“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious."
This is a wonderful quotation from that great and much-missed scientist and thinker Stephen Hawking. It encapsulates so much of what I have long felt should be education's guiding principle. Following on from my recent article, 'Another Kind of Narrow...', (https://at.tumblr.com/classicalshorts/another-kind-of-narrow/dk07tvzel41e ) which argued that a job-market-trend guiding principle could only lead to an ephemeral educational form that only excluded and failed in its core purpose, I now bring you a more positive and passionate description of what it should be about in my humble opinion.
Curiosity drives learning, ideas, and ultimately an unlocking of our thinking potential that allows us to grow, engage, and discover. Hawking not only knew this, he represented this process. He would have, I think, been in excellent company with pre-Socratic philosopher Thales, who preferred to look up rather than down, driven by his curiosity and thirst for discovery.
Thales was mocked when he fell down a well, gazing upon the heavens. But he was not deterred. He remarkable believed that the stars were burning rocks, not gods. Given his limited tools, it is amazing that the power of his observation and logic led him to a suggestion which is not a million miles from reality. They certainly burn.
I was honoured back in October to partner my good friend Dr Nagamani Krishnamurthy, who is not only deeply passionate about education, but also an incredibly talented educator during World Education Empathy Week at EducationInfluence.com's conference with free lessons for whoever wished to tune in. We spoke about ancient philosophy and how it represented that beautiful curiosity that grows pleasure in learning from an early age and how t foster it in the classroom in a way that promoted continued passion for learning both in and beyond school.
Curiosity is natural and fabulous, from the child with the new toy to the great thinker, whose discovery makes our jaw drop and then smile, our day feeling warmed and enriched by their learning.
The moment when I realised teaching was right for me was when I was reading an unseen taken from Sophocles' Antigone, in my first ever teaching job. Sadly, I forget the passage now, but one of the girls smiled and with a look of delighted realisation, she told me that this play 'rocked', and the class plunged into a discussion of how little human nature had changed. Her curiosity was ignited and her sense of learning lit. She might not spout Classics at everyone in every day life (although if she's anything like me, she probably does), but her infectious learning and passion, I have no doubt will be inspirational.
I would like to end with a favourite curiosity-driven discovery. The atom. The roots of this wonderful theory are ancient. Logic and observation of weathered rocks and worn statues were evidence cited in support of the fifth-century BC hypothesis of minute particles to which everything could be reduced. Lucretius' curiosity led him to weave his strong scientific mind with his artistic genius into one of the finest poems ever written, de rerum natura. It represents of science and art's most beautiful harmonies.
Curiosity is for everyone and it is in everyone: the musician, the electrician, the academic, the pilot. What was the initial spark that made them go 'wow' and fired their passion and imagination. Let this guide education, let this help children grow, let this make them happy.