Teachers & Schools

“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” ~ Socrates

What’s The Best Way To Ignite Curiosity?

B.F. Skinner wrote in Walden Two that “No one asks how to motivate a baby. A baby naturally explores everything it can get at, unless restraining forces have already been at work. And this tendency doesn’t die out, it’s wiped out.”

Sadly, it is clearly the case for millions of children!

Many educators already understand this, and thankfully we’re beginning to see them open up their own minds to other possibilities for education, like inquiry-based and personalized learning.

However, I’m not yet convinced that most academics fully understand and appreciate the underlying root cause of the problem, because they’re still far too focused on instituting models, methods and processes for “learning”; evident in their language and the focus of it.

We don’t need to “teach inquiry”; we’re all born with it – it’s called curiosity!

Einstein said “It’s a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.”

And he’s absolutely right!  Again, I am very happy to see the “concept” of inquiry-based and personalized learning getting into the classroom, but we’re still focused on the “formalization of learning” versus the engine that actually drives it!

Ken Robinson understands it, when he says that “curiosity is the engine of achievement.”

But we don’t need to start the engine, because nature has already done that for all of us! We just need to make sure our education system keeps the curiosity engine firing on all cylinders, and never lets it run out of gas!

Therefore, the first thing we need to formalize and structure is; teaching teachers how to stay out of the way of curiosity!

Another Nobel Prize winning physicist, Richard P. Feynman, said “Study hard what interests you the most in the most undisciplined, irreverent and original manner possible.”

We need to let their curiosity and childlike sense of wonder run wild – it’s born to be wild and unencumbered.

While academics and educators focus on the “structure of learning” and the “formalization of learning”, they’ve sadly overlooked the elegant nature, significance, value and potential of our natural curiosity.

Curiosity is the “desire to learn” and every single one of us already has it! And we have to stop killing that innate desire, with too much structure.

The Nobel Prize winning poet and novelist Anatole France believed that “The whole art of teaching is only the art of awakening the natural curiosity of the mind for the purpose of satisfying it afterwards.”

We’re all born with an innate desire to satisfy our own curiosity – we naturally yearn to satisfy it – we desperately want to find the answers to our own questions.

René Descartes, the great French philosopher and mathematician wrote, “So blind is the curiosity by which mortals are possessed, that they often conduct their minds along unexplored routes, having no reason to hope for success, but merely being willing to risk the experiment of finding whether the truth they seek lies there.”

Therefore, the best and first thing we need to do as teachers is to realize that – to realize that every child wants to learn; they just don’t all want to learn what we want them to learn, or what our “leaders”, in government, education and industry believe they “need to learn, in the best interest of their future.”

Children do need a “basic” education, but that shouldn’t be the focus of their education; igniting their own curiosity should be!

Every child wants to “find whether the truth they seek lies there” – not our truth, but theirs. Unless we kill their curiosity.

It’s essential that every teacher realizes, appreciates and respects, that each and every child has their own truths that they want to seek, and that a child’s own curiosity and childlike sense of wonder is more important than our own – is more important than anyone’s.

Consequently as teacher’s, our first job should be to help them discover their own most profound curiosity – their own most burning questions, and then help them ignite their curiosity so they can share their own discoveries with the world.

“Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.” ~ Isaac Asimov

I couldn’t agree more!  And all you have to do is take a look at any TED Talk for an example; every single TED Talk is based on the speaker’s own curiosity and sense of wonder, and the TED Talk is just one of the ways they’re sharing their own discoveries with the world. And if you look at the Top 20 viewed TED Talks of all time here, there’s only one talk based on a major one could go to college for. Every single TED Talk is about what the speaker wanted to find answers to – what they wondered most about – what no school could teach them, and now they are impacting the world with what they’ve discovered along their journey.

Of course children need some structure and school needs some formalization, but it’s far too focused in the wrong area. The focus of the formalization should be on teaching children how to best structure their findings, not their curiosity!

We need to teach them how to best share what they’ve learned, so that their discoveries have an impact on the world around them some day; whether it’s in the classroom or on the world’s stage for the Nobel Prize.

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” ! William Arthur Ward

As teachers, we need to inspire them to chase their own curiosity and sense of wonder – to seek out answers to their own truths, and that the world needs to hear their voice within the chorus of humanity. And, that their voices are best heard, when they enunciate and clearly articulate.

In other words, we need to help them share their findings, epiphanies and discoveries in the most effective way, so that the world can easily see, understand and appreciate what they’ve discovered along their own journey.

This is how we ignite every child’s curiosity and inspire them to leave their own mark on the world.

Contact me here to learn more about how I can help you and your students.


Note: I purposely chose to use quotes of curiosity from a number of different people who have impacted the world in their own way, by sharing their own discoveries, based on their own curiosity and childlike sense of wonder.