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Can curiosity survive formal education?

3004769-poster-1280-my-email-exchange-aaron-swartz-shows-original-thinkerI came across this interview with Aaron Swartz on the Fast Company site, where the following question was presented to Aaron:

“You did a lot of important things at a very young age, could you describe a few of them? And how do you see and would explain that? Talent, inspiration, curiosity, hard work? Is there something that you would think that other kids who would like to follow your steps should know?”

His response:

“When I was a kid, I thought a lot about what made me different from the other kids. I don’t think I was smarter than them and I certainly wasn’t more talented. And I definitely can’t claim I was a harder worker — I’ve never worked particularly hard, I’ve always just tried doing things I find fun. Instead, what I concluded was that I was more curious — but not because I had been born that way. If you watch little kids, they are intensely curious, always exploring and trying to figure out how things work. The problem is that school drives all that curiosity out. Instead of letting you explore things for yourself, it tells you that you have to read these particular books and answer these particular questions. And if you try to do something else instead, you’ll get in trouble. Very few people’s curiosity can survive that.”

I think this echoes a lot of what Ken Robinson said about how schools kill creativity, as well as Einstein’s quote: “It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education”. How can we work to create learning spaces that stimulate curiosity, instead of dulling it? How do we rekindle the curiosity that all children are born with, and which dies out as they progress through school? What would a curriculum look like, where curiosity was valued and encouraged? Where students could explore aspects of the programme that scratched a personal itch?

By Michael Rowe

I'm a lecturer in the Department of Physiotherapy at the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town, South Africa. I'm interested in technology, education and healthcare and look for places where these things meet.