The Importance of a Curious and Stimulated Intellect

By Mercedes Schneider | Originally published on Mercedes Schneider’s EduBlog | 2018 | Follow Mercedes Schneider @deutsch29blog | Photo: Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license| Syndication made possible through Patreon.

By Mercedes Schneider

I believe that one of my most important tasks as a teacher is to stimulate intellectual curiosity. Of course, to do so, I must first experience intellectual curiosity myself. Secondly (and as a logical consequence of first experiencing intellectual curiosity), I must reveal my curious intellect to my students.

They must see me get excited and be obviously interested in a world that includes (but necessarily extends beyond) the classroom. Modeling intellectual curiosity in my classroom can only be done successfully in the context of a respectful and healthy relationship chiefly between student and teacher (and, beyond teacher-students, with the teacher setting and enforcing parameters for healthy, respectful student-to-student interactions).

And there must be time for conversation, for pursuing topics beyond a textbook entry and including personal experience and encouraging additional inquiry motivated by genuine interest.

I believe intellectual curiosity is more important that intellectual intelligence in the setting of challenging life goals and promoting lifelong learning. Sure, high intelligence is an advantage; however, if one does not exercise (challenge?) one’s intelligence by living a life marked by the dynamic of intellectual curiosity, that intelligence arguably stagnates; life loses its fullness, and humans snuff their joy of living.

In the early 1990s, I taught alternative school for several years. My experience there is what prompted me to begin graduate studies. I was good at my job, but my school days were heavy in behavioral management and discipline in order to establish as atmosphere for a modest level of academic learning. As a result, I remember realizing that this teaching job had put me in a position of experiencing an “intellectual stimulation deficiency.”

In short, I felt like my mind was dying.

For the next several years, my graduate studies satisfied my need for intellectual stimulation (oversatisfied, I might add, given the pressures of completing a masters degree while teaching full time and then proceeding to challenging, full-time doctoral studies).

Even though my graduate studies satisfied my need for intellectual stimulation for a time, one should not confuse a heavy academic course load for intellectual curiosity. Indeed, academic demands can easily kill academic curiosity, both through restricting freedom of individual inquiry as well as placing such demands on one’s time that any free time is consumed in exhaustion.

I taught at the university level for five years, and that experience, too, is one in which the demands to “publish or perish” (which can be exacerbated by university politics) can actually kill intellectual curiosity. (I began my time as a university professor feeling as though my intellectual curiosity were being satisfied, but I did not end my time that way. By the end of my five years as a university prof, I felt intellectually stifled. Let me add that this was my personal experience, and I don’t believe it is the experience of all who hold careers as university profs.)

I returned to the public school classroom, careful not to let my job consume my life. But I still needed to be sure to have a life, and an important component of having a life is nurturing intellectual curiosity. Now, I would like to write that I knew what I was doing, that my actions were intentional on this front, but they were not. The “front” to which I refer is my investigating and writing about education reform; namely, the establishment of this blog and the writing and publishing of my books on ed reform. Both ventures continue to lead to new, cognitively-satisfying opportunities–opportunities that allow me to establish relationships with others of similar interest. So, even though much of my research and writing is completed individually, this intellectual involvement is not occurring in complete social isolation (which would not be healthy).

Very intellectually stimulating and satisfying– which actually helps me to teach better. As it stands, I teach the same subject five or six times a day. I have had students ask me how I do it, the implication being that the experience seems monotonous and therefore  unbearable. And it certainly could be, if I allowed it. One key for me is to approach each class with the fresh expectation that a different group of students brings with it some variety of interaction and inquiry. Another key is that my intellectual pursuits do not end with my school day– and these extend beyond my job as a teacher. My mind is not chained to my classroom.

Nor is it chained to this computer.

Until next time.

Related: Garn Press Education Books

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