In my post “Richard Feynman and Froebel Kindergarten” I praised Norman Brosterman’s book Inventing Kindergarten. I’ve been buying up used copies ever since it went out of print (because everyone who sees my copy wants to own one of their own). Now there is a chance to republish the book and get your own copy by supporting Brosterman’s Kickstarter Campaign. I hope you will make a pledge! But do it now–the campaign ends on July 12.
A beautiful coffee-table style book with plentiful illustrations of early learning materials, Inventing Kindergarten tells the story of the Kindergarten system developed by Friedrich Froebel and its spread throughout Europe and the United States. Later chapters make a dramatic and compelling case for the influence of the Kindergarten materials and Kindergarten system on the art and architecture of the 20th century. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright and Nobel physicist Richard Feynman, among many others, were the sons of teachers trained in the Froebel system. Many, many big names of the past century, including Buckminster Fuller, Josef Albers, Paul Klee, Piet Mondrian, and a host of other 20th century modern painters were educated using the Froebel blocks, paper weaving, and other materials–and their work, beautifully reproduced in this book, shows the influence clearly.
The book first appeared in 1997 and became a New York Times Notable Book, was called “Revelatory,” by The New Yorker, and won an American Institute of Architects award as one of the best books of the year. It has been out of print for several years, and Brosterman now has created the digital files necessary to republish it. However, money is needed to meet the minimum costs of an initial print run.
Brosterman’s Kickstarter campaign can be found here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1335652536/inventing-kindergarten
For a $50 pledge you can have a copy of the book, plus some nice supplementary note cards. Since the book initially retailed for around $50 (and I’ve been snapping up used copies on the Internet for about that price) you can do yourself a favor and help the rest of us at the same time. If Brosterman’s goal is met the book should be ready in time for holiday gift giving, too!
I hope you will support the reissue of one of my favorite books. And finally, please share this message with others you think might be interested in this wonderful work.
I have the pleasure of being a part of the SEAD (Science, Engineering, Art and Design) Network, a group funded by the National Science Foundation to promote communication across thinkers in the sciences and arts. “Innovation stemming from interdisciplinary creativity is a major contributor to the development of new, sustainable economies and harmonious, cooperating societies,” their statement reads in part. Joining science and engineering with art and design is brilliant, and a trend I hope will continue to grow. These disciplines are clearly related, but our culture separates them at birth. Under the banner of “STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) to STEAM (adding an ‘A’ for Arts),” many scholars, activists, and policymakers are beginning to recognize and reconstruct the connections we’ve allowed to atrophy. SEAD has solicited, peer reviewed, and posted online a collection of White Papers, which I recommend for browsing.
My own SEAD White Paper is called “Thinking With Things: Feeling Your Way Into STEM,” and is a more extended treatment of some themes that will be familiar to readers of this blog. I advocate for the unity of “STEAM” and give some examples of how we might get to STEM topics through embodied, engaged learning that recognizes and celebrates the emotions, aesthetics, and the whole person. The SEAD Network leaders insisted, rightly, that White Papers include specific recommendations, and my paper has several, including: Select and create things to think with; Create on-campus spaces that are ecosystems for learning; Create and support “maker spaces;” and Create “labs” in art institutions and “studios” in science centers.
What sense can we make of the phrase “thinking with things?” On the face of it, it seems naive, even “primitive.” We think with our brains, of course, not with things. Or do we? Recent research studies–and a certain amount of common sense–reveal that we think with our bodies, not just our gray matter, and that we also “think with” our environment. In sensory deprivation experiments, people stop being able to think after a fairly short period of time.
This year I’m launching an exploration of the meaning and implications of thinking and learning with things. What role do the objects and qualities of our environment play in our ability to think and learn? What are the implications for what we do in higher education and beyond?
As a professor, I’ve watched how the classroom dynamics change when I introduce “things to think with.” The students become more engaged, create new and unexpected “constructions” (both physical and intellectual) and become “makers” rather than “consumers” of information and learning. For me, freeing my students to wrestle with things is also inviting them to wrestle with ideas, and for all the control I surrender, I get back so much in insight, engagement, and surprise. When I bring Lego into a learning environment, the air becomes charged, and fascinating things happen. This is true even when my learners are professors–in fact, they may feel the greatest “sensory deprivation” of all.