We want to teach, to draw out from the learners their ability to perceive the world in which they live and which they are a part of. There are so many things that compete for the attention of the child, we would do well to refrain from introducing extranious stimuli which would interfere with the development of the capacity to perceive the more subtle and sublime aspects of our existance.
Through the course of the year, there are subtle changes in the length of the day. There are changes in the position of sunrise and sunset, which human beings learned to measure accurately long after we first became aware of them, but well before we developed agriculture and civilization. Part of our responsibility as teachers is to nurture an awareness of where we are in the universe, of who we are, by teaching the tools of perception, including the careful observance of the time and place of the sunrise and sunset.
Some of the earliest structures ever built, certainly the first monumental structures, things built to last, were instruments designed to amplify our ability to perceive these astronomical changes, so that we gained the ability to pinpoint to the day where we were in the yearly cycle. The oldest surviving structures are calendars.
When I was in high school, I worked at a grocery store. One day, as I was helping a customer out with her groceries, I mentioned, just making conversation, that the moon was still up. It was before 10:00am and the last quarter moon was up in the western sky. This customer, a woman in her sixties, was incredulous at first. She could not believe me. But I pointed to the moon. "Is that really the moon?", she asked. "But the moon doesn't come out in the daytime, does it?" Yes, it does, sometimes, I had to explain. She looked at it, dumbfounded, but slowly realized that it really was the moon, and that it was up in the daytime. I said, "You learn something new every day."
More recently, I had a similar experience, mentioning that the solstice had passed, and that the sun was now moving back north, and that I had actually for the first time, consciously observed the solstice, by observing successive sunsets. The person, in her twenties, said that she really was not aware that the sun set in different places at different times of the year. I think we are missing something in our elementary schools.
Perhaps there are just too many other things going on for us to notice or find meaning in the fact that the sun sets at different times and in different places throughout the year. I think that if there are too many other things going on for us to notice such things, then we need to start eliminating some distractions. We have a custom of changing our clocks twice a year, which makes for a sudden and obvious change in the time of sunrise and sunset, in relation to our daily activities, although the time of sunrise and sunset does not abruptly change. Only the time of our daily activities, as dictated by the clock, changes.
For elementary school teachers who want to develope an awareness in their students of subtle changes in the timing of the sunrise, these abrupt changes in clock time are a thoroughly unwelcome distraction. Just as it is impossible to develope a fine perception of music in the presence of loud noise, it is equally impossible to foster a perception of subtle changes in the timing of the sunrise in the presence of arbitrary changes in clock time. We could not have invented a better method for distracting people from the real changes happening around them, and from developing a finer perception, than what we have in the practice of springing forward and falling back.
If phylogeny is replayed in ontogeny, then it makes sense for us as educators to create environments for children that will allow them to experience as personal discovery those things that human beings have discovered as a group through the history of the development of the human animal, and in approximately the same order. The history of invention, and the history of humans' changing perceptions of their world, can be the guiding principle of curriculum development, (which, I think, is sorely lacking in guiding principles today).
Imagination is more important than knowledge. -- Albert Einstein
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© 1996 John Champagne