Revisiting A Wrinkle in Time 50 Years On…

3 Dec


November 29 was a big day for birthdays of writers of massively successful books for kids.  Louisa May Alcott, C.S. Lewis and Madeleine L’Engle were all born on that day. But as loved as all these authors are, it’s Madeleine’s book, A Wrinkle in Time, that I am moved to talk about today. It was published fifty years ago—something I find not only hard, but quite annoying to believe—and has sold over 10 million copies.  Having been rejected by publisher after publisher, many of whom believed its foundational concepts of theoretical physics “too hard” for kids, it won the Newbery Medal in 1963.  

(If by some chance you or the gifted kids in your life haven’t read it, I urge you to head for your book store or library or ebook and remedy that oversight as soon as you reasonably can.) 

When I told my friend and sometimes collaborator Katherine Paterson, another Newbery medalist, that I had just reread the book, having had to get it from the library because my own copy has disappeared, she sent me a copy of this year’s anniversary edition, for which she wrote the introduction.  A brand new copy (with all sorts of lovely extras) now sits on my desk, with newly written blurbs on its back cover, such as this from Scott Westerfeld: “…Hers were the first books I read that mixed math and magic, the quest and the quantum.” 

I had read A Wrinkle in Time aloud to my son when he was six years old because he was in great need of meeting Charles Wallace Murry, the profoundly gifted, highly asysnchronous little boy who is the younger brother of Meg, the novel’s profoundly gifted protagonist.  My son needed to know that there were other kids who were as different as he was feeling in the first grade, and in pretty much the same way.  The profoundly gifted characters in this book—and the companion books that followed—Charles Wallace, Meg, and her friend Calvin O’Keefe, have given super bright children a sense of having peers and companions in the world for half a century. 

But it is not the giftedness of the young characters, or the anniversary year, or even the occasion of Madeleine’s birthday last week that motivates my writing about it here just now. It is the book’s plot. I reread it because I needed to be reminded of the particular evil the children struggle with once they tesseract to the planet Camazotz where they hope to rescue Mr. Murry, who has been imprisoned by IT, the planet’s all-powerful leader. The evil “shadow” that has fully engulfed Camazotz, and threatens other planets, including Earth, is uniformity.  IT is not so much a person as a singular consciousness that enforces absolute conformity of thought and action. The people of the planet, IT assures the children, are happy, content and safe because they are essentially identical.  There is no need for individual thought. 

Recently I posted “Are We Redefining the Wrong Word” in response to the conflict in the gifted field over what giftedness means and how the educational world should address it.  The effort to unite the field under the single banner of talent development has been presented as a more politically viable, more efficient, more fundable and less complicated method of holding a place for gifted children in the country’s educational system than continuing to contend with varied points of view and a multiplicity of approaches.  

When my husband read that post, he accused me of having become a raging radical when he wasn’t looking, and asked whether I was actually calling for the replacement of all the schools in the country with learning communities. “What would you do with the 80 or whatever percent of people who are okay with the current system?”   I reminded him I’ve always raged a bit.  I used to say I wanted schools to be bulldozed and the ground salted so they couldn’t grow up again.  (Put it down to OEs!)

But his point had sunk home.  I’ve been thinking a lot about Camazotz.  A Wrinkle in Time does not seem to me today quite as brilliant as it seemed when I read it originally.  But its evil is demonstrably evil, which is why I reread it in the first place, to support my own extreme distaste for age-grade, lockstep, factory schooling–way too much uniformity. 

The danger of uniformity of thought and the total dismissal of all other viewpoints seems a bigger threat than ever in today’s world.  One has only to think of our recent election and the hostilities that are still going on in its aftermath to see why some would find relief in everyone thinking the same way they do. People whose ultimate goals and intentions are much the same have come to think of one another as enemies thanks to a disagreement over how to achieve those goals and intentions.  The more I thought about Camazotz, the more IT-like my own wish to rid the world of factory schools began to sound. 

And then I encountered an interview with Barbara Marx Hubbard, whose new book Birth 2012 and Beyond considers what she calls humanity’s “Great Shift” to conscious evolution.  Her thoughts are just what I needed.  Many people who have commented on my “Redefining the Wrong Word” post in various venues have spoken of the need for and the supreme unlikelihood of a paradigm shift of sufficient magnitude to fundamentally change education.  Hubbard’s “conscious evolution” is a way forward.  

