Killing Curiosity

I wanted to draw your attention to an interesting article written by Scott Barry Kaufman this week for The Atlantic. He notes that curiosity is a unique marker of academic success underemphasized in the classroom.

He writes:

The power of curiosity to contribute not only to high achievement, but also to a fulfilling existence, cannot be emphasized enough. Curiosity can be defined as “the recognition, pursuit, and intense desire to explore, novel, challenging, and uncertain events.” In recent years, curiosity has been linked to happiness, creativity, satisfying intimate relationships, increased personal growth after traumatic experiences, and increased meaning in life. In the school context, conceptualized as a “character strength,” curiosity has also received heightened research attention. Having a “hungry mind” has been shown to be a core determinant of academic achievement, rivaling the prediction power of IQ.

Yet in actual schools, curiosity is drastically underappreciated. As Susan Engel has documented in her book, The Hungry Mind, amidst the country’s standardized testing mania, schools are missing what really matters about learning: The desire to learn in the first place. As she notes, teachers rarely encourage curiosity in the classroom—even though we are all born with an abundance of curiosity, and this innate drive for exploration could be built upon in all students.

Curiously (pun intended), curiosity is also virtually absent from the field of gifted-and-talented education. A recent survey of required identification methods across all states found that only three considered motivation a part of giftedness. IQ, on the other hand, is required by 45 states, while 39 require standardized tests of achievement.

Emphasis mine. One-size-fits, top-down reforms are curiosity killers.

Frankly, this is something that parents need to foster at an early age, but teachers can help as well. Kaufman continues:

Stimulating classroom activities are those that offer novelty, surprise, and complexity, allowing greater autonomy and student choice; they also encourage students to ask questions, question assumptions, and achieve mastery through revision rather than judgment-day-style testing.

But these experiences happen outside of the classroom as well. The Gottfrieds investigated the role parents play in fostering in their children an affinity for science by exposing them to new experiences that make them curious, for example, like taking them to museums.

Those who promote social-emotional learning may say this is something they are trying to foster. I disagree. Teachers can’t teach it. They certainly can’t grade it. They also shouldn’t test on it. They can, however, not kill it.

Killing curiosity is exactly what Common Core and the standardized testing scheme does.

1 thought on “Killing Curiosity

  1. Killing curiosity is even more of an issue w/ the Next Generation Science Standards, CC’s companion piece. Science is all about curiosity and exploration, of course; the NGSS will effectively remove both from classrooms.


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