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Back to Kindergarten


August 10, 2016

To riff on the immortal George Carlin: Some people think inside the box; some people think outside the box; I think we need to get rid of the box. Perhaps it’s the ethos of the political season, but lately I find myself thinking about how I think—the assumptions I bring to my thought processes, and the influences that I know have shaped my habits of thinking since childhood.

I’m fascinated by the influence of the Froebel Gifts on a number of great thinkers over the past century. This 19th century educational tool was developed by Friedrich Froebel and introduced to young children in the innovative village “Kindergarten” he established in Thuringia in 1837, which was soon imitated around the world. Still in use, his gifts (www.froebelgifts.com/gifts.htm) are a set of playthings—yarn balls, wooden cubes, spheres, cylinders, rings and other geometric forms—and activities such as pattern stitching, weaving and clay modeling. In “The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright,” William Allin Storrer describes the Froebel system as “a complex interweaving of ideas that are to be presented sequentially in order to develop the skills needed to see not just the appearance of things but things as they are, to see not the container but the contained, not the things that are connected but what connects them.”

The Froebel Gifts and Occupations create an independent learning pathway that helps students perceive connections, formulate unifying principles and explore the transformative “what if” through experimentation and play. In addition to Frank Lloyd Wright, the long list of pioneering artists, designers, teachers and thinkers influenced by Froebel training includes Charles and Ray Eames, Buckminster Fuller, Paul Klee and Albert Einstein.

In the realm of climate policy, we took a step toward the transformative “what if” this week when the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) released a guidance that calls on all federal agencies to quantify the greenhouse gas (GHG) impacts of projects subject to National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review, and identify alternatives that would reduce the GHG impact. It’s a giant “what if”—what if we evaluated all of our infrastructure projects through the prism of climate change? What if we took the various processes of agency review and approval out of their individual boxes, considered the cumulative effect of multiple projects, and made decisions based upon a unified principle of avoiding climate harm?