This I Believe

DJ - Dixon, California
Entered on November 4, 2006

I believe in wonder!

“Teacher! Look at this!” How many times have I rushed to respond to the delight of one of my students as she excitedly shares a discovery? Dozens? Hundreds? More? And the variety of events that can elicit such an outburst would probably astound most: it could be anything from seeing the first shoot of a bean seedling poking through the earth to solving a particularly challenging math problem to reading an interesting tidbit about snakes or some other intriguing theme. I believe that experiencing wonder is fundamental to all humans.

My 27 years as a teacher have given me countless opportunities to delight in my own wonder. I still feel giddy when I discover something new! Maybe my own sense of wonder is what makes me feel such glee when I see it in my students. Through all of the changes in public education during my career, my belief in wonder has grown and solidified: I am more certain than ever that each of us, given the right conditions, will inevitably find some aspect of creation that will inspire us to call out, “Look at this!”

Because I believe that wonder is fundamental to human experience, I believe that is where all education must begin. Once children have numerous opportunities to experience wonder, educational success is a natural outcome. They will share their wonder by writing about it. They will know about another’s wonder by reading about it. They will measure it, multiply it, feed it, house it using mathematics. Children will do all of those things enthusiastically, working hard to get better at doing them, because they feel that sense of wonder, even in being able to develop those tools. I know because I’ve seen them, over and over again.

A few years ago I worked with Joe, an eight-year-old who didn’t seem to get excited about much of anything academic. He could read and write at a fairly basic level, but he did as little as possible in class. One day I brought in some geometric shapes and told the children they could build anything they wanted. Joe worked for an hour and a half on his structure – a large, complicated polyhedron. He even volunteered to skip recess so that he could keep working. Even when his creation fell apart a few times, Joe was undaunted. He just kept at it until finally, success! Once he had built it, he toiled to illustrated it and to write a description of it. I was amazed! He was proud. He’d finally experienced the wonder of tackling a huge challenge and succeeding.

You can’t tell a child about wonder – a child must experience wonder. You can’t dictate wonder to a child – a child must discover wonder. You can’t evaluate wonder in a child, but if you create the right conditions and provide the right guidance, a child will exceed even your wildest educational expectations.

“Teacher! Look at this!”

I believe in wonder. In our work with children, I still believe we must start with the wonder!