Schools Should Promote Curiosity, Not Indoctrination - America's Future

June 23, 2021

CulturePolicy

Schools Should Promote Curiosity, Not Indoctrination

By: David Collins

Walt Whitman once said, “Be curious, not judgmental.” Echoing this, Jason Sudeikis, the star coach of the fictional Apple TV show Ted Lasso, powerfully said, “If they were curious, they would ask questions.” There is a parallel here with schooling. Many teachers, for some time, tell students what to think and not how to think. If true, then our population at large lacks a major byproduct of curiosity— critical thinking. When our schooling system systematically encourages curiosity, our population will naturally have higher levels of critical thinking. Promoting curiosity should be a priority in schools. 

We’ve all been there: Sitting in a boring class committing information “learned” into our short-term memory to eventually spew it out on a test  in hopes of getting a passing grade so it can be forgotten almost immediately. However, we’ve also been in a class where we can’t raise our hand fast enough, debate intensely enough, or write an essay long enough! What accounts for these differences, and why do we learn so much more effectively in the latter scenario? The answer: curiosity! Curiosity is something we all are born with, but when we get older, we like to replace knowledge (a series of facts) with curiosity (an ongoing process). Instead of questioning authority, we mirror it. 

In recent years, there has been a growing concern with teachers telling their students what to think and not how to think. A major example of this is the recent upheaval over Critical Race Theory (CRT) in the classroom. Oddly enough, in many schools this theory is taught as fact instead of what its title communicates. To be clear, CRT should be permissible as educational material, but just like other theories, should be open for  debate and thought through. It should not live in  the same category as mathematics. If CRT is not up for debate, which is how many conservative students feel about liberal schooling in general, then how can students on both sides of the issue engage with each other? How can both sides communicate if each side lacks curiosity and critical thinking?

And it’s not just the students who suffer from this perpetual, vicious cycle. Professors and teachers suffer too. For example, one professor was allegedly fired from reading Mark Twain’s novel, Pudd’nhead Wilson, and not censoring out the racial slurs, despite the work being a classic  anti-slavery novel. In addition to many classical works under fire across the globe, professors voluntarily remove books or questions from syllabi that are questionable in fear of woke retribution. John McWhorter, a linguistics professor at Columbia University, shared insight from an anonymous creative-writing professor on the situation:

“The majority of my fellow instructors and staff constantly self-censor themselves in fear of being fired for expressing the “wrong opinions.” It’s gotten to the point where many are too terrified to even like or retweet a tweet, lest it lead to some kind of disciplinary measure … They are supporters of free speech, scientific data, and healthy debate, but they are too fearful today to publicly declare such support. However, they’ll tell it to a sympathetic ear in the back corner booth of a quiet bar after two or three pints. These ideas have been reduced to lurking in the shadows now.”

How did it get to this point, and how can we turn it around?

One solution is prioritizing curiosity in the classroom from a very young age. Secondly, two effective methods in changing this cycle are utilizing open-ended questions and facilitating debates. And lastly, three actors are involved in sparking the change: parents, students, and teachers. Fostering curiosity and critical-thinking is no easy task, as it requires intentionality and persistence from all parties, but it’s an endeavor that can help our world turn this thing around. Hence, schools should promote curiosity, not indoctrination. Our civil society depends on it, and it begins in the home and the classroom.