Commenting on Rowen’s (2007) investigation on the importance of awe and wonder in the motivation to learn, Norris (2007) argues that there are three distinctive categories in which educational practice may be placed. First, there are things that enforce learning which includes such things as standards and accountability. Then there are those things that measure learning, things that include standardized testing instruments. Finally, there are those things that inspire learning, specifically awe and wonder.
The American educational system today relies on enforcement and measurement at the expense of inspiration. This is a tragic move on the part of educational policy makers, one that takes the joy out of learning. Dewey (1938) argues that in order for learning to occur one had to engage in what he called the transformative experience. In order to be transformed by the acquisition of knowledge, one must have a unique interest in learning, do the things necessary to acquiring and constructing the requisite knowledge, and finally, be prepared to attach language to the experience in order to confirm meaningful acquisition or construction of new knowledge. Instead of being a purposeful experience, learning today is both without purpose and joy.
Enforcement and measurement are, at their core, punitive, disciplinary approaches imposed upon the other violently by and through the exercise of raw power. I might even want to argue that enforcement and measurement are categories that preclude inspiration. They are technocratic impositions practiced against the weakest members of our society without regard to the fundamental purpose of education.
True learning is invitational (Smith, 1988), it occurs because one has the absolute desire to learn about something one knows little about. Learning is inspirational in the sense that one accepts an invitation to engage in the act of learning because one looks up and is able to say WOW! Until one is wowed, awestruck, filled with wonder (not in the sense of, “I wonder what is on TV tonight,” but in the sense of, “I wonder how that works.”) will one truly become a learner. Perhaps it is time to restore wonder to the curriculum.
I like to think this is possible through an inquiry based curriculum in which the teacher, acting as the adult in the room as he or she must, constructs a Curriculum Box, one that establishes the limits of the inquiry. Once the Curriculum Box is constructed, students are encouraged to wander around inside of the Box in order to explore some aspect that inspires one to learn more and more. In this way, students are guided through a curriculum that is designed to inspire, to awe, to cause one to wonder.
Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New York: Harper & Row.
Norris, T. (2007). The refusal of wonder. In N. C. Burbles & D. Vokey (Eds.), Philosophy of Education 2006 (pp. 221-223). Urbana, IL: Philosophy of Education Society.
Rowen, T. B. (2007). A retrieval of awe: Examining disruption and apprehension in transformative education. In N. C. Burbles & D. Vokey (Eds.), Philosophy of Education 2006 (pp. 212-220). Urbana, IL: Philosophy of Education Society.
Smith, F. (1988). Joining the literacy club: Further essays into education. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.