Stay Curious, My Friends: Wondering “why?” alongside my students

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The democratization of information has done a lot of amazing things: allowed unfettered access to knowledge, empowered people to take control of their intellectual development, removed previous barriers to learning, and much more. I’m thankful for the interwebz, and, as my fiance would tell you, I spend plenty of time surfing its endless tide of content.

However,  I’ve been reflecting recently on one of the unintended side effects of information’s newly garnered ubiquity: the disappearance of curiosity. The effects are subtle, but once you start paying attention, quite clear. You can see it in our social and political discourse, our entertainment industry, and most perniciously our education system. In a world where answers are a few keystrokes away, questions have lost their potency. Knowledge is no longer the gold standard, but a hyper-inflated currency.

One of my core personal and pedagogical concepts this year is curiosity–meaning I want try to live a more curious life and provide opportunities for my students to be curious too. Of course, that’s easier said than done, but here’s what I’ve been working on so far both personally and professionally.


How I’m trying to stay curious

Curiosity takes time, y’all. If there’s one thing I’ve realized this year it’s that. Though technology may be one of the more noticeable causes of our curiosity deficit, I think modernity may be the underlying disease. In a world where there’s more distractions than ever, it’s hard to dive in to something new. That said, it’s important to take time to try to experience new things, hear new perspectives, and assimilate new knowledge in to my personal and professional philosophies.

Though more technology won’t save us from technology, podcasts have been an incredible resource in allowing me to satiate my hunger for new ideas. Considering I spend a significant chunk of my time in a car on the asphalt hellscape known as the I-95 DC metro area, I have a lot of free time to listen to people talk about cool stuff. One thing I’ve found is the more I learn from my favorite podcasts, the more I realize that I know absolutely nothing about anything–the world is a complex place and the more moving parts these podcasts make me notice, the more apparent that becomes. Below are some of my current  favorites.

Importantly, none of these are specifically about education. Though I spend a boatload of time chirping on #EduTwitter and reading books to improve my practice (more on those in a future post) I wanted to make it a point to focus on what I’m doing outside the realm of education to satisfy my curiosity. Interestingly, thanks to the power of learning transfer and concept based thinking, these ideas inevitably bleed over in to my pedagogy and praxis. Reaching out to new knowledge rich contexts outside education enriches me personally, which in turn develops me professionally.

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How I’m trying to bring curiosity to my students

Part of the purpose of this blog is to try and find some sense of coherence between my personal journey and the one’s I construct for my students. Though my personal ideas and desires should never supersede those of my student’s I want to try and align the telos of my personal and professional life as best I can. After all, if I’m not exercising curiosity in my own life, who am I to tell my students they should embrace curiosity? Furthermore, how could I construct opportunities for them to be curious if I don’t myself?

Though I do have a mind to incorporate things like “Genius Hour” in to my class in years to come, this year has been all about generating curiosity through conceptual exploration and Socratic inquiry. The magic of the complex, universal concepts I’ve been exploring this year (power, chaos, order, control, empathy, language, bias, to name a few) is that, though they can be Googled, they are too abstract to be understood at face value. When the year starts, this drives my students crazy. Only through weeks and weeks of bludgeoning them with “why?” and “how?”, do they start thinking (a little) less about providing the “correct answer” and more about the journey to construct their own understanding of these abstractions.

Once this shift begins, my course starts to come in to its own. By exposing my students to the underlying conceptual patterns of life and literature, English comes alive inside and outside the classroom. Every year, my students excitedly (or exasperatedly) tell me that they can’t escape the concepts we’re talking about in class. They shape and inform every “text” they come across: movies, Netflix shows, graphic novels, anime series, the news, even their own experiences. Though I won’t claim every student’s curiosity is awakened by the potential of conceptual learning, I’m always pleasantly surprised by the number of students who say how my class has helped them better understand and explore these ideas in their lives. By showing them the relevance of these concepts, I nudge them towards the amazing possibilities literature offers to better understand ourselves and our world. That’s where the magic happens and true curiosity is born. I just hope I can serve as a catalyst for that personal journey.


What’s Next?

My goal is to help students, whose intellectual development has been shaped by a system obsessed with “what” (what facts to memorize, what tests to pass, what grades they got, etc.) and rediscover the power of “why?” Similarly, I hope to constantly be evaluating my personal, professional, and pedagogical “why’s?” as well. For the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing specific activities, lessons, that are anchored and informed by the concept of curiosity. Until then!

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2 thoughts on “Stay Curious, My Friends: Wondering “why?” alongside my students

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  1. Passion for experiences and curiosity are the life blood of a teacher. I have been my best at teaching when I am a student of life. I am currently attending a open to the public course on Madness at UMW which has professors and speakers from different areas speaking about the concept of madness is, or looks like, or is demonstrates in ancient literature, science, art, history, politics, etc. Talk about learning transfer! When we are interested in life then we are interesting to our students. Thanks for the sharing on the podcasts. Let me suggest In Our Time from BBC Radio 4. A nerd fest for me.

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  2. I’ll add it to the list! Thanks for the recommendation, Lisa. Also, I think I remember you mentioning that public course. That’s awesome! I wish there were more PD opportunities out there for teachers that revolved around the content and not just methods.

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