Dare to be curious

One thing I have noticed over the last few years of teaching is that there are two types of learners…those who learn because they have to and those who learn because they like to. So here our challenge lies – how do we get someone who learns because they have to to learn because they like to?

Curiosity is a strange thing. It can be dimly lit or it can be irreversibly dampened. Though, there are some things that hold clear – curiosity is innate. It is something that is within us as human beings from the time that we are born. One only has to look at a newborn’s face to understand this. The smile and wonder on a baby’s face whenever they see, feel, smell or taste something new. The endless why question’s that come from children. At some point through puberty and high school this wanes. Why?

Some people blame their parents. Some people blame their schooling. Some people blame their teachers. Some people just – lost interest – for one reason or another. A bad experience. Negative influences. Personal trauma. We all go through it. The amount of times I got punished or in trouble as a kid or as a teenager  for being curious is innumerable. Possibly because whenever I got too curious for my own good I ended up breaking something – like computers (oops). Though – one thing stood out to me when I observed people whom are no longer curious – they are no longer alive. They are bored. They go through the same thing – day in, day out. Not believing or thinking that there could be a life very different and more magical than they could have ever dreamed. Their minds are no longer active. They no longer dream their own dream. They are no longer open to new ideas. They take things forgranted and they no longer question – believing anything that is fed to them to bolster their unexplored ideas implanted by the opinion of others and advertising.

So how does one keep their curiosity alive?

One has to learn how to see the world with awe and wonder yet again. And sometimes – we have to delve into the dark recesses of society, our communities and this planet to get it back. Sometimes it is the shocking and the unbelievable that begs us to ask the questions “why?” and “how?”.

So how does one stay curious? or how does one get it back?

I have a few heroes in this realm.. and I would love to share these magic people with you.

Calvin Cheater from the Stay Curious Art Collective states that:

“In it’s simplest form, curiosity can be described as “a thirst for knowledge” – to ponder the unknown. Though this may seem like the most obvious way to define our label, the concept behind the phrase is relatively more valuable and profound. By natural instinct, humans and other beings alike, are constantly on the prowl for a new opportunity to present itself; whether it be artifact or experience. We thrive on finding new ways to better not only ourselves, but our community too. Through mediums as diverse as the life forms on this planet we’ve been able to share ourselves with more people everyday and more of ourselves with people everyday, in more ways than we could ever imagine. By exploring the unknown and continuously pushing the boundaries, we open ourselves to an emancipated realm of creative expression, thus leaving us thirsty for more, creating a cycle of artistic intuition. The oxymoron of “Stay Curious” is what challenges us to move onwards; ‘Stay’ – to remain, and ‘Curious’ – to explore.”

Madison Dube the creator of Woman of Wanderlust has a stunningly beautiful message on Curiosity for the young and the nervous which I encourage *everyone* to read.

“If you are young and nervous, don’t be.

I urge you to be curious…

There are always other options.

Challenge your comfort, let yourself unfold.”

Catherine Pearson of Huffington Post challenges us to stay curious in the following ways:

  1. Delve into your passions. Go crazy with it. Get your nerd on and dive in.
  2. Look outside your every day life. You life normally revolves around what you are learning at school or at work? Do something completely different. Do something that scares the living daylights out of you. You will be surprised what you learn about yourself.
  3. Asy Why. Ask How. Don’t stop. Even when you get no answers. Keep asking.
  4. Be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Be comfortable with not knowing something. Through being comfortable with not knowing one is more comfortable in finding things out as their ego isn’t in the way.
  5. Learn to have fun while learning through learning in your own way. We all learn differently. Find yours.
  6. Read something you wouldn’t normally read. Watch and or listen to something you wouldn’t normally go any where near.

Why should you listen to me?

 

It’s simple really. Learner’s have more active brains. Curiosity stops the brain from going numb. New and novel ideas and experiences opens up neural pathways all through our lives. So live, learn and be alive. For me, I can’t think of a more magical way to live.

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Dare to be: a lifelong learner

A few days ago, while having a conversation with a colleague from the United States, I found a kinship with another person through being able to observe my surroundings and the people around it. Both of us came to the slightly unpleasant conclusion – some – no matter how much you try to inspire – are just not interested in learning. Moreover, we found that overall the Australian population in general is not interested in academics and snobs intellectualism like it is the plague.

An example? Her husband is a lecturer at a local university – head of a PhD program for Physical Movement. Out of 50 students in the program only 2 were Australians. The rest are international students. They found that this was because most students in the Bachelors Programs never went further in their education in this field because the science was seen to be “too hard”. I wondered  how often this occurs in other courses and other universities.

