Why Should We Care About Curiosity and Inquiry?

My Journey

As an Associate Professor of Social Psychology, a Graduate Supervisor in the Faculty of Education, Co-ordinator of UPEI’s First Year Inquiry Studies Program and, perhaps most importantly, as a mom, I see first hand every day the joy that curiosity and inquiry bring to life! Sadly, I’ve also seen how easily curiosity and the desire to inquire can be stifled in children and adults.

That was certainly my personal story. I always loved to learn: reading, writing and asking questions constantly was my habit and passion growing up. As I moved further through school however it was made abundantly clear to me that the focus of education was not to engage in debate or exploration of possibilities but to absorb pieces of information for tests. Getting the correct answer but arriving at it the “wrong way” would result in a zero. There was, apparently, a “right” interpretation of a poem though for some reason the words always seemed to speak a different story to me. Asking questions became an interruption to the smooth flow of content knowledge from teacher to student to test paper.

Fortunately for me, in a system set up to make learning as passive and context-neutral as possible, there were islands of respite:

Mr. Whidden’s grade 12 history class, where the smartest girl in the class got a failing mark for a 15 page term paper on “The Cause of the Second World War”. He believed strongly that you couldn’t talk about the context and root causes of WWII in 15 pages (though you can discuss the assassination of the Archduke which is what she did). My paper on whether or not the War of 1812 could be considered a war of agrarian aggression was very well received 🙂

Mrs. Currie’s grade 11 English class where I was encouraged to pursue public speaking competitively in lieu of the poetry exam as long as I promised to have a lengthy conversation with her over tea about all the possible ways one could interpret the poem from the test. This conversation took place in her car as we drove to my seventh speech competition.

Mr. Pilmer’s grade 11 math class into whose class I transferred after my first semester teacher decided my questions indicated I was too stupid to learn math. Mr. Pilmer retaught me (and about 20 others) the entire first semester of math over again and lead us through the second semester material by promising us that any question we had would be interpreted as a sign of our desire to learn math and would be answered thoroughly. I have a PhD which includes several graduate level statistics courses to prove his faith, time and energy were not misplaced.

to be continued…….

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