Sarah’s Diary Episode Thirty-Five

Jenny was approaching the end of the semester. As she thought about her class, she was delighted by how Sarah’s diary had helped students discover a real sense of innovation. This was the first class where she had not taught a single class using PowerPoint, and it was clearly the best class she ever taught.

Today’s class was on Matthew. Students didn’t get much of a sense of him from Sarah’s diary because he was so young. From the diary you would have predicted Matthew could have become an artist or author, but that wasn’t the case.

“Let me tell you about Matthew,” started Jenny. “You may recall we first met him when Elizabeth and Sarah showed him a dogwood tree. Later we learned that he drew that tree and became a story teller. You may be surprised how Matthew’s career evolved.”

“He studied biology in college and eventually got his Ph.D. in biology with an emphasis on botany. He continued his artwork by drawing detailed pictures of wild plants in their natural habitat. These became the first definitive catalog of plant species. What made the drawings especially useful were the details they contained. Matthew produced more than a dozen drawings of just one species showing variety of often unseen details.”

“There was one species of plant he would not draw. That was the wild ginseng. When ginseng became known for its healing qualities, it became threatened with extinction. The ginseng plant was hard to identify without something to go by. That’s why he would not capture it in drawings.”

“In effect, Matthew was one of the earliest protectors of endangered species. This was a time when carrier pigeons and whooping cranes were disappearing as were the bison. Matthew worked to expand the Lacey Act, the first conservation law in America.”

“There was another dimension to Matthew that I just recently found out about. He wrote a series of children’s books with an ecological theme. The stories were of plants and animals and how they supported each other.”

“It’s interesting that his stories for children would become more than just stories as we have learned about the abilities of plants to communicate with each other. Did Matthew’s books inspire that thinking? We don’t know, but we do know that he created an ecological awareness in children at an early age.”

“We often talk about a right side and a left side of the brain with the implication that one can be an analytical thinker or a creative thinker. Matthew is a counter example to that theory.”

“I’ll ask you, was Matthew an innovator? And do you think innovators need to be both analytical thinkers as well as being creative?”

“One final note, this is the last story of the siblings. I hope they have given you a personal view of what it means to be an innovator.”

Immediately hands shot up throughout the class. “What about Sarah,” they shouted.

“She was a school teacher,” Jenny responded. You could sense dejection throughout the class. As they left the class, Jenny had a twinkle in her eye.

* * *

“We should preserve every scrap of biodiversity as priceless while we learn to use it and come to understand what it means to humanity.” – E.O. Wilson (ecologist)

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