Curiosity may have “killed” the cat but lack of it surely kills learning. A recent article in the Atlantic asked “what’s missing in today’s schools?” The answer, curiosity.
Who hasn’t been asked these kinds of questions / often by three, four and five year olds.
Why doesn’t the sky fall? Why can’t I drink ocean water? I wonder why bees sting. What’s the moon made of? How come some kids are mean? Where does night go?
Kids are by nature curious. Their brains are exploring brains. They are interested in everything around them. I remember my toddler’s incessant questions well. In the days before the Internet, some I could answer. Others I could not.
When kids work on what inspires and interests them, I see their voices, agency, and influence as intertwining with curiosity to form a personal kinetics of learning. Sadly, this happens mostly outside of the walls of schools. The engagement and boredom data from multiple K-12 survey sources corroborate that kids don’t find much to inspire learning in our formal places of learning.
Given the right conditions, schools can inspire kids to ask questions, observe, reflect, form knowledge.
At the same time, kids tell me that social community also matters to them. When curiosity, voice, agency, and influence come together in a social community, I see a freedom to be curious and learn through interactive experiences that seldom occur in schools.
Given the right conditions, schools can provide kids the freedom to engage their minds and hands in constructing that which they did not know before.
School structures in general do not allow freedom in learning. The filters, constraints, and biases developed by those in power suck the passion out of teachers and kids. Mass standardization paces school time with such rigidity that time to slow down, dig deep, and pursue individual learning interests. And, decontextualized curricula taught through command and control pedagogy mostly oriented towards passing decontextualized tests results in the antithesis of learning in which curiosity is the goal and children’s personal agency, voice, and influence are core values.
Why should we care about curiosity as a disposition of learners and those who teach them?
Curiosity powers us forward not just as individuals but as humanity. The focus on content acquisition in schools that continues apace today isolates adults from supporting the full range of learners’ growth and development. The context of our children’s curiosities propels them to seek knowledge, rather than move away from it.
I’d like to interview the Greeks who coined the word school as to why it originally meant leisure or free time but somehow morphed over time to mean lecture.
Curiosity implies a leisure of free time to explore, question, inquire, and play. Voice, agency, and influence imply activation of children’s kinetic learning versus passive reception of information. Perhaps we need today’s schools to return to the early Greek definition of school.
Given the right conditions, schools can provide free and leisurely experiences that grow and sustain curiosity, a substrate of Petri dish agar that makes a disposition to learn go viral for life.