Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Curiosity Leads to Trouble


Curiosity leads to trouble.

The well-known idiom about it being deadly to cats notwithstanding, I don't believe I've ever encountered anyone who stands on principle against curiosity in themselves or others. It's one of those things that is, in theory, an unqualified good, the harbinger of an inquisitive mind bent on satisfying the world's mysteries. Curiosity is what leads to new things, be they facts, ideas, methods, systems, or products. Curiosity is what drives human being to discover and invent, which forms the foundation of our urge to educate ourselves.

Still, curiosity leads to trouble. If you have a dark secret, for instance, the last thing you want is curious people poking around. Curious people have a way of upsetting the apple cart by revealing hypocrisies, inequalities, and unfairness. Those with the most to lose are typically terrified of new ideas because they threaten the status quo upon which they've accumulated their wealth and power. Market leaders in every industry attempt to squelch promising competitors offering something better. Political establishments demonize populist movements that rabble rouse for systemic change. Counter-cultural attempts to create utopian communities are viewed with the kind of hostility that only comes from feeling threatened.

I'm currently in the midst of studying the raw footage that will comprise The Play First Summit, a free online conference that I am producing along with my partner Sally Haughey from Fairy Dust Teaching. In conversation after conversation, I'm learning from some of the world's leading experts on and proponents of play-based learning: the idea that education should be based on the curiosity of children rather than the status quo, which is for committees of adults to dictate curriculum. Obviously, the former is better for children because there is no better motivator than one's own curiosity. And it's better for educators as well who currently must expend massive amounts of effort motivating children who are not necessarily curious about curricula that are developed without any consideration for what they want. Play-based education is less expensive by every measure, so it's better for those of us paying tuitions and taxes. Not only that, but the research is unequivocal: self-directed education results in better educated, mentally healthier, happier citizens, yet somehow we find ourselves forever on the fringes. As Sonya Philip, the founder of Learning Matters in Delhi, India says in her conversation with Sally, "The words are there, but the practice is not." 

Educators know all this, yet except in a handful of instances, it doesn't move policymakers who have little interest in biting the hand of the status quo that feeds them. Oh sure, they often use the words, but it rarely finds its way into practice. They've built their empires on the foundation of top-down, adult-directed education and what we are proposing is the injection of pure, unadulterated curiosity into the system which, whether they can admit it or not, would be manna for children and educators, but toxic to the way things have always been done. 

I'm hearing some version of this dilemma in conversation after conversation with these thought-leaders, from Maggie Dent and Janet Lansbury to Kisha Reid and Lisa Murphy. Play-based education is hardly new, of course. Indeed it is the original educational system, one that served humans for millennia as researcher and author Peter Gray points out, but we find ourselves in a time when it is new again. And threatening. What if we did manage to convert the world to play-based education? What if we unleashed that much curiosity on the world? I imagine few things would stand before it as all the secrets, hypocrisies, inequalities, and unfairnesses are exposed by a generation free to pursue their own curiosity. It would mark a golden age for humanity, which necessitates the demise of the status quo.

Curiosity leads to trouble and that's why they fight us. This is one of our primary motivations for hosting The Play First Summit, we're not getting any younger and progress in transforming how we perceive education has been slow and spotty at best. That's why tens of thousands of curious people from around the will be coming together at this moment, to listen to stories from around the world, to learn, of course, but mostly to become inspired to fight for children and their curiosity. We don't know yet where this is going, but the idea is to create a movement, or provide impetus for one that already exists, a movement that must be lead by educators and parents like you. Please join us. Let's cause some trouble! I'm curious about what we can do together.

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I'm excited to announce that Teacher Tom's Second Book is now available in the UK, Iceland, and Europe thanks to my friends at Fafunia! It's also available in the US and Canada. If you want to go directly to the Fafunia page click here.  And if you missed it, Teacher Tom's First Book is back in print as well.

And finally, this is uncomfortable for me, but I earn most of my income by speaking at education conferences and running in-person workshops. I've had 95 percent of my income wiped out for the foreseeable future due to everything being cancelled. I'm hustling to become a new and improved Teacher Tom. I know I'm not the only one living with economic insecurity, but if you like what you read here, please consider hitting the yellow donate button below. 


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