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Monday, December 12, 2011

Teaching Wonder part 1- Why do we come to school?

Okay, so I've been thinking about education lately. My role (as teacher), the role of the students and of assessment and how and why education is changing and should change in the information age.

And what I've come up with is...(drum roll please) a sense of wonder. A sense of wonder is...what drives people to learn new things. Because let's face it, if you only learn things for 13 years (counting Kindergarten) or for six years of college (which is how long it took me to earn my five year Master's Degree) then how sad would your life be? A sense of wonder is what makes us read books and magazines and articles and sometimes look stuff up on Wikipedia and *shudder* Urban Dictionary. A sense of Wonder is what makes us want to know more, it's the basis for science and for philosophy and probably for math even though I rarely wonder about that. The math I do, however, is about wondering. How much house can I afford? How much will I be paying for it? Wonder is what makes us expand our minds, even when we don't have to. And if we as humans, weren't willing to do that, well, we'd probably still all be working little patches of farm land and never going beyond our personal horizons.

Little kids have an abundance of that sense of wonder. How many questions can a child ask per minute? The number of questions is limited only by the complexity of the question, the pause as the adult tries to answer the question, and the speed at which the child can articulate the thoughts that are tumbling about in the spin cycle of their mind. Ezra and Noel come home from their Montessori school fascinated by plant systems and parts of trees and this last week synonyms (which Noel pronounces in a way that makes me vaguely hungry for Cinnabon). But by the time students get to high school, that sense of wonder seems to mostly be gone. I'm going to argue that it's still there, albeit under the surface. I'm also going to argue that cynicism is not necessarily the antithesis of wonder. (Just a good way to camouflage it). This may be self serving because I tend to be cynical and like to be around other cynics, but I will argue in nonetheless.

This week, I'm blogging about education, with a focus on that illusive and marvelous sense of wonder, because I think it's what education has to be about in the information age. Now, there must be more tangible results to education than just the sense of wonder. Education must be about comprehension, and analysis. But in reality that's just creating a framework for understanding all of the things you discover as you wander through the subjects that entice you.

Let's take history, one of my favorite subjects, as an example. There is no possible way that your history teachers can teach you every facet and fact of American history, or Western History, much less the history of the rest of the world. And hopefully the role of the History teacher is not just to make students learn lists of dates and meaningless facts. It is to connect those facts in a way to make sense, to give students an overview of enough history that they understand how to make sense of history. So they understand the broad implications of historical events as well as the more individual repercussions of change.

The same concept applies to literature. As an English teacher, my job is not to teach all the books and stories in the world, it's to teach students how to understand literature. That's where the balance comes in, and it's a precarious one. How do you teach without making the wonder go away?

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