Now that summer is here, it’s time to unschool ourselves.
At the beginning of every school year, I ask my students to consider the question, “What is the purpose of education?” Most students understand from experience that schooling is at least in part an exercise in obedience to authority, in conformity to expectations, in bureaucracy, in knowing your place in the social and academic hierarchy. As one astute 14-year-old put it bluntly, “We’re here to be ranked and sorted.”
I shudder at the thought that my role as a teacher is to sort the winners from the losers. Like most educators, I’m aiming for a loftier mission: to unleash the curiosity and capacity for wonder that are inborn in each of us. Ironically, that mission might be best accomplished in the summer time, in the context of leisure, when the mind is at rest and at play, free from the strictures and dictates of institutional schooling.
At the end of every school year, I ask my students, “What will you think about when you are not being told what to think about? Are you prepared to trade the comforts of intellectual obedience for the risks of intellectual independence? How will you pursue your curiosities? What sets you on fire intellectually, and how will you fan those flames? What will you write feverishly in your Book of Questions?” These are the same questions we must ask ourselves as educators, as people modeling intellectual engagement, as propagandists for the Life of the Mind.
What ignites my curiosity, reliably, is insects. I just got my hands on a compound stereoscope and some live stick insects and I have the whole summer ahead of me.
What ignites your curiosity?
A girl considers insects under a microscope at the new Gallery of Natural Sciences at the Oakland Museum of California. Photo by Becky Jaffe
“The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.” – Dorothy Parker