TED Conversations

Theresa Willingham

Creative Partner, Eureka Factory


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Celebrating and Inspiring Curiosity as a Key Component in Learning

I'm speaking here not of "education", but of learning - the process by which we obtain not just an education, but life and career skills.

We are all born curious. It’s curiosity that compels children of all ages to touch, taste, smell, and explore the world around them. Sometimes out of necessity, sometimes out of habit, sometimes for no good reason at all, we often discourage that innate curiosity in children,just as they begin to master the skills they need to get a handle on their world.

Anyone who has seen the affected boredom of middleschoolers and highschoolers in contrast with the boundless energy and enthusiasm of elementary aged children can see the effects of thwarted curiosity, of a culture in which it simply isn't cool to be curious.

But without curiosity, there's little impetus to discover or explore. Without curiosity, apathy and disinterest creep in and the commensurate affects of an unexamined life can be culturally far-reaching - affecting political involvement, scientific, literary, artistic, economic and social achievement and development.

I believe we need to celebrate and encourage the Curiosity Driven Life at the adult level so that it trickles down to our youth. It's time for more of us to question what we hear and read and see, and to wonder and ponder out loud, and to engage in learning side-by-side with our children, modeling the curiosity we want to inspire in them.

We need a generation of people who have grown up asking questions and who are experienced in finding answers and creating solutions; people who aren’t afraid to get hurt, fall or fail, people for whom the greatest, most dangerous and most exciting innate human trait we have - curiosity – is a celebrated way of life!

What do you think?


Closing Statement from Theresa Willingham

I enjoyed watching this conversation develop. It was interesting to see how people have experienced discouragement of curiosity in learning environments, although I'd have liked to have seen more idea generation regarding ways to inspire creater curiosity. Generally, though, everyone seemed to concur that that they felt it was vital to foster curiosity and that it is integral to learning. One of the more positive suggestions was rewarding youth for thinking outside the box. I think that's a great idea, and would encourage more out of the box thinking by others, making curiosity and innovative thinking "cool."

There was also general agreement that one of the principle considerations in fostering curiosity and creativity is whether people feel safe and secure. If food and shelter are hard to come by, it's hard to be curious about much beyond where your next meal comes from. Creating "safe zones" , of any size, can go a long way toward providing a nurturing environment to foster curiosity and commensurate learning. We'll be continuing the conversation at TED ED (http://education.ted.com/content.php) if you want to join in!

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    Feb 20 2011: As someone who did much of his education in India before moving to the US some 23 years ago, I daresay that the reason why India and China may take a long time to truly dominate the world is because of the fact that their education systems are not based on what you are saying--celebrating and inspiring curiousity as a key pillar of learning.
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      Feb 21 2011: Tongue-in-cheek right? ;-) China tops the education achievement list in the 2009 OECD report: http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/54/12/46643496.pdf - But we're circling back to "education" as opposed to "learning" and knowledge. I think there's a difference. One can be educated, but uninventive; degreed but socially inactive.

      I think curiosity is key to the things we need most in society - an engaged and interested populace who drive invention, social action and discovery. We don't need degrees for that - we just need to be able to question and explore and be interested enough in the world around us to try to find answers to the things we don't understand or want to improve or invent.

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