Thursday, August 15, 2013

Is curiosity important?

Is curiosity important?

Or is curiosity just some fuzzy idea that granola eating hippies like to talk about while doing yoga, hugging trees and reading about Karl Marx?

Susan Engel wrote a remarkable piece on The Case for Curiosity:

What might explain the gap between the intense curiosity of young children and the apparent lack of curiosity among older children? I think many adults implicitly believe that children naturally get less curious over time. This belief isn't totally unreasonable. Data do suggest that curiosity becomes less robust over time (Coie, 1974). And if curiosity is, as psychologists say, the urge to explain the unexpected, then as more of everyday life becomes familiar, a child might encounter fewer unexpected objects and events. Perhaps the reduced curiosity of the 7-year-old is simply a by-product of that child's increased knowledge. 
However, adult influence may also be a factor. When researchers invite children into a room containing a novel object, they find that children are very attuned to the feedback of adults. When the experimenter makes encouraging faces or comments, children are more likely to explore the interesting object. Experiments I've done show that children show much more interest in materials when an adult visibly shows how curious he or she is about the materials. In other words, children's curiosity can be fostered or squelched by the people they spend time with. 
Although it's hard to discourage the investigations of a 2-year-old, it's all too easy to discourage those of 7-, 11-, or 15-year-olds. In one classroom I observed, a 9th grader raised her hand to ask if there were any places in the world where no one made art. The teacher stopped her midsentence with, "Zoe, no questions now, please; it's time for learning." 
Often the ways in which teachers unwittingly discourage curiosity are much subtler. By the same token, teachers can also encourage curiosity in subtle ways. One teacher I've observed often begins sentences to her students with the phrase, "Let's see what happens." She's showing them the value of finding things out.

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