Sunday, August 30, 2015

Curiouser and Curiouser

The Back to School commercials and sales,  the thickening of morning traffic, and the last hazy days of summer are all signs that schools will soon be in session again. Teachers and students alike simultaneously love and loathe this time of year. They hate the idea that long summer days are coming to an end, but they love the possibility of a new beginning. 

Elementary and Secondary school teachers may dread having to justify and tailor their lessons to the Common Core, and having to teach to standardized tests. Many teachers want to just teach their students to love learning; to stuff their brains full of interesting information, not for the sake of high stakes tests, but out of the pure joy of wanting to know MORE. They want their students to be curious.

"Curiouser and curiouser," is what Alice said as she encountered the eccentricities and marvels of Wonderland. What teacher doesn't want their students to exclaim the same exact thing?

Ta-Nehisi Coates, in his much-buzzed about book Between the World and Me, writes, "...the schools were not concerned with curiosity. They were concerned with compliance." Is this what our schools have become? Places where we starve student curiosity, which is essential to personal drive and motivation, and force compliance upon them: Read this way, write that way, ask these questions, learn this stuff? The future is now, and we are not ready. Our children, our learners have to be prepared for whatever is coming their way. A closed mind won't help them. Tunnel vision aimed at test taking won't help them. Convergent mind sets won't help them. The blinders need to be removed so they can see more, think more, and ask more questions. They need to be curious, and they need to hold on to the sense of wonder we are all born with. 

As parents and teachers, our goals and motives are noble. We want what is best for our little ones. We want them to be super-duper smart, to have access to excellent opportunities and experiences. We want our kids to be the smartest. We sign them up for extra tutoring, and skill and drill them until their little fingers and minds are numb. But what if we are doing more harm than good? The road to hell is paved with good intentions, right? In his book, Curious, author Ian Leslie's writes: "To teach someone to be an engineer or a lawyer or a programmer is not the same as teaching them to be a curious learner--yet the people who make the best engineers, lawyers, and programmers tend to be the most curious learners."

How, as an educator or parent, can you help students keep their curiosity and sense of wonder alive? Well, for starters, you might want to awaken your own curiosity. What are the things you wonder about? And when a student comes to you with a genuine query, you might not be so quick to shut them down and dismiss them. Encourage them to go on that magical quest to find the answers, and to not give up until they do. It will be gratifying to see just how far down the rabbit hole they'll be willing to go.

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