The Power of Curiosity

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I’ve always been curious – about everything. Every child is. Curiosity is innate. When I was in the sixth grade in Ogden, Utah, I was raking leaves in our backyard and putting them in a cinder-block incinerator my dad had built. Back then it was permissible to burn trash in the city. I could not see any fire but I could see a considerable production of smoke. Remembering the proverb that “where there is smoke there is fire,” I went into the house and donned my favorite pair of Flash Gordon goggles.  Climbing up on an old bench, I was face-to-face with the torrent of smoke pouring out of the chimney top. With goggles on, I bravely stuck my head into the chimney searching for flame.

Where the flames came from, I do not know. I really wasn’t hurt but Flash Gordon goggles weren’t designed to cover the eye brows. Both eye brows and all head hair were singed. In truth, my eye brows vanished.

I couldn’t let mother know so I sneaked back in the house, head bowed, very quietly. I guess I didn’t realize how pungent the smell of burned hair was. Mom turned on me and looked at me, her face frozen in horror. Looking in the mirror and I could see why. I was “grounded” from everything but school and church and that night happened to be a Wednesday night. Prayer meeting started at seven.

The stench must have been bad because no one would sit close to me. During one of the longer prayers uttered by one of our longer-winded elders, I started giggling, thinking about the irony of literally sitting by myself on a church pew.

Most everyone starts out life with the curiosity switch on. All three-year-olds have annoyed their parents with the question of “Why?” Asking “why” is the foundation for all education.

The proverb about curiosity and cats is no doubt true, and probably more than one feline friend has met an untimely demise because of it–probably some humans as well. However, I would also venture to say that no great human advancement was ever made that didn’t start with curiosity.
It’s a tragedy when the curiosity quotient of any adult begins to decline. It’s especially tragic when that happens to teachers. The worst day for teachers is the day when they feel a since of “arrival” with diminishing curiosity to fuel their passion for their subject. Strangely, there is a power in curiosity that is unequaled by almost anything else. An instructor without curiosity would be as absurd as a carpenter without a hammer.

Here is my three-point plan for teachers who are losing their curiosity.

  1. Reminisce. The apostle John wrote this to some Christians who were losing their passion, “Look how far you have fallen” (Revelation 2:5, NLT). He admonished them to think back to the beginning of their journey of faith. He then warns them that if they don’t, their lamp stand will be removed. While this passage wasn’t targeting educators, it can be a good analogy for all who teach. We are in a sense, “lamp stands” of enlightenment. What happens when the light starts to dim or go out? Maybe it’s time for us to remember the early days of our journey.

What first attracted you to your subject? A light was turned on and you began to put your curiosity to good use. Think of the early excitement and the passion of chasing down the details of what you teach. Think of that first professor who excited you about your subject. No teacher is passionate without curiosity.

In March of 2014, a Gallup-Purdue study looked at the link between life in college and life after college. Among college graduates who were “deeply involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work,” 63% of the nearly 30,000 students interviewed said, “I had at least one professor in college who made me excited about learning” (Kafka & Ray, 2015). That sounds like “curiosity” to me.

  1. Develop a Personal Learning Plan (PLP). I subscribe to several innovative journals. Most of them are free. There’s a LinkedIn discussion for every subject imaginable. Professional Development is as close as your keyboard. There are so many useful and inspiring resources and webinars online. All you need is a familiarity with Google. Jesus chastised those who had “eyes but would not see” (Matthew 15:13, KJV). Let me put that scripture into a modern day application for us. “Woe upon you who have Google but will not search.” Maybe it’s because you’ve lost your curiosity. Good news! It can be revived.
  2. Disciplined Navel-Gazing is a Good Idea. Thus says Amanda Lang in her book The Power of Why. Psychologists call it introspection. “You know you find yourself headed in the right direction if you find yourself curious and engaged even when you’re facing difficult problems” (Lang, p. 79). The Apostle Paul said, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5, NIV). The application to be made here is “Examine yourself to see if you’re still curious about your subject and how to teach it.”

Einstein called it “Holy Curiosity.” I conclude with this quote from him and please excuse his split infinitive,

“The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day” (1955, p 64).

“Holy Curiosity.” I like that!

 

References

Einstein, A. (1955). Old man’s advice to youth: Never lose a holy curiosity. Life Magazine, 64

Kafka, S., Ray, J. (2015, October 28). Life in college matters for life after college. Retrieved 31 October 2015, from http://www.gallup.com/poll/168848/life-college-matters-life-college.aspx

Lang, A. (2012). The power of why. Toronto: Collins.

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