Updated: Oct 26, 2020
What is truly important in education? What do we truly endeavor for our students to gain from our time in school? Is it a technical skill set that prepares them to compete successfully for employment or further educational opportunities? Many of the latest technical skills that are in high demand today become obsolete when technology progresses. Experienced workers are then at a disadvantage later when younger employees just out of school enter the workforce with the skill set of the new era and can displace them for less pay. Skill obsolescence and increased competition from younger graduates threatens career prospects as employees age.
Perhaps it is “soft skills” such as written and oral communication skills, interpersonal skills, problem-solving, critical thinking and adaptability. Such skills are hard to quantify, and they don’t create clear pathways to jobs, but they have tremendous long-term value in a wide variety of careers.
All of these objectives are important, but beyond them is one even more vital: an experience of awe that leads to the inclination for wonder. Awe can help us heal from tragic events and nourish our hearts and souls. Wonder sustains intellectual creativity. If a teacher can consistently lead students to encounters of awe and cultivate wonder in the hearts and minds of students, they will develop the passion and persistence required for them to be successful in any endeavor.
Creating encounters with awe and cultivating wonder is a challenge far beyond expectation, however. Most students by default are motivated by extrinsic factors such as, “Will this be on the test?” You won’t find wonder in any set of government-endorsed Science Standards or in your school-sponsored curriculum. Yet it should be featured foremost in both.
Awe, beauty, wonder, and other engaging characteristics can lead to a lifetime of passionate pursuit and success. A close study of the biography of any successful scientist reveals that feelings matter immensely and strongly motivate a desire for knowledge, skills, and discovery. Dispassionate analysis may keep you employed but it doesn’t result in original scientific advancement. Fascination is the necessary precursor to deep scientific inquiry.
If we stop looking at the screens before us, and closely observe the majesty outside that surrounds us with fresh eyes; the trees, flowers, chipmunks, songbirds, turtles, and deer, we may rediscover the sense of wonder we all had as children but somehow lost along the way. Why do American Robins lay blue eggs? Why do songbirds mature so quickly after they are hatched? Why do they sing such beautiful songs? Which songbirds sing which songs? We may start asking questions for which there are not ready answers, we may start authentically investigating in search of answers to those questions, and we may make observations that lead us to conclusions discovered by no one who has come before us. And if our discovery has unbeknownst to us been made by another, it is no detriment to us, because what we just learned will persist in our memory for far longer than any sterile explanation encountered in a textbook or lecture.
No, you cannot quantify wonder with a Student Growth Objective i.e. “All students will improve 20 percent on the assessment that measures awe and wonder.” But yes, Passion, Love, Awe, Wonder, immeasurable though they are, these still have immeasurable value. The Wonder experienced by a student who just observed a duckling hatch from an egg, came upon a newborn fawn in the forest, or experienced a close encounter with a whale rising to the surface of the ocean, inspires purpose, joy, perseverance and a commitment to learning far beyond what most students ever encounter in a classroom.
Awe and Wonder are not at odds with academic success. They are its very foundation. Why would we sterilize our curriculum of such vital elements?