In a 1956 article, Rachel Carson (of Silent Spring fame) wrote about wonder:
If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world would be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantment of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from our sources of strength.
It’s certainly no secret that we in Episcopal education are advocates of a holistic education for our students. It’s no secret that we eschew a model of education that sees students as passive recipients of factual knowledge. It’s no secret that we encourage cross-disciplinary modes of understanding, that we push students and faculty alike out of the idea that we inhabit “knowledge silos,” that we, in short, want an education for our students that is life-changing, process-oriented, transformational.
But why should we want this? As Carson concludes, “what is the value of preserving and strengthening this sense of awe and wonder, this recognition of something beyond the boundaries of human existence?” One of her modern interpreters, Dr. Ruth Wilson, points to a possible answer in her 2010 article “Aesthetics and a Sense of Wonder.” In it, she notes that one of the most powerful reasons for keeping a child’s sense of wonder alive is that “while children gain inspiration and enjoyment from being in touch with beauty, their ‘sense of possibility’ can also be nurtured and strengthened. This sense of possibility enables children to see a future different from what currently exists, including the possibility of seeing beauty in places now filled with ugliness, and seeing peace and harmony in places now filled with anger and discord.”
Episcopal schools know that our continual nourishment of our students’ sense of wonder and possibility has an integral relationship to our cultivation of their spirituality.
Jesus points out that the kingdom of God is reserved for those who maintain a child’s sense of wonder, hope, love, and trust in ultimate goodness.
The Kingdom of God, in fact, of which Jesus speaks so often, is precisely the idea of, as Wilson writes, “a future different from what currently exists.” It is possibility, potential, the grace-filled future in which all have a seat at the table, all are fed, and all work together for peace and justice. In short, to provide our students with wonder, at any age level, is to inculcate in them an imagination that can envision the Kingdom.
Thomas Merton wrote Rachel Carson a letter upon the publication of Silent Spring. He saw in Carson’s critique of humanity’s presumption and overreach a kind of spiritual sickness that was a manifestation of the narrowing of educational vision. After all, if we keep students in knowledge silos, they will presume to know the whole picture when they only have a small fraction of it. To be educated in a way that can advance the moral and spiritual renewal of society is to be educated holistically.
If we educators can come to the kingdom as little children, full of wonder and awe, then we can help our students to imagine that other world, the one in which our incredible technical knowledge and educational strengths are placed in a spiritual context that enables us to see the bigger picture, the transformation of lives for the sake of the world around us. May it be so, with God’s help.
About the Author
Andrew Armond is the Upper and Middle School Chaplain at Episcopal School of Acadiana, a PK3-12 school in Lafayette, Louisiana, where he teaches 8th grade religion, world religions, philosophy, and Dante. He is a former English professor now in the discernment process for Holy Orders in the Episcopal Church.