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Re: In praise of curiosity

by BrowserUk (Pope)
on Jul 28, 2003 at 01:55 UTC ( #278310=note: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

in reply to In praise of curiosity

Aged 13, I had an English teacher who was a product of the late 60's hippy movement, complete with open toed sandals and no socks in a school predominantly populated by wool suits and flowing black gowns. As has become painfully obvious, I didn't learn much English, but he did impart one lesson that I carry with me to this day in vivid mental relief.

He started off by asking the class to write a piece of prose on any subject we liked, and gave us half an hour to do it. We then had to read our efforts aloud. Most everyone complained bitterly that we had not had enough time, but we had to read anyway. And most everyone had produced a few lines of bad rhythms. Some had regurgitated popular schoolyard limericks, but despite risque content and the sniggering, had to read them anyway. Some had taken the task relatively seriously. We had one effort entitled "The Saturday Game" which included the immortal and much discussed rhythm, " football." with "...don't we all". Another entitled "I like my bike". Of course, the first lesson we had to learn, was that prose was not poetry.

The teacher then related a story of a child at his last school that had written a poem that had gone on to win some national award. He recited the poem to an initially rowdy, but gradually more rapt and finally silent audience. I wish that I could remember it sufficiently well to reproduce it here, but it was a long time ago. What has stuck with me is the flavour.

It started out describing how new-born babies are curious and awe-ridden. Everything they see, hear, feel and taste excites them, intrigues them and involves them. At first it is only the brightly coloured objects and simple sounds within their field of reach. Slowly, as their eyes and legs become more adept, they venture further a field. The adventure continues and as their years grow so does their wonder and amazement at the world. Even by the age of four or five, they are still as likely to find the wrapping paper and carton in which they receive birthday & christmas gifts as fascinating as the gift itself. This happy state often continues through their first and second schools. Lessons are a minor and temporary interruption from their worlds of play and fantasy; fun and wonder. Eventually, they reach that age where they move up to serious school (around 11 in the UK. Other countries probably vary).

Then their world changes. Homework, tests and exams creep in. Syllabuses, timetables, and grade points takeover. They are taken daily to dull-lit rooms with dull grey walls, made to sit at dull brown desks and write on dull white paper in drab blue-black ink. Listen to dull monotone drones, from dull monotone teachers telling them of dull historical events, or dull mathematical formulae which they must commit to their dulled minds in dull rote fashion. After five years, they have become dull citizens of a dull world.

Three months later, the day before he was to have received his prize, he committed suicide. He was aged 11.

The teacher drew no conclusions; offered no comment beyond:

Never take what I say as read. Always question me. Don't expect me to always have the answers. Never loose your sense of curiosity, awe and wonder. Use it. Cultivate it. Look for it in everything you do, because if you lose it, it will never return, and the system will have won another victim.

Don't be a victim.

Examine what is said, not who speaks.
"Efficiency is intelligent laziness." -David Dunham
"When I'm working on a problem, I never think about beauty. I think only how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong." -Richard Buckminster Fuller

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Re: Re: In praise of curiosity
by chunlou (Curate) on Jul 28, 2003 at 06:35 UTC

    I found the British school system works to raise the average performance of the students at the expense of flexibility and leaving little room for the talented to explore, whereas the US system tends to perform not as well on average but its brightest students are really bright. The contrast could be seen in the International Math Olympia.

    The future of the students seem to be preordained very early on in the British system.

      Curiously, I found the opposite (although the UK system is rapidly approaching the US system now). I still find it hard to believe that so much weight is attached to SAT and GRE scores.

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