For the first time in its eight-year history, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation of Chicago has awarded three of its “genius” awards to people who work with children.
The winners--two teachers and the publisher of a newspaper written for and by teenagers--will receive between $225,000 and $355,000 each over the next five years to pursue any project they wish with no requirement to account for the money.
A total of 29 men and women were cited by the foundation for their work in the arts, sciences, or community affairs. They will receive stipends from $150,000 to $375,000 over five years.
“We believe in the power of the individual to contribute to American life,” said Adele Simmons, president of the foundation, when the awards were announced last month.
The three winners cited for their work with children are: W. Keith Hefner, the founder of Youth Communication in New York City, which publishes a newspaper written by teenagers; Vivian Gussin Paley, an elementary-school teacher at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools who has written books on early-childhood education; and Eliot Wigginton, an English teacher from Rabun Gap, Ga., who founded the Foxfire Fund Inc. and Foxfire magazine.
In 1987, Deborah Meier, a teacher who helped develop an innovative public-school program in New York City, became the first precollegiate educator to be cited for her work by the foundation. No one in the precollegiate field was named as a Fellow last year.
Fellows are nominated by a group of more than 100 people nationwide who perform that function anonymously. Nominations are then reviewed by a 13-member selection committee, whose members also serve anonymously.
The MacArthur Foundation4provides these generous stipends, officials said, to allow talented individuals to work creatively without financial concerns.
When questioned on how they plan to use their awards, all three of the education-related fellows chosen this year said in interviews that they expect to remain in their current positions--at least for the immediate future.
Mr. Hefner, whose newspaper has trained between 700 and 900 teenagers, most of them from minority backgrounds, in writing, reporting, photography, and graphic arts during its 10 years of publication, said he may use his new-found financial freedom to obtain a college degree.
“I was shocked,” he added of the award notification. “I had no idea that I had been nominated.”
Ms. Paley, who has gained fame through her development of a classroom technique in which young children act out their own stories as a daily activity, said she believes that “the right thing to do with [the award] will develop.”
“It’s just too much to think about it right now,” she said. “I’ll be back in the classroom two days after Labor Day, luckily.”
The Illinois teacher said that she “didn’t think classroom teachers8were considered for such an award.”
Mr. Wigginton, who parlayed a student-produced quarterly about Appalachian history and culture into several best-selling books and an education fund that oversees a national teacher-outreach program, said he would use his award money to help students and teachers learn more about community-development, adult-education, and environmental programs through visits to schools in other areas.
He will remain a full-time teacher for at least the next two years, he said, in order to prepare for the events commemorating the 25th anniversary of the publication of Foxfire.
After that, Mr. Wigginton said, he plans to devote more energy to the task of determining ways students can become more involved in community-development issues. He may, he said, “pick a semester here and there and take some time off and see what’s around.”
A version of this article appeared in the August 02, 1989 edition of Education Week as Two Teachers, Teen-Newspaper Creator Wins 5-Year MacArthur Genius Awawrd