Children are remarkable for their intelligence and ardor, for their curiosity, their intolerance of shams, the clarity and ruthlessness of their vision. – Aldous Huxley
My wife is expecting our first child in February so I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about how and why children learn. It seems to me that a lot of it is driven by curiosity. That urge to find out what will happen is fundamental in human nature. Columbus set sail for the new world driven in part by curiosity. Of course curiosity is balanced by other forces, if not we would get hurt. Fear and experience tends to temper curiosity. Fear of the unknown can cause us to draw back and experience can temper our curiosity because we remember outcomes to previous similar inquires.
Why do some people have more curiosity than others? Some people seem to have what I have called a “restless curiosity”.
Curiosity is one of the most permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous intellect. – Samuel Johnson
Are all children born with curiosity? I think so. They certainly like to get into some strange situations. I’m looking forward to that the most I think. 🙂 Still, I think it’s one of parentings big challenges. We tend not to be as curious about the world because we have places to be, things to do. We don’t have time to be curious so we can get frustrated when children want to spend time on something that we take for granted or have dismissed as irrelevant. Nothing is irrelevant to a child is it? I would submit that curiosity is the nemesis of timeliness. In the adult world this can be a problem.
Curiosity is almost never linear. By this I mean once you follow a line of inquiry, you tend to end up in unexpected places. Watch a group of children in a nursery and you will see what I mean. They all wander from one toy and activity to the next but never seem to have a plan or direction. Even so, they are learning so fast from their experiences.
This leads me to this quote about education.
The whole art of teaching is only the art of awakening the natural curiosity of young minds for the purpose of satisfying it afterwards. – Anatole France
I would suspect that every teacher reading this post would agree with that sentence. I agree it is a great thing to strive for however is it allowed in schools? Once you start grouping students in classes, and once you put a time limit on learning, you need a controlled, linear learning situation. The problem is, the conditions needed for this are the opposite of the conditions needed for true exploration of curiosity. In fact, curiosity isn’t required in school. If a child shows up to a class with no interest at all, they still are required to do the work and “learn”. If it’s a choice between order and curiosity, order wins out every time in school.
It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education. – Albert Einstein
I would draw a distinction between interest and curiosity by the way. Curiosity sparks and sustains interest. Without curiosity, you don’t get much interest. Try asking questions of a class of students who aren’t interested. They don’t know the answer and don’t care to find out. No curiosity.
The reason I wanted to flesh this out is one last quote. Many people including myself has said that it is vitally important that we raise a generation of kids who are creative people. I have gone on to say that the future belongs to the creative. Thus this last quote is disturbing in the context of mass standardized public education.
Curiosity about life in all of its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people. – Leo Burnett
What do you think?
(quotes from brainyquote.com)