Al McConville “in defence of the curious”

Posted on 20th March 2018

Curiosity is the driving force behind the advancement of humankind – but it is stifled in our classrooms, buried under the weight of teacher workload and accountability. If we want to instil a joy of learning, we need to give pupils the space to let their natural curiosity roam free, writes Alistair McConville, Bedales Deputy Head, Academic, in a recent article for TES.

History does not paint a favourable picture of curiosity, with ancient narratives discouraging it for the sake of maintaining the status quo, and especially order.

These days, of course, no right-thinking teacher outside of a totalitarian regime would surely exclude curiosity from their teaching. Nonetheless, observes Alistair, much of our current system threatens to crush it out of existence with accountability demands, progress measurements and formulaic, overly crammed curricula.

Says Alistair: "Curiosity is an eminently desirable psychological state for which to aim, for no other reason than that it heightens our sense of being alive, and is deeply fulfilling. To be curious is a basic part of human flourishing. We all hope our classroom charges will experience deep engagement with the ideas with which we confront them, and not simply because they’re on the syllabus.”

Alistair proposes that we should revolve our educational philosophy around the human satisfaction that comes from the process of grasping matters deeply, but agrees with the US writer Wendell Berry who sees schools as no longer oriented to a cultural inheritance, but to the career of the child with local schools serving the government’s economy and the economy’s government. How motivated are students likely to be, asks Alistair, if the organising principles around the classroom are related primarily to distant, impersonal, centralised aims?

He concludes: “It’s clear which way we are headed. But it’s also clear that teachers are pretty fed up with so much of our contact with children being driven by the pressures of excessive exam board content, narrow assessment regimes and the relentless requirement to generate data.”

“It is easier for us to grind out the results the safe way and hope for the best in terms of children’s wider development and psychological states – but happily many teachers find a way of cutting imaginatively against the grain, at least some of the time.”

The full article is published on the TES website (subscription may be required)

TES | Al McConville | Wendell Berry