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  • Writer's pictureAmy Burvall

Seuss the Sage


all images made with Paper 53 for iPhone

A couple of weeks ago (March 2 to be exact) was the birthday of beloved whimsical author and illustrator Dr. Suess (Theodor Geisel). In honour of what has come to be known as #DrSeussDay on social media, I whipped up a few sketchquotes I found particularly poignant. I purposefully did not what to take them directly from his books, but rather from the man himself, as I am more interested in the creative process and the backstory and backTHINKING of artists than anything else. Let’s explore a little Seussian Weltanschauung:


Well, this pretty much speaks to the paradigm shift (or is it?) in learning, with emphasis on

autodidactic, informal, and social learning.

I don’t know about the alone part, because I learn better and think most people do with others, but I do see the value in incubating alone. The point is, you are not going to learn most of what you need or want to in formal arenas like school (or at least that won’t be the sticky learning). And we shouldn’t expect to be spoon-fed (or force-fed!) anything – we are going to have to, as Alan November says “own our own learning”.


Let’s face it, in this rapidly changing, unpredictable, messy world, perhaps the only way we can really prepare students is to help them ask the right questions and pinpoint problems. Sometimes these will not have answers, and that uncertainty in not coming to a definitive solution must be embraced or we will drive ourselves crazy. I love Ewan McIntosh’s TEDxLondon talk about

“problem finders”

I don’t want young people who can solve a pseudo problem – a fake problem – generated by their teacher…I want young people who can go out into the world and find problems that really need solving and have the capacity to go and start solving them“, Ewan says in his charming Scottish accent.

My 11 year old daughter recently stated that she has “the answers to the questions they never ask“. I think this Seuss quote is many-fold, but it seems to scream out the importance of cultivating curiosity and wonder in our students and in ourselves, for that matter. Every classroom – heck, every office building!- should have a “Wonder wall”. There is also something to be said about “negative capability” a la Romantic poet John Keats. It’s about art trumping rationality and certainty…it’s about staying in the question and being ok with that. This would later be appropriated by Albert Einstein when he explained:

“It is not that I am so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer”


This was undeniably my favourite from the bunch, primarily because I tend to see things “out of whack” as it were, but it makes for an interesting life. How can we help students think more “out of whack” – i.e. more creatively? I’ve written about some strategies in this blog series.

What is perhaps more important is to cherish those who do see and do things differently than the norm…to be open-minded and accepting of these precious anomalies.

Some More Jewels

I didn’t end up illustrating these but I think they are worth archiving.

“Words and pictures are Yin and Yang. Married, they produce a progeny more interesting than either parent”

Wow. This totally speaks to my work with Visual Literacy / Visual Thinking. According to dual coding theory,  concepts are much more memorable when words and images are combined.

Speaking of his work in both writing and illustrating, Seuss says, of his process:

“I start drawing, and eventually the characters involve themselves in a situation. Then in the end I go back and try to cut out most of the preachments”

Picasso also espoused this “working backward” which “inspiration exists, but it has to find you working”. The problem is, for most of us it is difficult to feel comfortable starting something if we are not confident where it is headed. When faced with a scary blank canvas, Vincent Van Gogh advised, just “slap something on it”. I think serendipity has a LOT to do with creativity and innovation, and I plan to discuss that in a future post. For right now, I think I’ll curl up with my cat (not in a hat) and munch on some green eggs sans ham.

#alannovember #quotes #problemfinding #creativity #wisdom #questions #education #wonder #knowledge #drseuss #amyburvall #learning #ewanmcintosh #visualthinking

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