In Lois Lowry’s book, The Giver, the members of its dystopian community have never experienced a snowflake, the warmth of the summer sun, the beauty of rolling hills, or the multitude of colors all around them. Every aspect of their environment is controlled in order to produce order and “sameness.” Even the titles of classes they take in school showcase the need for sameness: “language and communications, commerce and industry, science and technology, civil procedures and government.” Questions are frowned upon, differences are never publicly acknowledged, and any deviation from the norm requires apology.
While ultimately dystopian for murderous practices behind the scenes, perhaps equally concerning is how the community in The Giver shapes young children: with a complete lack of wonder and curiosity. In this community, it is done on purpose. In our public school system, we are inadvertently doing the same.
The number of very young children enrolled in programs meant to teach them the rules is higher than ever, which in turn means that the number of children who are spending their days exploring nature, building forts, and marveling at the world around them is fewer. The art of wonder is being set aside for a system designed to create “sameness.”
“Wisdom begins in wonder” said Socrates. Are we striving for academic achievement with an emphasis on skills to the point of depriving children the opportunity to gain wisdom through wonder?
In a parallel move, with the ever-extending school system, we risk also losing imagination and curiosity, which will have a profound effect on society in the years to come. C.S. Lewis believed that seeking truth required imagination. He writes:
“For me, reason is the natural organ of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning. Imagination, producing new metaphors or revivifying old, is not the cause of truth, but its condition.”
If we are going to instill in future generations a pursuit of truth and meaning, we must ensure we allow them the opportunity to wonder at the world around them.
Reflecting back on The Giver, they established a community of order, comfort, and lack of pain where everyone’s basic needs were met, but they did so at the expense of beauty, imagination, creativity, and pure wonder. In the end, it is not the type of society or culture that Americans have come to know and love.
Parents fan the flames of wonder in their children at home. We need to make sure the school system doesn’t extinguish those flames, but feeds the fire through quality education and a search for truth. Parents must do everything possible to make sure no one steals their children’s wonder!