Knowledge is a wonderful thing

2nd November 2007 at 00:00
I am intrigued by the first learning outcome for early years astronomy in the recently published A Curriculum for Excellence draft experiences and outcomes for science. It states: "I have experienced the wonder of looking at the vastness of the sky."

Recent debate in the letters pages of the press about Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion has several times referred to a sense of wonder at natural phenomena: their size, their beauty, their complexity.

Letter writers have claimed that such a sense is a sense of the numinous and demonstrates the likelihood of there being a creator. Others have replied, saying that atheists experience wonder too, but draw different conclusions from this fact.

Is this outcome intended as a concession to those few proposing the introduction of so-called intelligent design (aka creationism) into the science curriculum? Or is it a response to such a position, which reclaims a sense of wonder as a human capacity without any necessary religious significance?

Regardless of the authors' intentions, I wonder what teachers will make of something the Scottish philosopher Sir William Hamilton said in 1859: "Wonder has been contemptuously called the daughter of ignorance; true, but wonder, we should add, is the mother of knowledge."

I choose to be optimistic about Scottish teachers' handling of this astronomical outcome.

Sharon Jessop, Department of educational and professional studies, Faculty of education, Strathclyde University.

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