Throughout our conversation we theorized why we believed this was the case. We know of parents that do not say flattering things about their school life and education to their children – yet they expect them to go to school, enjoy it and succeed. Culturally, Australia has a social norm that it’s “hard yakka” that get’s you through life successfully- meaning hard work through physical labour – rather than through academics. Alecia Simmonds found that:

“There’s also no room for cleverness in our models of masculinity or femininity. For women, intelligence equates with a dangerous independence that doesn’t sit well with your role as a docile adoring fan to the boys at the pub. It’s equated with sexual unattractiveness. And for men, carrying a book and using words longer than one syllable is a form of gender treason. It’s as good as wearing bumless chaps to a suburban barbecue. Real blokes have practical wisdom expressed through grunts and murmurs. Real Aussie chicks just giggle.”

The stereotypical Real Aussie Chick

 

The stereotypical Aussie Bloke

 

Imagine being a child, struggling with a Mathematics assignment or Science homework, you go to your parents for help and the most common response one might get is helplessness. Helplessness because the content is beyond them. Helplessness in that they stopped learning about these things after they left school. Helplessness in knowing that their child’s knowledge of such things has more than likely surpassed their own. And the most heartbreaking of all? Helplessness that they cannot help their own child.

So a new question emerges – how can you expect a child, a teenager to want to learn when you yourself no longer show examples of expanding your learning?

 

I was a lucky child. My mother is a lifelong learner. From a very young age I remember her regularly working through crosswords, pedantically reading through page after page of a dictionary identifying words that she was unfamiliar with and compiling a book of unknown words filled with her scribbles and reflections using these words that she had just learnt. Safe to say she wasn’t someone most people wanted to play Scrabble with. The bookshelves were filled with books of many kinds, she read to us regularly about different animals around the world and Marco Polo’s voyage. She painted, sculpted and essentially just tinkered with anything she could get her hands on. In 1999 we had our first computer and I learnt how to use it alongside her – she wasn’t scared of things she didn’t know – if anything it made her want to throw herself at it more – to conquer it. I was inspired to learn about the world because adults around me made it seem so interesting and such a worthwhile thing to do on its own. Unfortunately, not all kids are so lucky.

As a teacher, it is not uncommon for me to hear students mention how much they “hate” or “dislike” learning. To some it’s a means to an end – something you have to do to get a job and earn money. If you ask them why they dislike it so much you get statements like “Because it’s hard”

or “because they teach us things we won’t use when we need a job” or “My parents told me they never used this stuff after high school anyway – so why should I bother?”. I sometimes wonder if their parents knew how much of these words affects the way their child sees learning?

In addition to the abhorrence to learning that occurs in households, I have also heard vitriol towards teachers by parents themselves. Therefore diminishing the teacher’s ability to inspire the student to listen to them and hopefully instill the beauty of lifelong learning into that child or teen. We need to remember that as adults – our actions and our words around children affects the way they see the world greatly – and if the adults have a negative view of education the the child will run away with this idea and see learning and therefore schools and the teachers within it with disdain.

So…how do we change this?

First of all, they need to know that learning is fun. They need to be encouraged to learn about what they want. The moment you steer a child away from learning something they have chosen is the moment you take that joy away from them. Who cares if you think it won’t make them money or get them a job someday? Isn’t it worth it just to see them enjoy wanting to learn about something?

Secondly, what language are we using about learning? Should learning be easy? Should it be challenging? Should it be something that we only do during “school” hours? I personally set my students a challenge every holidays – I ask them – what are you going to learn on the break? I encourage them to find something that takes their interest and delve into it as deep as they possibly can. It could be anything! Fairies, motorbikes or zombies! I myself have gone through stages were the stories from the Tianamen Square Massacre became an obsession – trawling through pages and pages of books and webpages to learn as much as I could about this astounding event, the people, the revolution and the secrecy. I spent a few years of my high school life learning how to be a Pagan. I have picked up acrylics, watercolors, gouache, clay and even had a stint as a life drawing model – learning how to hold still for ridiculous minutes at a time is not easy!! I have had a total of 36 positions within the Hospitality industry – learning and working in the industry – from cleaning rooms, preparing food and  through to management.  In addition to which – I spend a lot of my free time learning new recipes and coming up with new ideas to inspire and instill a sense of awe and wonder not just in myself but in the people around me.

 

Lastly, make sure the kids see it. Make sure they see you learn. Make sure they hear about what you learn. Make sure that they hear it is fun despite how challenging it can be sometimes. Make sure to demonstrate that it is OK not to know something and to ask for help. Whoever said learning was supposed to be easy?

 

Being buried in a sea of people unwilling to learn new things, unable to expand their mind for lack of want due to previous and current influences – it is daunting to be the one standing out because you want to learn. As a teenager, with the challenges of peer pressure and being just like everyone else – there is a possibility that this urge for learning can be sapped out of one’s system. Though, one shouldn’t fear as…