Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Are You SchoolKore?

SchoolKore is a movement whose time has come. Teachers, parents, students, administrators, and others are tired of schools functioning as though it is still the 20th century. SchoolKore is an attempt to link student creativity and innovation to economic development. Given the significant role schools play in communities throughout the United States, they clearly are being underutilized as potential catalysts for cultural and economic prosperity. School districts have the physical resources and human capital to change society. More importantly they have the responsibility to do so.

Some critics of this perspective of schools -as -economic -catalysts will point out their primary function is to educate and socialize youngsters into successful citizens. How successful can young people be in an educational setting that is preparing them for an economy that is rapidly changing? If the United States wants to maintian a competitive edge in the globalized economy, it must leverage the talents of young people more effectively than traditional public schools are currently able to. The overwhelming emphasis on standardized testing squanders the resources that could be used to promote economic development. What a waste!

Our students will be so much better off when they work with local businesses, governments, universities, and others to create projects that have immediate benefits to the larger community. Some of these involve alternative energy, arts festivals, robotic competitions, starting new businesses, creating documentaries on marginalized populations. All of these kinds of innovative, out-of-the-box programs/events are examples of SchoolKore. Why are these activities not the norm in most schools? The curriculum should be connected to these kinds of efforts rather than the other way around.

In order to engage the youth of our nation into meaningful participation, we must create a new ideal; one that encourages them to be creative and use their abilities to improve society. The betterment of society can take on many forms other than being good consumers. We do not fundamentally lack the resources for students to change the world rather current social leadership does not have the courage, will, and vision to do so. This is why it will be up to teachers, students, and parents operating to a certain extent outside of the schools to make the necessary changes. The focus of SchoolKore will be on using all available resources, skills, and talents across social divisions such as race, politics, class, gender, etc. to create a movement for transformation.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Waiting for the New Patriotism

There are numerous definitions of patriotism bandied about year after year in America. Most equate patriotism with a near total love of country. Others subscribe to an ideal of patriotism that calls for citizens to actively question/criticize/participate in decision making processes. The notion of unquestioned loyalty to one's country always seemed to me a bit dangerous, especially in a democratic society. Another kind of patriotism that I find equally unappealing is that promoted by George W. Bush. The former president linked patriotism with consumerism as a way to rally American shoppers to save the post 9/11 economy.

A new sort of patriotism is emerging that may be the result of the 2008 financial crisis and the election of Barack Obama as president. This patriotism is focused more on serving America by creating innovative products and services as a response to national decline.
Of course, innovation and creativity are defined more in relation to entrepreneurial start-ups and job creation. I feel that a stronger link must be made between creativity in-itself and patriotism in order to develop a robust grass roots response to the economic crisis. The place making and urban revitalization efforts that are occurring in many cities throughout the United States exemplify how creativity can improve the quality of life. Eventually these efforts must address issues of social justice. The creative acts of people should be fostered and nurtured by suburban/urban/rural coalitions in the service of all segments of American society. Creativity as patriotism! The challenge will be to use the day to day creativity of people for national service beyond developing new businesses.

Friday, July 30, 2010

3 Good Projects for the Masses!

Okay, as promised here are some potential future projects that the DeWitt Creativity Group or others should do in the greater Lansing area:

1. Create a clothing apparel store that promotes civic identity and creativity. A great example of this is STL-Style (www.stl-style.com), a retail company from St. Louis that makes clothing that reflects local themes. STL-Style was started by Jeff and Randy Vines. I had the distinct pleasure of meeting them this summer at the Great Lakes Urban Exchange (www.gluespace.org) "Great Lakes Cities: Urban Laboratories" Conference in Cleveland, Ohio from July 15-17. The Vines brothers are very cool, innovative fellows that have a real passion for the unique and quirky characteristics of the neighborhoods of St. Louis. The clothes are awesome and embody the best of what Charles Landry in his book The Art of City Making calls "civic creativity." Using consumerism as a means to strengthen community identity and pride is a great way to get people to challenge whatever preconceptions they may have had regarding St. Louis. I strongly encourage any mid-Michigan resident to start cranking out high quality clothing designs with messgaes about Lansing such as: "Lansing Against The World" or "Lansing: The Creative Capitol."

