Did Curiosity Kill the Cat?

Albert Einstein Français : portrait d'Albert E...

This post is sparked by today’s Coffee and Convo about what it means to be an adult.  I had to leave before I could speak, so I’m going to summarize my idea on that first:
-What are adults?  I think my working definition for the word “adult” is: An older human being who has a job (a job where wearing sweatpants is inappropriate), usually has children, is responsible, flosses regularly, knows more than me, and has a general grasp on what life is about/where they’re going in life.
-I don’t think anyone satisfies that definition.  Anyone in the entire world.  I don’t think adults are real.  I think they are a social construct we have created to protect younger humans from taking too many risks before they are ready (i.e. getting a job at a bank, driving, drinking, having children, eating cookies for breakfast, and accidentally downloading computer viruses).  I used to think adults were real when I was younger.  After all, my teachers and parents are adults, right?  I’ve recently reconciled myself to the fact that, actually, no one is an adult.  As a future teacher, I can guarantee you that we do not qualify as adults.  My friends are becoming parents and they clearly aren’t adults yet either.  I think as we grow older, we become more responsible and look like adults but I don’t think anyone really knows what life is about yet.

Now, during Coffee and Convo today, there was a lot of talk about what makes you feel young.  Most of the answers involved being creative and being curious.  I think creativity and curiosity go hand in hand.  You cannot be creative without being curious, curious about how things work and why they work that way.  You cannot be curious without creativity; being creative requires you to push yourself and uncover new ideas.  It seems to me that we define a child as a creative, curious human being.  Why can’t we also define adults this way?

I think curiosity and creativity are things we often discount and I think this is partially due to our emphasis on science and math (hold onto your outrage until I’m done, please).  We fill students’ brains with formulas and periodic tables without ever explaining how these things fit into the bigger picture.  However, there is plenty of room for creativity and curiosity in math and science classes.  Albert Einstein once commented, “It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.”  Why shouldn’t curiosity survive formal education?  Why shouldn’t curiosity be cultivated and challenged through formal education?  Knowledge of the world and how it operates is the basis of all math and science classes.  Instead of stifling creativity and curiosity, shouldn’t this knowledge provide students with more platforms for questioning the way things are?  Shouldn’t this knowledge empower students to embrace their curiosity, ask more questions, and use their creativity to solve their own problems?

One of our biggest problems as a nation is our lack of innovation, especially innovation in math, science, and technology.  Is innovation nothing more than a combination of creativity and curiosity?  As we move forward in reforming our education system for the 21st century, we need to figure out how to support the creativity and curiosity of our students while ALSO teaching them the foundations of math, science, humanities, and the arts.  I don’t know how to resolve the tension between formal education and curiosity but I know it should not exist.  When students are encouraged to be curious, they will push themselves and their classmates to work harder, become more creative, and ask more questions.  The same curiosity that may have killed the cat also gave us the knowledge that the earth is round, grilled cheese, iPads, and kayaks.  Instead of limiting student curiosity, perhaps we should focus on limiting the curiosity of our pets.


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