Watch a child at play by a creek. As she grasps the patterns of life swirling about her, her world becomes increasingly interesting and useful. The unfolding drama at the edge of the water holds a lifetime’s worth of study.
Our knowledge of science depends as much on human imagination as it does on our senses. Much of our view of the natural world flows from the models developed by science. Not so long ago the Earth was flat, the sun revolved around the Earth, and life arose spontaneously from pond muck. Today physicists challenge our concepts of what is “reality,” questioning the meaning of matter and energy and space.
Science teaches us to question, to make sense of our observations. Children are naturally curious, exploring the world at their feet. Children who grasp science have a powerful tool to help them sift through their empirical world and perhaps even change it.
Teaching the child long names for microscopic critters they see only in textbooks is not science. Learning the plot of Charlotte’s Web is not literature. Memorizing dates is not history. Children need to see, to hear, to touch, to feel both with their hands and with their hearts, pushing their understanding of the world to their limits, putting patterns together so the world makes sense.
At its best, education transforms a child, makes the child an integral part of the world she is just learning to understand. A good education gives a child the tools needed to push her understanding of an infinitely complex universe. A teacher assumes an awesome yoke of responsibility—when a teacher succeeds, a child’s world grows larger.