greg who are overlooked because they are custodians. Too many times the insights and knowledge of these individuals is undervalued, ridiculed, and ignored. This is not only sad, but potentially devastating for America's chances to succeed in the creative economy. Dr. Florida made the point if America is to effectively compete and maintain its stature in the world, it must educate and develop the creative capacity of all of its citizens. Think of how many great ideas and other insights have been stymied or crushed because an individual felt they were not taken seriously. Former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau talked about this loss of potential with the result of increasing alienation of individuals from society in Conversations with Canadians. Trudeau believed that Canada must create social structures that are able to support all reasonable forms of self-expression in a just society. This is something the DCG will in try to contribute to in its own small way.

One of the key measures of job performance should revolve around how open employees are to considering and implementing alternative ideas. If this measure was part of the job performance evaluations of the former DHS custodians, I have no doubt they would still be working for the district. One day creativity will be more important than the bottom line in determining the viability of an organization. Let's make that day sooner rather than later. We can not afford to wait.


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