She suggests that allowing people to find something new to do or commit to in their own lives that can help with positive evolution, “is far better than if you ask people to do the same thing together” [italics mine].  She speaks of social synergy and explains how it differs from cooperation.  “Cooperation could be many different things, including ‘We’ll help you if you help us.’ Synergy happens when one group has a yearning to express something that another group feels the need for, and vice versa.  So you get to be uniquely more of who you are by joining than you do by remaining separate.  …That’s a big growing edge for human endeavor right there. When we come together in synergy, each person or group gets celebrated, amplified and empowered.” 

What if we could find ways for all the groups who care about and work for gifted kids (the kids themselves, parents, teachers, counselors, academics, theoreticians, pediatricians, school administrators and yes, politicians) involved in social synergy, working in their own individual way, but jointly focused on the best developmental future for the kids?

Pretty much everything on the planet is in the midst of massive change.  The time is past for top-down planning and the old hierarchies.  There is no single “IT” mind that can possibly have the answers to all the questions humanity needs to address.  We need to stop seeing different ideas as a threat and begin to look for what aspects of other points of view could support, supplement, or create new possibilities for our own.  There is no them and us in our need to support the growth and development of our children—WE are part of a fully interrelated whole, and it is our very differences that create the possibilities for positive evolution.  

And speaking of massive planetary change, how can any of us be satisfied with an educational paradigm designed quite purposefully to put limits on all the variety of developing minds with both the ability and the desire to push ahead into unexplored territory?  Almost everything that faces us these days is unexplored territory, whether we like it or not!  Instead of labeling these out-of-the-ordinary minds arrogant or elitist—or odd or broken, let’s invite them all into the conversation about possible ways to move forward.  Any for whom the past methods seem to provide what they need, let them stay with those.  Transition times are just that—times when the old and the new overlap.  But let us please quit kidding ourselves that past methods are “best methods” and acknowledge that we have barely begun to scratch the surface of possibilities. And let’s give young minds more respect than we have generally granted them before.  Let’s not just talk—let’s listen!  

There are other values in A Wrinkle in Time and the later books about the Murry family that may seem to be fantasy.  But who knows what real synergy could begin to show us?  There is a great deal more to mind than intellect and it could be time to quit limiting the rest of mind, too!  

Instead of what’s wrong with other thoughts and other ideas, let’s begin looking for what’s right with them.  Just as there is no one-size-fits-all method, there are none that are all brilliant or all worthless. Imagine that our lives depended on developing synergy.  They just might!


12 Responses to “Revisiting A Wrinkle in Time 50 Years On…”

  1. Shulamit December 3, 2012 at 8:08 pm #

    “Imagine that our lives depended on developing synergy.”

    Of course, they do…we may have just not noticed.

    Meg truly saved my life when I was a kid, reading A Wrinkle in Time, and the books that came after. And the concept of a genetic sport helped a whole lot, too.

  2. Karen Kraeger (@kakraeger) December 5, 2012 at 7:54 pm #

    This speaks to my heart! I am not a profoundly gifted person, but I’ve taught some over the years. Even though I will never be at the level of Charles Wallace, reading A Wrinkle in Time was life changing for me. It made it OK to be smart and different from the other kids. It remains one of my all time favorite books for that reason.

    I too see the evil of uniformity as ever present and maybe even more threatening today than in the past. Your idea of working together synergistically is a powerful one! We can all accomplish more together than we ever could alone. If enough people start listening to the kids, they will guide us to ways to help them be the best of who they are. I think one of the small parts of the answer is to invite the kids to the table. Let them tell us how they like to learn, what they need from teachers, what schools/education should be like. The brightest ones may have some things to say that we have never considered.

    I think I may just pick up an updated copy of my very favorite book. Oh, and I might just get the new graphic novel version too. I think rereading this old favorite will keep my enthusiasm for my students and my research high! Plus, what fun it will be to read again!

  3. Keaton Wadzinski February 20, 2013 at 5:46 pm #

    Everything in this post really resonated with me; I am a senior in high school, living through the drudgery of industrial education, and my favorite book growing up was A Wrinkle in Time. Fortunately, I have discovered many positive outlets in school as well as sources of information and futurism in the field of education reform. Seth Godin’s “Stop Stealing Dreams” manifesto and TEDx talk come to mind, as well as anything by Sir Ken Robinson.

    Just two days ago, some peers and I submitted an entry for a Prezi Contest sponsored by In this project, we highlighted a few of the problems inherent in the one-size-fits-all schooling mentality, and more importantly, provided potential solutions.

