The science of wonder

Maybe it’s because I grew up in Ohio, or maybe it’s just because I grew up in a time very different from the way things are now. Most kids walked to school, and the one or two who were picked up by their mothers were considered spoiled or unfortunate. There was no such thing as honors classes, and nobody took algebra until the 9th Grade. Kids weren’t expected to learn advanced sciences even in high school. Not a single teacher gave out required summer reading or math review packets. It seems to me that there was, overall, less homework, but every kid in the lower middle class suburban public school I attended could read pretty much at grade level.

Having experienced school from the parental point of view, I have to say that I am impressed by the amount of material our kids are taught today. Even 3rd grade text books cover many of the basics of biology and chemistry. I don’t think I even heard about DNA until High School, and then only that it was discovered by Watson and Crick and was in the shape of a “double-helix.”

But while I love to see children exposed to all kinds of learning, I’m not sure all our educational acceleration is everything it’s cracked up to be. I’ve noticed that our kids, for example, are quite ignorant when it comes to knowing much about the natural world. If I ask them to pick out a nice bouquet of pink carnations in the grocery store, most of them don’t have the foggiest idea of which bunch of blossoms to bring back.

When I went to school, our science classes consisted mostly of tree, flower, soil, bird, insect, and animal identification as well as meteorology and some astronomy. We all had to hand in multi-paged notebooks of construction paper filled with different leaves or pressed flowers, each identified. Every kid knew a white oak from a black oak, a carnation from a chrysanthemum, and a starling from a crow. We all knew what animals we were likely to see on a walk in the woods nearby, and could identify their tracks. We knew too, if the flies buzzing around our heads were likely to bite, or if the purple flower growing on the side of the house was poisonous. Every student could tell you what kind of clouds were in the sky, and on a clear night could easily find the big dipper and the North Star.

I find it rather disturbing that kids who are being taught that they should have a great concern for planet earth know so very little about the corner of it in which they live. To most kids today, florists and bird watchers possess an almost mystical knowledge, one that, sadly, is rarely shared or taught. For as much talk as there is out there about our environment, there is practically none about creation. I can’t help but think that an eight year old child who doesn’t know the difference between a daffodil and a daisy has lost part of what fuels the wonder that lies near the joyful heart of childhood.

So before the summer ends, and our kids go back to primary, middle, high school and college, I’m going to share with them some of the treasures it seems that schools no longer teach. We’ll take a look at “Birds of the World,” “American Wildflowers,” a catalogue of trees, and bugs, and maps of the constellations together. I suspect that each of us will discover in creation one or two reasons to stand in awe of the Creator. Creation, after all, inspires us to wonder about the Creator. For children at least, and probably for most of us, fireflies in twilight bushes have more than just a little to do with loving God.

Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an author, speaker, musician and serves as Faith Formation Coordinator at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Lynnfield.