Opening the Portal of Curiosity

I think the exciting, yet incredibly challenging, task before us as educators is to balance the need for students to acquire some basic level of intellectual capital or requisite body of knowledge, yet move from a focus on knowledge acquisition to a focus on thinking skills, problem solving, and ability to create.  This quote I came across in my reading this morning hits on my thinking at this point:

“The factory, rather than a moral, learning community, is the inspiration for traditional models of learning.  When the factory was touted as the ideal organization for work and when most youngsters were headed for its assembly lines, making a mass public education system conform to the model of the factory may have seemed like a great achievement.”

(Battling for the Seoul of American Education – John Abbot)

The limitations of such a traditional factory model of education have become manifest and they are crippling.  The traditional model of schooling is incompatible with the idea that learning must be active, and that children learn in different ways and at different rates.

Schools will best prepare students for their future if we find a way to break free of the fact-centered, factory model of education developed in the Industrial age and refined throughout the information age, so that we can create schools suited for the challenges of the conceptual age where there is information abundance.  Our recent school reform initiatives influenced by NCLB have, I believe, focused too narrowly on content and skills, the recall or use of which are easy to quantify on tests, at the expense of unlocking student curiosity and ability and passion to explore, learn, and create.

Paulo Freire argues that the basis of a critical classroom is for teachers to understand the primacy of curiosity. Before teachers can entertain methods or pedagogical approaches for an engaging classroom, “the teacher must be clear and content with the notion that the cornerstone of the whole process is human curiosity.  Curiosity drives us to question, states Freire, “and to know, act, ask again, recognize.” Curiosity, then, motivates us to not only want to know, but to reflect and to act upon that reflection. Curiosity moves us to action.

“There could be no such thing as human existence without the openness of our being to the world . . . ” and what more important disposition or quality can any teacher have, then but “openness to the world” through the portal of curiosity?”

(Freire, Paulo (1998) Pedagogy of Freedom: Ethics, Democracy, and Civic Courage. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, pp 79-84.)

At our school this year we created a two and a half hour block of time every Wednesday afternoon called Life-long Learner Time (LLT).  Each week during this time, teachers and students all work on a project, intellectual pursuit, or new skill they have selected on their own just because it interests them.  Some students and teachers are building things, some are learning a new language, some learning to play an instrument, some writing a novel or book of poetry, or screen play.  There are mini presentations along the way for all of us to share our learning journey, and there will be a larger presentation and celebration at the end of the semester where teachers and students will share their experience with the larger school community and our parents.  It is so exciting to see students and teachers across campus all diving into the opportunity to explore their own passions or curiosities each week!  And students are learning fantastic things, and, more importantly, learning how to learn and how to transit the portal of curiosity.  What will we do today in our schools or classrooms to stimulate openness to the world through the portal of curiosity?

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