Addressing younger Israeli scientists, Ada Yonath, winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize for Chemistry said – curiosity was the key to scientific progress. “If one has curiosity, then one stands the chance of attaining a high level of scientific inquiry.”
Read more here.
I took this quote and asked my friends and colleagues on firesidelearning – the social network that’s doing conversations about education, what room is there for curiosity in the classroom.

Got some interesting replies, including a surprise visit from my 15 year old daughter, who was happy to share her view on this topic.

Ian Carmichael, from Tasmania, Australia said – “…So, in classrooms there needs to be space – and a record – for fruitful questions – and that means space for unprogrammed questions. There also needs to be space for the pursuit of those unanswered questions…” He then adds: “And if there’s no space for curiosity, fruitful questions and their pursuit, then my classrooms will contribute nothing to creativity, invention or understanding. I may have a future Nobel prizewinner pass through – but my classes will have added nothing to them.”

Mike from the US added: “For me…. CONNECTION is a key component to education vs factory schooling. It is next to impossible to connect with 140 kids a day…. that is an assembly line…. good for making cars…not being with people…”

The my daughter joined in and admitted: “Well, the truth is I like studying- I just don’t like to study at school. I’m just bored, and I think it’s hard for me to wake up in the morning not because I didn’t sleep enough, but because it happens to me too often that I sit in the classroom and think ‘what did I wake up for? staying in bed would be a better use of my time than sitting here and getting bored..’. …”

She goes on and amazes me with this: “I think of school and how we learn now, and it’s just amazing to think that what was said about education more than 2000 years ago is so true for today-Socrates thought that humans have a basic nature they are born with: curiosity. He thought it’s wrong that the education system, instead of developing and using this curiosity to teach the children, they kill this curiosity and instead of teaching they make the kids memorize, and while learning and understanding through thinking and researching will help the humanity develop, memorization is a great way for staying in one place.”

Are we staying in one place?

Following Mike’s questions she writes:  “It’s fun to ask questions and think about them, and finding the solution gives a good feeling – but after you find the answer, the only thing you can do with it is ask more questions.”

Well she refuses to stay in one place.

Ellen Pham, an elementary teacher from the US, suggests a more realistic view of this room for curiosity in the classroom, or lack of it. She writes: “…I don’t think the purpose of today’s public education is to develop large groups of free and creative thinkers. How would industry keep them in line for the menial tasks that await them? And in any system, these menial tasks have to be done by a large group of people. I think it helps the individual soul when these tasks are at least essential, and not just for making someone else profit.” And adds: “The way I see it is that realistically, in the system we have, it is up to the individual student to keep his/her curiosity alive. Parents, concerned teachers, and students can fight for more engaged and creative curriculum, but it remains an uphill swim.”

Latest input to date came from Janet Navarro, who teaches literacy education courses to pre-service teachers in Michigan and is a mother of 2 teenage boys. With an optimistic note she writes: “…I said to a friend, just the other day, that in my teacher education classes, if the only thing the students take from the class is the disposition to be curious (especially about the children they will teach) then I’ve done enough.
Bottom line, I said, it’s not really about the content I’m teaching: with curiosity, they can learn to teach children how to read strategically (it’s all in books and it’s all on the Internet). It’s about the development of a way of being in the world – the world we live in, the world we will help to create – or destroy – the world beyond the one in which we were raised, and the worlds of the children they will teach.
It’s better to be curious about whether or not you are teaching this child the things that will move him/her forward, whether or not you have the right books, strategies, tools set up for them, than to be able to pass a test on what those strategies are….
Yes – whoever coined the adage “Curiosity killed the cat” started us in the wrong direction. Maybe we could say, “Curiosity fed the cat!”…”

Oh, how I wish this cat is fat.