Curiosity killed the cat, but inspired the innovators

For a teacher, nothing is more important than encouraging students toward intellectual curiosity and creative output.  Anatole France stated, “The whole art of teaching is only the art of awakening the natural curiosity of young minds for the purpose of satisfying it afterwards.”  It is this awakening of curiosity that the master teacher strives for each day as he or she interacts with students and colleagues.  The challenge for teachers and students alike is to  find ways to feed their natural curiosity and engage in the exhilaration of digging beneath the academic surface.  Teachers need to inspire students to be more than just passive recipients who take in and regurgitate information.  They must encourage students to let their curiosity and intellectual or creative passions carry them  forward as they  develop a love for meaningful, lifelong learning and growth.

Tony Wagner, author of “Creating Innovators,” writes:

“When information is ubiquitous and free, and when basic education is available to billions of people worldwide, only one set of skills can ensure this generation’s economic future – the capacity for innovation.”

In his book, Wagner explores the lives and upbringing of many young innovators as well as the impact of innovative learning models such as MIT’s Media Lab, and Stanford’s Design School.  Through this exploration, Wagner identifies the elements of play, passion, and purpose as the forces that drive young innovators today.

With academic testing increasingly dominating the educational  process and the end goal for most students, parents, and politicians being college admission to a “Top tier” University, is it any wonder that so many students sacrifice their intellectual curiosity in exchange for playing the game. Rather than intellectual curiosity,  earning top marks in multiple advanced courses and higher and higher scores on standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT becomes the goal.   Beyond this pressure to perform on traditional academic measures is also the widespread demise of vocational education programs and deep spending cuts on arts education.  Not so long ago, most students had the opportunity to experience the thrill of actually making things in school.  Cookies were cooked and garments stitched in home economics classes, birdhouses and cutting boards constructed in woodshops.  Students learned to weld and fix engines, and grow things.  For far too many students, these endeavors have been deemed unnecessary and have been eliminated from schools altogether.

At this same time, the outlets for creativity and the ability for individuals to tap into their creativity and share it with the world has, perhaps, never been more accessible.  Tech tools once only available at high price to large manufacturing entities are increasingly available to the average Joe.  Funding options through online connections such  as Kickstarter, etc. leverage both capital and exposure for the small entrepreneur.  I’ve heard it said that the world outside of education is changing about 100 times faster than the world inside the school walls.  This has to change.

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, 82 % of innovations are created by people in their 30’s and 40’s, and the age distribution has been shifting over time, with the mean age of great achievement rising by five or six years per century.  According to their White Paper titled, Great Inventions Come Later in Life,  One possible explanation for this age shift is a decline in the productivity of younger innovators in favor of older innovators. The report supposes that  “It may well be that the younger innovators are devoting themselves to an increasing amount of education and training.”

Perhaps Anatole France was only partially right.  Certainly the art of teaching centers on the art of awakening the natural curiosity of young minds, but who says they have to satisfy this curiosity afterwards?  It’s time schools began to find meaningful ways for students to apply their curiosity today, and rediscover the joy of applying play, passion, and purpose to their schooling.

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