2. Start a nonprofit regional record label that releases original music from high school and college groups/performers. This label can refer to some of the efforts by the DeWitt Music Club (refer to past post(s)). There are other resources throughout the area that may be willing to offer time/services/money etc. to support a worthy effort at promoting the local music scene. I really like the idea of a municipality or a community foundation giving a small stipend to get this off the ground. The DeWitt Creativity Group believes that such a label working with entities such as Michigan Homegrown Music (www.myspace.com/michiganhomegrownmusic) and Lansing Music TV (twitter.com/LansingMusicTV) could really help boost the mid-Michiagn's reputation as a cultivator of great musical talent. Combine this support with housing incentives for young musicians and it is only a matter of time before the area begins to attract more of them. Lansing can become what Austin is to Texas: the creative capitol!

3. Support high school and college filmmakers by holding an annual film festival and show films on public access. I can not figure out why there are no cable access channels in the Lansing area that do not have a regular show that features films by high school/college students. Especially since the state of Michigan offers the most generous tax incentives for filmmaking in the country. Detroit and Grand Rapids have done very well at attracting film productions in their respective metro areas. The Lansing region is lagging far behind. One possible way to help change this situation is to build an infrastructure to support our talent. Hopefully, over time professionals will see a strong commitment on behalf of the area to support the film industry.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

2009-2010 Year in Review for the DCG (sort of)

Glad to be back after a year in which the DeWitt Creativity Group experienced a significant amount of growth. The events are detailed on the DCG's Web site http://www.dewittcreativitygroup.org/. Rather than summarizing the key moments from last year I want to briefly touch on the progress of the DCG.

The past year marked the transition of the DeWitt Creativity Group from a local orgnaization to a regional one. This came about as a result of a number of initiatives such as the Creative Teachers' Summit, applying for a Pepsi Refresh Grant, participating in a panel discussion regarding businees incubators, and establishing a partnership with the (Lansing Economic Area Partnership) LEAP, Inc.. We are now working with numerous other regional organizations throughout the Lansing area to organize and engage other innovative high school programs/teachers/students. Imagine several groups of innovative students and teachers working on a multitude of projects that have the potential to enhance the quality of life and create a culture of innovation.

A specific example of such a project is the Adopt-A-Business-Program developed by the DCG's Jeff Croley. Students will find a business to partner with and exchange services for credit. If a new business start-up needs a Web site or logo designed, students can provide these at no cost. The business will have the option of accepting or rejecting the rendered services. Imagine what an empowering sense of accomplishment students will feel when they realize their work is good enough to be used for a professional business. Instead of merely job shadowing in the workplace, students will be using their knowledge and skills to make a vital contribution to the local economy. If this program is enacted on a regional scale, the mid-Michigan area can provide new entrepreneurial ventures free quality services. This will increase the region's economic competitiveness by nurturing undercapitalized start-ups. Additionally business incubators such as the East Lansing Technology Innovation Center and the NEO Center can help coordinate effective pairings between students and businesses.

I will continue to discuss other projects the DCG will pursue this coming school year in future posts. I want to thank some people for their invaluable assistance in helping the DCG:

Jeff Smith
Ivy Hughes
Tim Hunnicut
Tim Brannan
Thomas Stewart
Paul Jaques
Casy Cavanaugh
Austin Howard
Chris Miller
Tricia Bobeda
Tina Templin
Jody McKean
Sean Wade
Virg Bernero
Jamie Schriner- Hooper
Alan Hooper
Laura Krizov
Pam Jodway
Dru Mitchell
Denyse Ferguson
Steve Croley
Melissa Croley
Kate Tykocki
Sara Graham
John Czarnecki
Loretta Spinrad
Rod Taylor

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Soundtrack to Your Liberation! (a history of WALZ 1670 AM "The Cage")

WALZ 1670 AM/90.9 FM (The Cage) started off as something of a joke. One day Lucas Huttenga and some friends were discussing the idea of starting a radio station at DeWitt High School with a teacher, Jason LaFay. The station was going to be underground (pirate) until Lucas made the better decision to doggedly pursue a legal one with the help of local radio stations and broadcasting professionals.

After receiving some donated equipment Lucas contacted and enlisted the invaluable help of Larry Estlack, a veteran broadcaster and Director of Technology of the MAB (Michigan Association of Broadcasters). Lucas - with some assistance from Mr. LaFay - wrote a grant proposal to the DeWitt Boosters for an antenna and transmitter. The boosters in their infinite wisdom and understanding approved the grant; WALZ 1670 AM "The Cage" was born. The antenna was installed with the help of Dirk Huttenga, a local business (they provided the lift), and personnel from the DeWitt Public School District Maintenance and Technology departments. Once the antenna and transmitter became operational Larry, Lucas, and his assistant Ralph Haines prepared a soundboard, microphones, and other vital equipment to make the station ready for its initial broadcast.

