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What Schools Can Learn From Pixar and Other Creative Companies

Borrowing design thinking and culture from innovation powerhouses could put American schools on the right track.

Schools aren't businesses and shouldn't be treated like they are, but a recent story at Fast Company Design has some pretty compelling suggestions about what they could learn from innovative private companies. The article focuses on the lessons of Google, IDEO, and Pixar, successful businesses known for using office design and corporate culture to maximize collaboration, creativity and playfulness. Those aren't traits commonly associated with today's classrooms, but perhaps they could be.

Imagine what learning could look like if more district administrators and education reformers adopted IDEO's "culture centered on design thinking and interdisciplinary projects instead of siloed subjects"? Similarly, if Pixar's culture of merging art and science together found its way to schools, students "might come to understand that the lines between music, math, physics, and art are much blurrier than textbooks make them appear." And if Google's emphasis on a playful and creative environment went mainstream in classrooms, we might not hear kids complaining that they're bored.

That's not to say the kind of ideas that rule Google, IDEO and Pixar are completely absent from schools. Places like High Tech High in San Diego, or Dubiski Career High School in Texas, are examples of what's possible. Yet despite shining examples of other ways of doing things, the "school as a factory" model still dominates.

Most teachers, school administrators and other education reformers say that collaboration, creativity, and playfulness are desirable traits in schools, but for the most part, education reform isn't going in that direction. The pressure of high-stakes standardized testing combined with budget cuts means that too often, school administrators aren't thinking past rigorous math and reading curricula. Even kindergarten, which used to be the domain of learning through exploration and play, is increasingly taught in the same dry academic style that so often causes older students to check out of school.

Ironically, the article notes, executives at Google, IDEO and Pixar were probably inspired to buck the traditional stagnant, corporate culture by moving toward the more playful atmosphere that exists in schools when they're at that best. We have to believe that schools can reclaim that spirit, and if it takes a little idea-borrowing from business to make it happen, so be it.

screenshot via YouTube user BIEBL

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