Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Do schools kill curiosity?

A good rule of thumb when debating anything is not to take questions at face value. People ask questions for a reason, and the reason isn't always an innocent wish to fill a gap in their understanding. There might be an ulterior motive.

There is definitely an ulterior motive in a lot of the discussion about curiosity and its death at the hands of teachers. It is clear that at least some of those shouting about curiosity have merely been looking for a stick with which to beat schools - to beat them in the name of the freedom of the individual - the freedom of the individual to pursue his or her curiosity, whatever that might be.

Now schools must do all they can to cultivate curiosity, and they must provide the space for individuals to begin to exercise their freedom, but in run of the mill schools in the West (where teachers have had a child-centred approach for a long time now), that is not where the educational priorities now are.

Suggestion: The world is looking increasingly like a runaway train. Where is it heading? Why are its engines being stoked so frenetically? What's the rush?

A teacher standing outside the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, wondering about the runaway train that we are all now on, sees again the inscription: "Know Thyself." It seems even more imperative now than it was then. Perhaps if people understand themselves and their world a little better, they might see that they can stop the train and get off and do something a little more fulfilling than charging at full speed down tracks that lead God knows where. Perhaps.

Clearly there is no spontaneous inclination to achieve self-knowledge. As teachers it is our job to cultivate an interest in that - to try to make young people curious about the bizarre world that they just take for granted. Let's make the course a matter of learning by discovery as much as possible, and at the same time let's state clearly that this is pre-eminently a job for schools and inspiring teachers, because this is something extremely important that we all ought to be curious about.

For more on the defense of a rather traditional idea of teachers and schools see:The Digital Counter Revolution

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