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Theresa Willingham

FIRST (For Inspiration & Recognition of Science & Technology

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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?

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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: John Taylor Gatto has a beautiful little book "Dumbing us down" - in which his essential thesis is that it takes somewhat less than 200 hours programmed instruction to give children the basics of literacy and numeracy, and after that, they will learn best if left to follow whatever interests them.

    That aligns well with my own experiences, of teaching secondary school for two years, raising two children, and serving on the board of trustees of our local highschool (as treasurer then chairman).
    • Feb 21 2011: This book has radically influenced how we educate our children. We desire as parents to support them in finding their own interests and passions. Formal education is there to provide them with the basic skills they need to succeed, supporting them in their weaknesses so they do not hamper them, and providing them with opportunities and materials to learn.

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