Wednesday, October 27, 2010

How to Lose a Sense of Wonder

We have not the reverent feeling for the rainbow that a savage has, because we know how it is made. We have lost as much as we gained by prying into that matter."                 - Mark Twain

The one year my son Jesse attended public school he was placed in the gifted and talented program, which just meant that he was deemed more capable of taking on extra work, as opposed to those who could only handle the basic essentials.
His GT teacher called me aside one day and informed me that Jesse’s IQ test had revealed “genius” status. But I wasn’t to mention this to him, as his ego would inflate.
During that (one and only) school year, his GT class researched various scientific subjects to write about.  A chosen topic of my son’s was: What makes a Cat Purr?
Among the most boring papers I’ve ever read in my life. Something about the vibration of the muscles of the larynx and diaphragm, the blood flow to the palate, nerves activated in the voice box… Contrary to popular belief, the paper stated, cats do not purr because they’re happy, but because the laryngeal muscles make the glottis open and close, which causes the vocal cords to vibrate.
Jesse displayed matter-of-factness about the A+ he received on his paper.  We never discussed (as far as I recall) what triggers the cat to purr.  But this much I know for sure: what makes my cats purr in ecstasy is the gentle stroke of my hands repeatedly across their fur.  Just the sight of me - or any family member who adores them - is enough to make their motors run.       
As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, “Love and you shall be loved.  All love is mathematically just, as much as two sides of an algebraic equation.” 
Of course, cause and effect would be reserved as a different topic at school, as everything must be so dichotomized that the forest can’t be seen for the trees. 

Society allows children a sense of wonder for only so long.  Before they are forced to learn, they are hungry to learn. But humdrum facts shoved down their throats (for the sole purpose of regurgitating them for a test) is the quickest way to kill a sense of wonder. 
On the other hand, when they are permitted to simply be children and explore the world to their heart’s content, they will continue to see life through a child’s eyes. They maintain their eagerness to learn and their days are filled with meaning and joy. 
Play is just as necessary for children as academic knowledge – even more so up to a certain age.  They need space to run, play, discover nature, and physically release the abundance of energy intrinsic in young children.  Take my two active grandsons, for instance.  
Today they are happy campers.   Samuel wears a white cowboy hat, a maroon towel draped over his shoulders and secured at the neck with a clip.  He brandishes a handmade sword fashioned by his papa.  The blade is made from a bamboo stick, the bell guard from a plastic cup lid, the pistol grip from compressed silver-gray duct tape.  “Call me Zorro,” he says.  He bends the blade back and says, “You see how flexible this thing is?”  
His younger brother, Seth, wields a lavender whip - a recycled jump rope that had been my daughter’s - an easier endeavor than the sword, with one of the handles simply cut off and the end frayed like a real whip.  “Call me Indiana Jones.”
They did not want to go home today.  Samuel sat on the back steps with his head in his hands, on the verge of tears when he heard that it was time to go.  I intuited what his sadness was all about.  He was leaving the place where he is free from pressure to grow up too soon.  Here, he and his brother are real heroes, and living in the world of make-believe is as natural as breathing. 
Tomorrow they will return to their desks and their busywork and they will continue learning how to lose their sense of wonder.   


  1. Well said Debra, keeping alive the imagination in a child is wondrous!

    Amelie is advanced for her age and can see the advantages as well as the disadvantages of that so play time is real important

    Thank you

  2. Debra, so very true! My son, from the age of around 2 y.o. loved to have stories read to him. By the time he started kindergarten, he was reading all the time. But then, school politics intruded, as he moved up in grades, they began requiring more and more reading. And the better grades you received, the more you were required to read. He didn't really have interest in the books listed in the AR list, and it wasn't long before he figured out if he didn't do as well on his book tests, he wouldn't be required to read as much. This was a horrible struggle for us up through 6th grade. Now, he is in High School. He loves to read again, unfortunately, he reads very slowly now. Not to say he doesn't retain what he reads because he does that very well. It's just that his desire to read went out the window because he was forced to read topics that held no interest to him. It inevitably affected his skills. What a shame that a school's actions can have such effect on a child.

  3. My son is a Samuel and he was placed in the GT programme last year. It's really tough for children to be children when they are so involved with the hard facts as you say. It's one of the reasons I insist on silly time as much as possible - we will fly, we will soar and we will believe in fairies, dragons and trolls. We only lose it if we allow ourselves to lose it and I don't think either your or I are prepared to do that x

  4. Amen! I try my best to keep my son's creativity and imagination alive. It's so much more fun. Unfortunately, someone along his path will try to squash it because he doesn't fit into their little world view on how children should be. It happened to me, as it did for all of us. Great post, Debra!


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