Schools kill curiosity: the regime of conformity and obedience

Most young children are naturally curious and highly imaginative… after children have attended school for a while, they become more cautious and less innovative….Unfortunately it is necessary to conclude from the investigations of many scholars that our schools are the major culprits. Teachers, peers, and the educational system as a whole all diminish children’s urge to express their creative possibilities.

~Dacey & Lennon, 1998

Singapore Educational Consultants Bored Schools kill curiosity: the regime of conformity and obedienceIt seems from the quote above, schools dull the minds of our children. To be sure, the demand for control is necessary in schools. Teachers cannot teach if the class is out of control. But then again I believe it is a problem only if we define control as conformity and obedience, which unfortunately, is all too often what is demanded in the classrooms.

Today, we prefer to call it “classroom management” or “class management”. It is not impossible to manage a class in a way that allows for students to show independence. I think one underutilized tool is to use reasoning. All too often that conformity and obedience is seen by students as just a disciplinary issue. Making an effort to reason with the students and coming to a common understanding with the students helps students to take responsibility for what happens in the class.

Taking responsibility implies a choice of options.  It involves decision-making practice. When students are given time and opportunities to make good decisions about their environment, there is less of a that feeling of having to always conform and be obedient to a higher authority, no matter how irrational the latter may seem to be. Besides getting them to discuss and come to a mutually agreeable decision, especially in a non-threatening environment, almost surely will bring about better compliance to whatever that has been agreed upon.

Teachers must be willing to engage their students in a dialog. A dialog would involve questions and answers. Such engagement will encourage students to speak and ask questions. It will not stifle their natural curiosity to question, probe, even test boundaries.

Another important reason why schools dull the minds of the young is the manner that teaching and learning is done. We know of studies which show that most of the questions asked in the classroom are asked by the teachers themselves. The teachers also answer most of their own questions. This too depends on whether the teachers give students enough time to think about asking questions. The demands of high stakes testing or examinations usually mean that the “coverage” of the syllabus is foremost on the teachers minds.This usually mean traditional teacher talk (and question).

Furthermore, in such systems, the only things that are worth teaching are what will be asked in the tests or examinations. How intellectually exciting and stimulating can this be? How do we fire up the neurons in the students brains so that they go whizzing at high speed if all they ever learn is what will appear in the examinations. Nothing explodes in their head. No “Aha! moment” except maybe “so that’s how you answer this question”. Exploration, experimenting, going off track are not encouraged. There is simply no time for all that. No time for meaningful questions. They are not measured anyway as required KPIs of schools. If they are not measured, then they are also deemed unimportant. Therefore, a move away from examinations or test oriented teaching will go a long way towards removing the clouds of dullness from the classrooms. Let curiosity be an important reason for learning again.

 Schools kill curiosity: the regime of conformity and obedience