Monday, November 07, 2022

What Would Happen If We All Spent More Time Watching The Sky?

This morning, as I sat outdoors drinking coffee, a gaggle of Canada geese flew overhead, flapping hard, heading east, honking. Several minutes later they returned, silently, gliding, having circled back. As they drifted down to the place from where they had begun, I wondered why.

If you know why Canada geese might do this, don't tell me. I don't need an answer. I just need the wonder.

There was a jet up there a few moments later, to the north, very high, not coming in for landing. It was heading westward where there is nothing for thousands of miles except ocean. Where was it going? Who was on it? How many of them were white-knuckling it? How many were asleep, dreaming of destinations either ahead of them or behind?

To the south, between the saddleback of mountain peaks there were a few grey clouds. They were moving slowly in the direction the geese had originally set out, but strangely, one small cloud seemed to remain in place, changing shape, elongating, but also not moving from its spot in the sky. I wonder if this wasn't the single cloud it appeared to be, but rather the source of all the clouds, the place where they were forming before heading off toward the rising sun. Or perhaps they were there to camouflage the flying saucer containing aliens who were sent to observe us, afraid to be seen lest they blow our minds.

We live in an age when you say casually to somebody, "What's the story on that?" and they can run to the computer and tell you within five seconds. That's fine, but sometimes I'd just as soon continue wondering. We have a deficit of wonder right now. ~Tom Waits

I've lately had the opportunity to just sit in the darkness watching the stars, night after night as they move across the sky; pondering the distances, wondering where they've been and where they are going. I've lately had the opportunity to sit, riding the earth backwards, the sun rising behind me as it lights up the mountain peaks from top to bottom, awakening the world, birdsong first.

In a world of answers, it's still the questions that I find the most appealing. 

The answers that we call up on our smartphones might settle a disagreement, but where is the satisfaction in that beyond simply boasting, "See? I was right."? Our answers today are so synthesized through algorithms, so condensed by our ever-shortening attention spans, and so reduced into black and white by the modern myth of certainty, that they are ultimately dissatisfying both to our intellects and our souls.

Our schools are set up around the idea of correct answers. We judge our children based on how closely they mimic the pre-formed answers, especially in the early years where we tell ourselves that they must form a solid foundation made up of correct answers. What a pity. What if we understood that any foundation worth its mortar must be constructed of wonder? A child who has not been permitted to wonder, which is to say, to play, will struggle to learn to think for themself. To wonder means to consider all the possible answers we can imagine, even if they've not been officially sanctioned as "correct." This is what it means to think. And when we set ourselves up as the authorities on right and wrong we rob children of their most sacred freedom, which is the freedom to think.

Our schools are set up around the idea that we are to mold children, to guide them, to lead them toward correct answers, but that, from where I sit, is properly the domain of curiosity, not authority figures. We are there, of course, to keep them safe and to answer the questions they ask us as honestly as we can, even, especially, when our answers are "I don't know." Not knowing, thinking, playing, and experimenting is the essence of all deep learning. Proper answers, ones derived from wonder, don't close the door to inquiry as our smartphone answers too often do, but rather open new vistas about which to wonder, letting us see the infinite vastness of what we do not know and what we will never know.

I worry that we are forgetting how to wonder in this world full of quick answers. Increasingly I'm coming to see this lack of curiosity not just as the greatest crisis in education, but as the greatest crisis in democracy; the greatest crisis of humankind.

I wonder what would happen if we all spent more time watching the sky. I don't know, but it's worth a try.


"I recommend these books to everyone concerned with children and the future of humanity." ~Peter Gray, Ph.D. If you want to see what Dr. Gray is talking about you can find Teacher Tom's First Book and Teacher Tom's Second Book right here

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