Dixie Darr

In creativity, Learning on January 1, 2009 at 8:06 pm

Most Creative Minds of Education

Two of the 12 most creative minds of 2008 named by Fast Company magazine come from the field of education. Both are mavericks who come from outside the mainstream.

Before Michelle Rhee was appointed superintendent of the Washington, D. C. public schools in 2007, she “had never led a school, let alone a school system with 10,000 employees and a budget of nearly $1 billion.” After teaching for three years in Baltimore, Rhee founded the New Teacher Project, a non-profit organization which works with school districts to recruit and train new teachers.

Last month, Rhode Island School of Design selected John Maeda as its next president. The former associate research director of MIT’s famed Media Lab, was by all accounts a stunning choice. A technologist, who is also an artist, designer, and author could only have been hired because the search committee “decided to be open” to somebody outside the norm.

According to the magazine, “Hiring a maverick is always risky…. but perhaps only an outsider — and someone who may be just a little bit crazy — could set in motion the fundamental change needed to transform a creaking bureaucracy.”

Rhee is on her way to doing that. She has closed schools, cut administrative staff and fired teachers. Now, she is pushing a revolutionary contract that may simultaneously kill the entrenched seniority hiring system and make Washington‘s teachers the highest paid in America.

Maeda is expected to use his corporate contacts and technical sensibilities to forge a new commercial focus without losing the school’s well-known avant-garde eccentricity.

If these two are successful, maybe more educational institutions will follow their lead and seek ideas and leadership from outside academia. As Tom Peters noted, “Most good (neat, innovative, wild, woolly) ‘stuff,’ large and small, happens in the boondocks, far, far from corporate headquarters, corporate politics, and corporate toadying.”

Not that there is any of that in education.

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