    Mrs. Tolan, and any other readers of this post, I ask that you would visit our Prezi, vote for it, comment on it, and share it to spread the message. Here is the link to our Prezi:

    I sincerely hope our message resonates with yours as much as yours has with mine.

    • Stef February 24, 2013 at 5:36 pm #

      Hi, Keaton–

      I voted. I very much like what I read! It is NOT the destination that counts.

      • Keaton Wadzinski February 24, 2013 at 9:06 pm #

        Thank you so much, I appreciate it!

  4. Steve Lloyd July 6, 2013 at 4:23 pm #

    Hello Stephanie. I’m a teacher who with a hundred or so others from buildings that should be razed and salted listened carefully to you at the ‘Gifted Ed’ conference last fall in Vancouver – and who sent you a link to the Imaginative Education Research Group at SFU, after your lunchtime request. Your imagery here of ‘cooperation with individuality’ via Hubbard have been prefigured in the world of natural history/biology – not by Darwin, who ‘shockingly’ discovered his own 19th C. (C.E.) Dickensian culture in nature (aided by early sociologist Herbert Spencer) in “the war of nature” and “survival of the fittest,” but by Prince Leo Kropotkin, who a short while later found in the same Galapagos locations full reliance upon “mutual aid” and “diversity.”

    Since the entire world has since been structured based upon a dog-eat-dog system that is ‘natural’ according to Mr.s Spencer and Darwin and their following beneficiaries, it seemed appropriate at this point in your revolutionary approach to schools and education to toss you some more ‘ammunition’, in the form of deep conceptual support for your attraction to Hubbard’s notions. If we can find a way to “mutual aid” and “diversity” in our social and environmental thoughts and behaviour, in part by practising both in education with or without walls and roofs, we may help our children to build a sane future locally and for the planet. Put the other way, we will continue to flounder in building such a future without a revisioning of who we are and what, truly, we are amidst. Kudos to you and Ms. Hubbard.

  5. blog o pieczatkach October 9, 2013 at 4:14 am #

    Sweet blog! I found it while surfing around on Yahoo News.
    Do you have any suggestions on how to get listed in Yahoo News?
    I’ve been trying for a while but I never seem to get there!

    Thank you

  6. Jen May 9, 2014 at 12:30 am #

    Stephanie, thank you so much for writing what you do. Just a few months ago, in beginning my journey to understand giftedness of my son, which also led to understanding myself, some of your writings were among what I read to help me understand us both and how to help us both.
    The Time trilogy was given to me as a present for my 8th birthday (over 30 years ago now) by my grand aunt, my father’s aunt. Those books were the first in a series of gift books that led me to believe that this woman I’d only met twice in my life really knew me: she always sent the very books I needed to read at the right times. I wasn’t profoundly gifted, not even identified as gifted (I see now I am), but I had no trouble identifying with the ‘different’ the Murrays and Calvin represented. Madeleine became a favorite author, alongside Ray Bradbury. They helped me understand that my different was good, not something to be ashamed of, to hide or apologize for.
    These books are still in my personal library today, though the copies I had are long gone. My son will hopefully find them and read them for himself.

  7. Corey Barnett May 17, 2023 at 8:20 pm #

    Very nice blog yoou have here

    • Stef June 3, 2023 at 3:37 pm #

      Thanks, Corey–sorry to say that I haven’t written here since the early days of Covid. The intensity of that time pretty much shut down my sense of being able to help people with words. But I’ve seen recently that people are still finding this and still reading posts from long ago, so perhaps it’s time to see what else I can talk about in this world that goes on changing with such speed. Sadly, as writer I am most disturbed at this moment by AI. How that will affect the world going forward is pretty threatening to a person who has been writing all her life.

      • Shulamit June 5, 2023 at 8:56 am #

        🙏🏽🤟🏽You are a blessing, Stef. The world is a better place because you and your writing are in it. AI can never diminish your writing’s value because AI has no heart. AI makes creative writers *more* important, not less.

        Trust that our writing offers something fresh, which the limited, derivative nature of AI can never match.


  1. How far have we come in 30 years? in 50? | Gifted in Wisconsin - December 14, 2012

    […] another post, we find Stephanie Tolan revisiting A Wrinkle in Time 50 years on. True to her style, she blends personal experience and a deeply gifted ability to connect the dots […]

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