Thinking, Learning, Creating, Birthing a Book

I think this has been a two, maybe three year pregnancy-- and by some stretch, we might even count its conceptual moment it to, let's see, 48 years ago? (This is hard to imagine, even though I've been there the whole time.)

Forty-eight years ago, I was 12 years old and my parents moved us to Waco from Houston. Where I had won an art class at the Houston Museum of Art from a drawing of a chicken made from a treble cleft sign. I still remember it.

The classes would have been a long commute, so instead I was enrolled in Baylor Children's Theatre, directed by Jearnine Wagner under the auspices of the theatre director Paul Baker. And that was the germ of what became this book, written and designed by my longtime colleague at the drawing desk and composing table, Susan Marcus.

At the heart of that early experience (which was far more than what most children's theater programs or lessons were then or now) and at the heart of the book is the Sensory Alphabet (aka "elements of form") and the idea-to-form process. As kids, we ate it up, as an adult, I still use these simple but profound tools to solve deep and profound problems, whether in the world of art or business, enterprise or interpersonal interaction.

What do these tools do? The Sensory Alphabet gives one a way of talking about, working with and creatively playing with visual and sensory information in ways that help one transform, notice convergent and divergent information, solve problems and approach media, materials and tools with knowledge of one's own strong suits. A conscious grasp of one's own creative process gives the maker a sense of security, a map along the way, an understanding through the tough spots and a way to work collaboratively with appreciation for other's strenghts and talents.

Several years ago, Susan and I decided that the ideas that we had worked with (both as young people and later as co-founders of the Learning About Learning Educational Foundation -- 1968-1985 -- with Jearnine, Cynthia Herbert and Julia Jarrell) were due an update. In our separate and collaborative projects we knew that the creative message, the approaches, the tools that were so a part of our own creative lives needed a new platform for a new generation of parents and teachers. Susan was, I gratefully acknowledge, the driving force for this book. I worked primarily at her direction and instigation --- and the beautiful design work is all hers. I am honored to be listed as co-author and think her quite generous with that shared billing.

It is a work of deep collaboration, with each other and with the past we share, the ideas and inspiration of our Learning About Learning cohorts, the children, the parents, boardmembers, Friends, funders and others who gave us their time and attention. The experience with parents and children and teachers has continued through the work of all of us who were part of LAL -- Julia now directs a program for international teachers through Gerogetown University and the Alamo Community Colleges. Dr. Cynthia Herbert is a consultant to the Houston I.S.D and other educational institutions. Susan and I worked most recently with children at the Aldrich Contemporary Museum of Art in Ridgefield, CN.

Here are the book's concluding pages, with some photos from some of our recent programs.

I think it sums up what we are trying to do.

We need all the children now.

We need the ones who are hard-wired for movement — they
will become the dancers, athletes, coaches — the ones who
have to move to think.

We need the ones who are especially sensitive to the
vibrations and the needs of other people, and animals — they
are the potential police officers, dramatists, vets, teachers,
biologists, managers, psychologists, healers — the ones who
have to feel to think.

The future needs all the children now.


We need the ones who naturally think in 3D — the potential
architects, surveyors, industrial designers, sculptors,
homebuilders, urban planners, masons, engineers — the ones
who need to experience space to think.

We need the ones who experience the world in images
— the next photojournalists, graphic and web designers,
filmmakers...the ones who think through their eyes.

We need the linear thinkers - the coming writers, storytell-
ers, mathematicians, planners, draftsmen, playwrights,
logicians, chemists - the ones who think best in linear arcs.

We need the ones who are innately attuned to the earth and
its cycles — the budding botanists, cosmologists, farmers,
astronomers, conservationists — the ones who naturally think
in the larger patterns of our planet.

We need the ones who touch — the next weavers, chefs,
physicians, carpenters, potters, gardeners — the ones who
think with their hands.


Notice: The careers listed come from a twentieth century
lexicon. They don’t even scratch the surface of what lies
just over the horizon in the immediate future. Currently,
the “30,000 foot view” of our twenty-first century presents
an awesome spectrum, one that spans large-scale and
critical problems of global survival to amazing discoveries
and possible solutions to those problems in diverse and
overlapping fields of study.

Reflecting on this near future brings our children’s
educational needs into a higher focus. As we noted in the
introduction to this book, our schools, even the best of
them, seem stuck in a pedagogy of the past. Assurance that
our children can participate successfully in this time of
unparalleled change and shifting boundaries of the future
will require their individual creative thinking.

The “Back to Basics” clarion call is of limited reach. It neither encompasses the myriad media in young lives nor provides the thinking tools for innovation that our children need now and tomorrow. And, at this time, parents are the literal keys to opening the doors of change.

We want our New World Kids to be confident of the gifts they
bring into the world and confident in themselves as creators.
Each of them embodies an absolutely unique perspective and
collectively, they need clear vision and the sure footing to
carry us all into the next Renaissance.

The future needs all the children now.

For more information, and a look inside a few more pages, see the website in progress at New World Kids.

If you're in the San Antonio area, Susan and I will be presenting a multimedia presentation and signing books at The Twig Bookstore on December 8 from 5 to 7 p.m. You can also order a book by clicking on the shopping cart link on the sidebar of this blog.

If you live in the Dallas area, you can find out more here about our appearance at the Baker Idea Institute, January 16-17, 2009.