The Most Unexpected Turn of Events

Yesterday was the final day of my Creativity and Innovation class, taught by Tina Seelig and Rich Cox, and it was a bittersweet finale. Bitter, because it was my last day with my team, the class, and Tina and Rich. Sweet, because I learned new techniques, approaches, and ways of thinking about problems and opportunities. The final project for the class was completely open-ended: show how you could apply the tools learned in the class to a problem that you care about, or show how you could apply the tools learned in class to your everyday life.

How we showed it was completely up to us; among the options listed were: Prezi, Powerpoint, poem, choreographed dance, painting, and sculpture. It could have been anything. One student made a bookmark. One developed a pitch to potential funders for a business idea. I wrote a fictional short story.

I chose a problem that I've been thinking about and writing about a lot, Oregon's low graduation rate. The scene is a House Education Committee meeting in the Oregon Legislature. One legislator is particularly tired of the poor performance and predictable conversations and wants to try another way. 

Here's a lightly edited excerpt from the middle of the story:

Oregon’s on-time graduation rate sat at 75%, approaching the same 30% number decried three decades ago. People, politicians, interest groups – almost everyone had called for “new ideas” and “new strategies” over the years, and certainly everyone had demanded better student outcomes – but little changed. The needle hadn’t moved. Mediocrity in education outcomes, and a racially and socioeconomically correlated achievement gap, had persisted. Almost all proposals out of the various actors in the system accepted a series of assumptions about education, what was wrong with it, and how to fix it.

Never had those assumptions been fundamentally challenged -- until now.

“What exactly are you proposing, Representative?” the Chairman asked as he turned in his chair to face Peery.

“Starting over,” Peery responded, without hesitation. The audience, mostly lobbyists and staff members, perked up and leaned forward. This was, at the very least, an interesting exchange. No one was quite sure where Peery was going with this, or how long the chairman would entertain a detour from the scripted and well-manicured meeting agenda. The chairman, however, was as intrigued as everyone else in the room. Peery stood up from his chair, walked to front of the dais, and sat down at the table where constituents and lobbyists sit to give testimony.

“In this building, we’re all familiar with cycles. Election cycles, the cycles of education policy reforms, the biennial budgeting cycles. These cycles guide us and provide the structure within which we operate – but they do something else, too. They limit us. Constrict us. Our policymaking process is so rigid and structured that we suffocate new ideas before they’re even imagined. So let’s try another cycle. Let’s try the Invention Cycle.”

And so began the most unexpected turn of events in the history of the Education Committee. Peery moved to suspend the rules and the committee approved the motion. He invited them to join him, standing, around a whiteboard in the back of the hearing room. A legislative aide entered and placed sticky notes and dry erase markers on the table.