Thursday, November 6, 2014

The 11th Friday: Cultivating Curiosity

Simply providing more education is probably a good thing on balance, especially if a more educated labor force is a more flexible labor force that can cope more readily with non-routine tasks and constant occupational change. But it is far from a panacea…In the future, how we educate children may prove more important than how much we educate them…CQ + PQ > IQ."
                                                      T.L. Friedman (2006, pp. 302-303)

Several years ago, I muddled my way through Pulitzer Prize-winning author Thomas Friedman’s bestselling The World is Flat:A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century (2006). It was a thought-provoking look at how the world has changed, is changing, and will change as a result of many forces, particularly technological advances. I was reminded of this book earlier in the week when I watched a TED Talk presented by one of my all-time favorite educators, Jennie Magiera. I hope you will watch her awesome talk: Power to the Pupil.

Although Friedman's tome is not a book about education, he does pose these questions: Are we preparing students for such a changing work environment?  Can we even try?  Should we? Friedman confessed to being a tad stumped on the issues, but did arrive at a few conclusions, which I re-visited this week after watching Jennie's talk and subsequently talking with a teacher in our district about the importance of fostering curiosity in her students as a primary goal and motivation for learning.

First, he suggests that in the future, the “right education” young people need will be less focused on specific courses and more concentrated on certain skills and attitudes. According to Friedman, several traits that will be important for anyone seeking to succeed in the future economy are—somewhat surprisingly—not so cutting edge. They include these two:

  • The most important ability students can develop is the ability to learn how to learn. To succeed in the future workplace, students will need to constantly absorb and teach themselves new ways to do old things and new ways to do new things. It will be not only what you know today, but how you learn that will set you apart. What courses should one take, then?  According to Friedman:  Go around to your friends and ask one question: “Who are your favorite teachers?”  Make a list of those teachers and take those classes. It matters not if they are teaching Greek mythology, cooking, calculus, or American history. Thinking back on our favorite teachers, we know not the specifics of what they taught, but we sure remember being excited about learning it. What has stayed with us are not the facts they imparted but the excitement about learning they inspired. To learn how to learn you have to love learning because so much of learning is about being motivated to teach yourself--which brings us to Friedman's second point that struck me...
  • CQ + PQ > IQ:  Curiosity Quotient plus Passion Quotient is greater than Intelligence Quotient. In the flat world of which Friedman writes, educational opportunities are and will be pretty much limitless. Much of what you will ever need to know is out there on the Web. Paraphrasing Friedman: Give me a kid with a passion to learn and a curiosity to discover and I will take him any day over a less-passionate and less-curious kid with a high IQ, because curious, passionate kids are self-educators and self-motivators. They will always be able to learn. Nobody works harder at learning than a curious kid. If this is true, one of our primary goals as teachers should be to instill in students the quality of curiosity. The best way we can make kids love learning is to instill in them a sense of curiosity through our great teaching. As for passion, Friedman suggests that we cannot light the fire of passion in someone else if it does not burn brightly within us first. If you love kids and can convey that, then even if you do not know your subject matter deeply, they will be inspired by you and they will learn beyond your classroom.

The two remaining skills Friedman advocates are playing well with others and nurturing right-brain activity. Again, these are very much unlike the bulk of his book in that they are a bit more “old school” ideas than futuristic visions. Yet, they remind us of our central charge, cultivating a community of passionate lifelong learners. Although his third and fourth points also made sense, the first two struck a chord in me for several reasons. First, I tend to agree that these will be the key to succeeding in the future economy. More importantly, though, they have always been the key to success. So, although we still need to continuously evolve and improve as educators, some things remain the same. Schools staffed with curious and passionate teachers who instill these same traits within the students they serve is yet another example of how we Teach with Passion every day!

Book Bits…

As I have mentioned previously, O’Connor devotes a chapter each to 15 “broken” grading practices, offering a “fix” for each problem. This week, we look at the eleventh problem, along with his fix:

Grades are broken when the summary they provide of student achievement is inaccurate because the procedures they used to arrive at the grade are faulty. A primary example is when we calculate the average of a series of scores to determine an overall grade. The fix is to consider other measures of central tendency and rely on professional judgment. Grading should not be merely a numerical, mechanical exercise. O’Connor makes a subtle distinction between the need to move away from calculating grades to determining grades. This strikes me as a subtle, but important, shift.


  1. Jeff,

    I really like this post! For years I've thought about do we truly create an atmosphere where students work hard and love to learn?

    My favorite line of your post is: "The most important ability students can develop is the ability to learn how to learn."

    My personal philosophy is that we must develop and create an atmosphere and culture where students love to learn. Next, we need to understand that it is extremely likely that our students will change jobs/careers multiple times in their life. If we simply understand this, then we should focus on learning in general, not one specific skill.

    Appreciate you making me think!


    1. Ben,
      Thanks for reading and commenting. Your personal philosophy is laudable and one we must all adopt if we are to truly prepare kids for college, careers,....and life! Thanks again,