Classical education emphasizes the fact that all learning must being with wonder. Back in the fourth century B.C., Plato wrote of the importance of wonder, claiming through a character in one of his dialogues that wonder is the beginning of philosophy, which is the Greek word for love of wisdom. In effect, he is claiming that wisdom, and therefore all learning, must begin with wonder. We need our learning to be ignited by a thirst for knowledge. It is that innate awe at the truth, goodness or beauty of the world that enlivens a true education.
And there is certainly much to wonder about. As G.K. Chesterton once famously said, “The world will never starve for want of wonders; only for want of wonder.”
If the world is so full of wonders and wonder is so important for learning, it is then little wonder that St. Jerome emphasizes it as part of our commitment to classical education. While many schools often stifle the innate wonder of young children, St. Jerome works to foster the wonder of our young students. Our primary school teachers have consciously taken on the honorable task educating with wonder.
How do they cultivate wonder in students? They encourage wonder by connecting knowledge back to its primary end. They do it by taking time to show students the best things. They do it through personal example and interest in their own learning. And they each do it in their own creative ways.
Here is a beautiful example from our first-grade teacher, Mrs. Byers. At the beginning of a new history unit, she draws up a “wonder wall” and encourages students to share their “wonders.” By beginning the study of a new period of history this way, she is building on students’ natural desire to know. Their future learning will be driven their innate desire to answer very human questions. What a wonderful idea!
Mrs. Byers, 1st grade
This emphasis on wonder also harmonizes with the intellectual tradition of the Church. In his encyclical Fides et Ratio, Saint John Paul II explains that the most important knowledge people seek in life always springs from “the wonder awakened in them by the contemplation of creation.” He continues, “Without wonder, men and women would lapse into a deadening routine and little by little would become incapable of a life which is genuinely personal.”
If wonder animates our pursuit of knowledge and allows us to live a personal life, let us celebrate these wonderful students at St. Jerome School and the teachers who encourage them on this path.
Speaking of our youngest students, stay tuned for next week’s post on the importance of memorization in the grammar stage or elementary years.