Discouraging Curiosity

Recently a speaker made a statement that I had heard many times before (or variations thereof), but for some reason this time it struck me as rather strange.

She said “We need to do more to encourage the curiosity and investigative spirit of our students.”, a declaration in reference to teaching elementary-age kids.

Having never taught students below the middle school/junior high level, I really don’t know, but at what age do kids stop being curious? When do they stop investigating things that catch their interest? I mean, isn’t this how we, all learned a great deal about our world in the first place?

The process starts by getting a question in our mind (maybe not in the Jeopardy form of a question but still questioning) and then doing what it takes to find an answer.  “What happens if I stick this fork in that wall socket?” may not be the smartest inquiry anyone created but some of us discovered electricity that way. As well as one more thing to never repeat.

Einstein is supposed to have said “It’s a miracle that curiosity survives a formal education.”, and whether he did or not1, I think the premise is an unfortunately accurate one. As we enter into the spring testing season around here (and in most American schools) and students spend large chunks of time on decidedly non-curious activities, I wonder if real curiosity in most kids only exists outside of the time they spend in classrooms.

That initial statement about curiosity also led me back to a good post from Presentation Zen2 in which Garr Reynolds starts with this observation on the topic.

The courage to make mistakes is related in some measure to curiosity, exploration, and the ability to speak honestly about a topic and about ourselves. For it is fear of mistakes, of being wrong, and the possibility of ridicule that stops us from showing our natural curiosity. The openness to show your natural curiosity in front of others requires one to be vulnerable.

I’m not sure there’s a significant point to this rant (or any point at all for that matter), just a collection of random thoughts on a trait that should be common to most human beings.

However, we probably would not have nearly as many education reform types talking about “encouraging curiosity”, “teaching innovation”, “fostering creativity”, and the rest if we didn’t work so hard to wring those naturally occurring tendencies out of our kids early in their educational life.

1 Half the pithy sayings attributed to major historical figures (Mark Twain is another) are probably made up or corrupted.

2 Thanks to Delicious, one part of my cloud-based brain extension. By the way, the whole column is worth a little of your time.