What Would You Do if You Won a MacArthur Genius Award?


I was attending a PD run by a friend of mine, and he always starts with some mix-it-up/get to know each other questions.  You know, get in groups of 3 and talk about this, then different groups of 4 and talk about that.  He asked us, “What would you do if you won a Macarthur genius award?”

Do you know it?  I have followed it in recent years because I have known two people who won it!  Liz Lerman, a dancer, choreographer and teacher (I took classes with her), and Ruth DeFries, who studies and teaches about ecology and sustainable development (our kids went to school together.) You might not know them but you might have heard of recent awardees Lin Manuel Miranda and Ta-Nehisi Coates.

The MacArthur Fellowship is awarded to those demonstrating “extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.”  No one can apply, a select committee makes secret nominations, and winners are notified by a surprise phone call.  It is ”an  investment in a person’s originality, insight, and potential.” The current prize is $625,000 over one year and there are NO STRINGS attached about how to spend the money.  The idea is to free creative people from having to earn a living for awhile, so they can just work at what they want. (Source: Wikipedia.)

In my group of science teachers, one tired man just wanted to pay off debts and retire.  A woman would visit other countries to see how science is taught.  Another would start her own school based on experiential learning.

They all had to stop and really think.  Me, the ideas just jumped out of my mouth.  I would start origami clubs in inner city middle schools, because I think it would be fun and would really bring unforeseen benefits to some kids.  And I would work on writing my book – for parents on science in their children’s world -that I have been thinking about.  (And working on some.)

What does it mean, that I knew right away?  Since I’m not getting the MacArthur Genius Award, how will I do what I want to, anyway?  Retire early?  Fit it in while I teach?

What would YOU do, if YOU got that surprise phone call?

7 thoughts on “What Would You Do if You Won a MacArthur Genius Award?

  1. Your post reminds me of listening to Lucy during her closing keynote…if you had 3 months, what would you do? She focused on time, while your PD leader focused on money. Somehow, those are 2 things, we never seem to have enough. Something the creators of the genius award were genius in creating – money with no strings attached. I love your MS origami idea. I love your science book idea. Yet, your writing shows conflict – more is needed than just an idea…or is it?! I also like how you placed your ideas that are fresh, next to the others in the group, one was boring and the other required much more money. Maybe that, too, says something…

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  2. First of all, what a great warm-up for a PD. It gets everyone started thinking creatively and opening up communication a possitive way. I had a student one year that absolutely loved origami and would check out anything he could get his hands on, on the subject. If I won, I’d explore more creative ways to use co teaching, collaboration and inclusion for all kiddos. Wonderful post.

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  3. Boy this entry was a double gift. First, just following along on your description of the award and connections you had. Second, the question of what would I do? I loved reading the piece. You always keep the information concise and precise. The question is still rolling around in my head trying to find its way to an answer.

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  4. It is indeed a very good question. However, I know exactly what I would do Fran. I would travel to Dublin and visit Roddy Doyle’s ‘Fighting Words.’ Fighting Words has been developed as a place for kids to come and write for a day on a project of their choosing. School groups visit and workshop are conducted and words are celebrated. Upon my return home, I would set about establishing something similar in my own area using the knowledge gleaned from my visit. This was a thought provoking post. Thank you for the opportunity to dream.

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  5. I know of LIz.
    i like how your writing and question inspires.
    kind of like a wish from a genie
    maybe something that helps people to connect
    something with meditation
    something with videos
    that promotes writing and books…
    still pondering
    not fully awake just yet


  6. I don’t have an answer to this question, but my thoughts swirl around:
    *youth and the outdoors–especially kids who don’t usually get the chance
    *visiting exemplary teachers at work
    *connecting authors and schools

    Liked by 1 person

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