Soon various students required training to create competent radio programs. Bill Brown, a community member and parent with an extensive background in audio engineering, became an indispensable source of training and inspiration for the novice broadcasters. Sessions were held to help students design coherent, quality programming. Behavior contracts were also signed in order to ensure appropriate behavior and that programs stayed true to the founding principles of WALZ 1670 AM (The Cage):

  • Radio Broadcasting must reflect professional conduct and standards
  • WALZ is for and by the people of the DeWitt area
  • WALZ will not willingly violate FCC standards
  • WALZ will provide training for students on how to develop quality radio broadcasting skills
  • WALZ will expose people in the DeWitt area to varied and unique music: grindcore through Ethiopian jazz
  • WALZ will be run on a non-profit basis
  • WALZ will cover topics of interest such as live sports broadcasts
  • WALZ will continue to explore appropriate outlets such as local cable television outlets, an extended FM license, online audio streaming, podcasting, etc. to increase its broadcasting radius/reach

Past and Present Significant Contributors to WALZ:

Lucas Huttenga

Jake Quimby

Larry Estlack

Jeff Spicer

Tim Sullivan

Bill Brown

Dan Brown

Ralph Haines

Joe Smith

Sean Wade

DeWitt Boosters

Melanie Huttenga

Jesse Fisher

Dirk Huttenga

Anna Walz

The Top Ten List of the DeWitt Creativity Group

The DCG loves and promotes the following:

1. Entreprenuerialism
2. Creative Industries
3. Information Technology
4. Alternative Energy
5. Grass Roots Democracy
6. Pluralism/Diversity
7. Social Networking
8. Biosciences
9. Localized Globalization
10. The DeWitt Area

Monday, July 13, 2009

DeWitt's "Impossible" Day: RiverBash 2009

On June 5, 2009 the City of DeWitt, Michigan eagerly anticipated RiverBash 2009. As the time approached for the start of the event, the many volunteers: students, teachers, parents, administrators, and business owners met any and every challenge that potentially could have derailed RiverBash 2009. The community responded to these efforts by attending and participating in a well-organized, fun, and family-friendly environment. Official estimates place the attendance of the event from 700-1,000 individuals. Ages of the attendees ranged from less than one year old to 90. Fears of an unruly or chaotic gathering proved unfounded as RiverBash was characterized by a celebratory and joyous mood - members of the community wanted this event and conducted themselves in a positive manner. The DeWitt Creativity Group and others were proud to help make this happen. Rather than merely summarizing what occurred during RiverBash 2009, here is a sampling of the many highlights:

  • Elderly citizens sitting with their grandchildren watching the Junior High School Band perform while eating ice cream cones from Scoopie Doo's.
  • Children exclaiming with glee after throwing an egg at Dan Nakfoor and seeing him catch it with his mouth, of course!
  • The crowds of students and parents assembling to watch the DHS Theater Department perform improvisational comedy in a vacant section of a building. The performance and the audience's reactions could be seen outside a large display window.
  • The unique psychedelic sounds of Caravan, a DeWitt based band of students and alumni, pulsating throughout River Side Park, prompting one observer to say, "I never realized how talented some of these kids really are."
  • More kids giggling and squealing with joy as they watch others gorge themselves on pizza in an eating contest outside of Water View Condos.
  • The appreciation at the welcome individuals from outside DeWitt were given by student volunteers. Several of these people displayed art under a tent and originally hail from places as far away as Africa and India.
  • Free canoe rides given by Friends of the Looking Glass River. The reactions of people watching an older generation teaching a younger one how to operate a canoe...priceless.
  • A resident from Okemos exclaiming, "We have to have one of these (a RiverBash) in Okemos."
  • Sam's Kitchen having to call for an extra dish washer to come in to help with the additional business.
  • The performance of Ari Herstand and his unique indie pop, causing a crowd of both teenagers and adults to sway back and forth clutching glow sticks to the music under a full moon.
  • A statement by a parent watching the crowd's reaction to Mr. Herstand and stating, "It's like a whole new DeWitt."