Tikvah Wiener
Head of School of The Idea School, the first project-based learning Jewish high school in America

Philosophy and Doodling for the New Year

At the 2016 West Coast Summer Sandbox, one of the professional development conferences on educational innovation that I run, artist-in-residence Ruthie Matanky-Skaist introduced me to the work of Lynda Barry, an interdisciplinary professor of writing and the visual arts at University of Wisconsin-Madison (Barry doesn’t credit herself with this, but I’ll add that her work is philosophical as well). Ruthie brought Dr. Barry’s book, “Syllabus,” to the Sandbox, a “marble composition notebook” that presented assignments and thought-provoking questions in whimsical, colorful, highly creative collage.


Lynda Barry's "Syllabus" and a page from the book
Lynda Barry’s “Syllabus” and a page from the book


I was immediately hooked. Ruthie’s goal was to create a “Syllabus” for the Sandbox, which we did, but it also caused me to buy Barry’s memoir and philosophical treatise What it Is and to start writing, doodling, and drawing more. It also sparked an interest in cephalopods, a common motif in Barry’s books, and when the Wall Street Journal reviewed Peter Godfrey-Smith’s work Other Minds, about octopus consciousness, c’mon, I had to buy it.

The "Syllabus" Ruthie started at the Sandbox
The “Syllabus” Ruthie started at the Sandbox

My son sometimes chastises me for reading too many books at once, and I’ve tried to quit this awful habit and read one. book. at. a. time. But I dislike doing so. Reading lots of books simultaneously causes them to start talking to each other in my head (are those the voices I’m hearing? :), and coupled with the permission Barry gives in her works to be creative and let one’s imagination loose, I was inspired to create the following visual, Barry-like op-ed. Thanks, “Jewish Standard” editor, Joanne Palmer, for letting me.

In her books, Barry challenges readers to think about when they stopped creating art, singing to themselves, making music, and dancing, and she invites them to have the courage to re-engage in those activities. So not only do I hope you’re inscribed in the Book of Life this year, but that you allow your thoughts and creativity more freedom in 5778, so they start taking you again on the imaginative and inspiring journeys they once did when you were a child.

My own “Syllabus” page for the New Year. What will yours include?


About the Author
Tikvah Wiener is Head of School of The Idea School, a project-based learning Orthodox high school located at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly, NJ. www.theideaschool.org. She lives in Teaneck, NJ, with her husband and children.
Related Topics
Related Posts