Blue and Red Don't Make Purple

When I was in first grade, our teacher filled up big glass jars full of water. A few drops from her tiny plastic vial and colors swirled frenetically around only to settle into the primary colors. For a full week, I watched the light stream through the jars, coloring the room like a stained glass window.

Our teacher showed showed us how red and blue could make purple.

Except it didn't.

It made maroon. Maybe burgundy. But it wasn't purple. Not really. And the green wasn't green. It was more like a turquoise. And the orange wasn't orange. It was more like a dark yellow, like the color of a crisp french fry more than a tangerine.

So, when we rotated around the classroom, I struggled with the handout, trying my best to spell turquoise before crossing it out and writing green.


I didn't want to be the one who saw things differently.

It was a subtle defeat, but still profound. I learned to trust my mind more than my eyes. And it's been only through the observations of Joel, Micah and Brenna that I've learned to trust my eyes again.
John Spencer

Professor. Maker. Speaker.
I want to see schools unleash the creative potential in all teachers to transform classrooms into bastions of creativity and wonder. Read more →
Email me at john@educationrethink.com for speaking inquiries on design thinking and creativity.


  1. The sun is never directly overhead in these parts--never.

    Yet most of my lambs will insist it is, because an adult told them so.


    1. It wasn't until college that I found that out. It was a "cake class" called natural geography. But it was where I unlearned the simple answers and diagrams I had been given growing up.


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