TED Conversations

Theresa Willingham

Creative Partner, Eureka Factory


This conversation is closed.

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!

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • Feb 21 2011: According to the Nation's Report Card 68% of 8th graders read below grade level. I believe poor reading skills are key to a the lack of curiosity in our schools. Children have been taught the very complex language of English is a chaotic fashion which leaves more exceptions than answers. When students year after year fail to learn to read, not only do they not have foundational academic skill to all education, reading, they are discouraged and broken hearted.

    In addition it is possible to teach English in such a manner as to train students from the earliest grades to ask questions, look for and discover patterns, and engage in the process of discovering the rules and phonograms that describe 98% of English words. When students are taught in an engaging fashion, where they are respected as learners, they will become more curious about other subjects. They will learn that they contribute to learning and are not passive vessels to be filled.

    I believe the first step though is to lift them up in the primary area they struggle - basic literacy. Unfortunately as a nation, our general population does not know how English works. Parents and educators rarely have answers to their students questions, such as "why is the A long in LANE but not in HAVE?" This material though is widely known in remedial reading centers around the country. I call it The Logic of English. And it is has been shown through countless studies to be successful in teaching 100% of children how to read.

    When our student population becomes literate we will begin to address creativity in deeper ways. Students will not be sitting there with deeply discouraged hearts and a world of books will be open to them. Teacher's will be able to focus on inspiring students in their subject areas and not be so hampered by the low level of reading and writing skills.

    Denise Eide
    • thumb
      Feb 21 2011: My son was ten before he learned to read, and not from any lack of trying - although from a certain lack of interest. Rather than make all his learning center around trying to learn to read, though, we simply proceeded with his education in other areas and continued to read aloud to him and to model interest and excitement in reading and books.

      He finally "got it" when he decided he wanted to create a video game and needed to learn how to write programs in Visual Basic. We found a simple "Visual Basic for Kids" book, and he slowly worked his way through it - and by the time he figured out how to write his video game, he was also reading. Reading was suddently relevant to him - there was a reason for it.

      He's 18 now, an avid reader, and dual enrolled at a local college as he finished out his senior year of high school. If we had focused on teaching him to read, he'd have hated it and I doubt would have mastered it as completely as he finally did. You don't need to know how English works to value and enjoy reading. I'm a writer, and I can attest to the fact that nothing kills a love of language than having it deconstructed to the point of meaninglessness.

      We come to learn and enjoy language like we come to love music: By hearing it and running it over our tongues, and feeling its lyric wonder. For children, reading has to mean something, bring them something, elevate them in some way. Reading was not foundational to my son's learning, although I completely agree that it's key to continued learning. But his love of science and literature proceeded unfettered until his reading skills caught up later.

      A great book, "Reading without Nonsense" by Frank Smith, sheds some helpful light on our views of reading, and what I believe to be a misplaced emphasis on having all children read by a certain age. I think a lot of kids are lost in school when they don't read when their peers do - when what they really need is time, and a reason to read.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.