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Philosophical Meanderings

People, problems, and wonder

In The Aeroplane Over the Sea by kidatocha

In The Aeroplane Over the Sea by kidatocha

This past month, I’ve enjoyed a number of remarkable and wondrous things.

  • I saw Jeff Mangum play live. To quote William Miller: “Incendiary.” No division between his voice, his arm, his guitar, his audience. Heart-warming. Life-changing for someone who discovered Neutral Milk Hotel in 2003 and never imagined seeing Jeff Mangum at all. Hopeful and restorative. Art and life at once. Good.
  • We got a record player in the house. Our first since we’ve lived together. What I sometimes need from books I forgot that I needed from records. Snapshots of permanence; a fondness to believing that we can share through making. I love the music I’ve downloaded (or I did at one point), but I don’t want to download any more for a while. I feel like a kid and adult all at once. You mean I get to have a record collection? Like the one in the living room on Duck Pond Road?
  • I went out to the driveway one night – under a full moon – to watch the Chinese Tiangong and International Space Station fly over Central Virginia, one after another, in the space of ten minutes. My wife tweeted my kids’ greetings to @Cmdr_Hadfield
  • Two students in our project-based learning class taught each other the wiring for their MaKey-MaKey-mediated cardboard arcade machines. They got to the same place at the same time , took a look at a few other student0mad machines, and hunkered down with tin foil, tape, cardboard, and circuit boards. The next time I looked they had their control pads roughed out and had tested them on their Scratch games. While I trust that my students can figure out nearly anything, I don’t ever expect them to do so all alone; nevertheless, I am always so excited for them when they join up without me to identify and solve problems related to their work

I feel extremely fortunate to have had each of these experiences; I wish all my kids and all of you the joy and wonder I’ve felt this month.

I think it’s remarkable that one of these experiences happened in school. I think a ratio of one wondrous experience in school to four wondrous experiences in a month is actually pretty good.

I know many of my students struggle to find wonder. I know that joy often escapes them and that when it returns it is suspect.

I would also wager that most students wouldn’t report feeling any wonder at school at all – and that only a few of their accounts could be challenged on the grounds of ennui.

In looking around at the conversations that are just now maturing about education, testing, technology, and finance, and in reconciling where we are with the deep gratitude and appreciation I have for my privilege to work with kids and write about what we do, I’d like to close with this:

It is past time we designed schools to be wondrous places. It is past time we designed schools to keep kids full of wonder. It is past time we taught one another how to wonder again, fearlessly. It is past time we stopped confusing following instructions to complete a project with solving a problem to complete a project. It is past time we stopped confusing people with problems.

The project of education – of humanity itself – is to make a better world.

No amount of obedience will make it so.

For that we need people, and problems, and wonder all together in community, from within and outside the classroom.

Our kids can become our allies. We can teach and learn anywhere. We can go to concerts, geek out, make stuff, look to the stars, and move from wonder to a wondrous world.

So long as we look to each other. So long as we remember that we are all a part of our project.

Hits pause.


About Chad Sansing

I teach for the users. Opinions are mine; content is ours.


13 thoughts on “People, problems, and wonder

  1. So beautiful and inspiring. Thank you!

    Posted by Maureen Devlin | February 26, 2013, 9:33 pm
  2. Chad, The delight in this post lifts me up. The vision of your kids tweeting to @Cmdr_Hadfield is one I’m going to take with me today. It’s all a connected world. Thanks for being fun in it!


    Posted by Kirsten Olson | February 27, 2013, 9:49 am
  3. *smiling* with gratitude

    Posted by Melissa Rohwedder | March 1, 2013, 2:13 pm
  4. Chad, my name is Roanna, and I am taking a class called EDM310 at the University of South Alabama. This class is a requirement for me to become a future teacher. In this class, I read blogs from other educators and write my own blog for others. I really enjoyed you post because I do feel that students fall into an “ennui” that is almost impossible to overcome. Students are taught that they have to memorize info just long enough to take a test then forget it, repeat, repeat, repeat, and graduate. And after all this, they have learned- really learned and maintained- nothing. I want to be this teacher that you talk about that changes wonder into wondrous. I want to instill in my students a longing to KNOW things and a drive to find out what they don’t know.

    Posted by Roanna Council | March 1, 2013, 6:08 pm
  5. Hi Chad,

    Loved this post. Thanks!

    Wonder is a word I use a lot to talk about my work with kids too. It is something I see in abundance with young children, that sense of openness and the embrace of mystery, but it is too often lost in middle childhood, and with this loss comes a sense of jadedness, skepticism and mistrust. Kids quite literally become “too cool for school.”

    But if we are to take seriously, wonder as a pedagogical goal – and I think we do, you and I, then I’d love to explore a little deeper: what do you mean by “wonder?” And, why should this be a goal? And how could we achieve it? What needs to shift?

    One dictionary definition for wonder is: “something causing awe, astonishment or surprise and the emotions associated with it.” Is that pretty close?

    It seems to me that if we are aiming for wonder in schools, several rather enormous elements have to change. First, perhaps, is the letting go of KNOWING every thing, and MASTERING every skill. It seems that wonder necessarily has to embrace not-knowing, and not-mastering. It is okay, in fact desirable, to leave some things a mystery. How can this be reconciled with RTTT and Common Core?

    Second, I believe wonder implies a sense of the awe-some and numinous. There are some patterns and forces at play that are beyond rational or at least beyond our capacity to dissect and understand through any inductive or deductive scientific process. And again, that’s okay – those things in fact are to be elevated. How can public education possibly approach that goal? Increasing learning outside of the classroom’s four walls seems a good place to start.

    Finally, (for now,) it seems necessary that “wonder” needs unpredictability. It will require a little (or a great deal of) loosening of the reins. How can we approach wonder with the bell ringing every 40 minutes, and the learning outcomes predetermined and the teacher-proof curriculum already scripted, and everything assessed, scored and graded? Spontaneity, emergent curriculum, student-led learning, and open-ended experiential learning each are small pieces to this puzzle, I think.

    I’d love for the Co-op community to help unpack “wonder” and for us to roll it around in our collective mouths for awhile exploring its taste, its shape and boundaries. Is wonder what others are going for in their practice?

    Thanks so much, Chad.

    Posted by Paul Freedman | March 7, 2013, 10:42 am
    • This is all great and important to think about, Paul – thank you for sharing these insights here!

      I’m still wondering (if may) about how I might unpack wonder further. To begin, I’ll say this:

      I think wonder spreads, I think it spirals, and I think it’s self-sustaining. People mirror the joy of others’ discoveries as they come to understand them and become inspired to make discoveries of their own. Wonder begets wonder – it’s a process of discovering that coming to know something makes you realize how much more there is to understand. Wonder is a drive to find answers for our answers. It is making something or some response until it works and suggests what is left to discover and do.

      Do we have schools that inspire wonder? Does the work of teaching seem wondrous to kids – might they be inspired by what a teacher does? Do we sanction wonderful learning or legitimize it? Do we compete with the other sources of wonder in kids learning lives?

      So often lately I keep quiet about things I used to champion and attack because there is no room for wonder in them, just for continued adult control of schooling. There is no innovation or design that will save public schools until they become centered on the relationships between learners – adults and children alike – and between those learners and wonder.


      All the best,

      Posted by Chad Sansing | March 11, 2013, 1:39 pm
      • I am so with you, Chad. Lovin’ all of this. And your last sentence, “..relationships between learners…” it always seems to come back to relationships.

        Posted by Paul Freedman | March 15, 2013, 1:04 am

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