Penn State

Eric Plutzer - Professor of Political Science and Sociology, Penn State University Park

Book Title: On Beyond Zebra

Author: Dr. Seuss

Book Description:

This was the first book that I read independently, and I read it dozens of times.

The protagonist, Conrad Cornelius O'Donald O'Dell, is gradually transformed from a rote learner into a creative non-conformist. Even at the age of six, I was aware of the nascent rebellion against authority brewing in the nation. It would be many years later, of course, that I would understand that by 1965 the Civil Rights Movement was mature, the sexual revolution was well on its way, and the rejection of the establishment was already being reflected in theater (A Thousand Clowns) and film (Rebel without a Cause). But even as a young child, I could not help but be caught up in the excitement of change that comes from challenging the status quo. When I was six, the unnamed mentor of Conrad Cornelius O'Donald O'Dell was my James Dean.

O'Donald O'Dell's transformation has another lesson--one for pedagogy. And this is the fact that real creativity generally requires mastery of the basics first. Whether the basics are absorbed by rote learning ("A is for apple, B is for bear, C is for camel, the H is for hare") or from intimate contact with the raw materials of one's profession (as the Bauhaus School recognized) productive creativity can't really emerge without them. I try to apply this insight in my teaching--another legacy of my repeated readings of this classic.

It's also just plain fun!


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