Missing the [Question] Mark: Developing the Skill of Curiosity

Thanks to my friend Bryant Russ, Bible teacher at Holland Christian High School, for sharing this blog post. Bryant has started a wonderful blog project called One Hundred Dangeruss Gifts  (love the play on words, Bryant!) He has written posts as gifts to be shared from father to son, and from older men to younger men about what is really important in life. He states: My hope is that by reading these gifts other people will see the value in cultivating a culture of dangerous gift giving, especially from older men to younger men.” Check it out!

 

I once asked a teacher why humans enjoy music. She told me it was because God made us that way.

Needless to say, I was less than enlightened.

After a little bit of digging I discovered that music generates activity in the nucleus accumbens, the region of the brain responsible for releasing chemicals associated with pleasure. Music also wakes up the part of the brain that processes emotion and helps connect experience to meaning, which explains why a well-composed melody can be such a powerfully engaging stimulant. The influence of music has been linked to monumental scientific discoveries, including some of Einstein’s most famous equations, as well as suicides and school shootings, showing just how significant an impact it has on the brain, and consequently, human life.

Because God made us that way.

Asking questions and seeking out answers is one of the most basic human impulses, and is, I believe, directly connected with our being made in God’s image.   In fact, the average child asks approximately 125 questions a day. But do you know how many questions the average adult asks per day? Six.

I can’t help but noticing one of the significant bridges between infancy and adulthood is formal education. Now I am not suggesting that school is solely responsible for the death of curiosity, nor am I aware of any evidence to support this notion, however; I am convinced that schools have not traditionally prioritized the importance of question asking. For understandable reasons, schools are all to often in the business of answer giving, whether students have the corresponding questions or not.

But allow me to ask the question, what might we be missing?

Being a high school Bible teacher, I have discovered that the value of any given class depends almost entirely on my students’ ability to ask questions. It is a fairly common occurrence for my students to be given a biblical passage and 15 minutes or so to read while making a list of questions. The first time we tried the activity they weren’t completely sure what to think. “What kind of questions are we supposed to ask?” one student wondered looking slightly puzzled. “Well, how about the questions you have while reading. Start with those ones,” I responded. It took several rounds of practice, but the more my students developed this stifled skill of question asking, the more prepared they were to engage the biblical drama on a deeper level. Eventually they were able to come up with such ripe questions that I was able to step back and watch as they made some of the same discoveries I was planning to teach anyway. Questions are opportunities for breakthrough, like little maps leading to buried treasure. And I believe this is true for all disciplines.

Though curiosity is often thought of as a trait you either have or you don’t, perhaps it can be better understood and advanced as a skill—something that needs to be encouraged, fostered, and practiced.

How was chess invented? What makes ocean waves? Who decided there are seven days in a week? How far away is the sun? Why is Christmas celebrated on December 25? How does electricity work? Where does your waste go when you flush it down the toilet? These example questions help students reconsider their relationship to the world by attuning young eyes to the mystery of their surroundings, while pulling out from under their feet the rug of assumption, simplicity, and monotony.

Genuine question-asking curiosity is more valuable than a storehouse of knowledge. You could know as much as the Internet, but if there’s no gas in the tank then you’re not going to go anywhere. Curiosity is the fuel of discovery. It’s a spark. It’s a wellspring that never stops bubbling—even when the bell rings. Because the best part is that questions are like potato chips: you can’t have just one. Real questions are always connected to more questions, and more questions, and more questions. I believe chasing these questions is a form of worship. I also believe that a day spent without asking questions is essentially sleepwalking. Part of being an educated Christian in today’s world is having a mind that is fully awake, alive, and eager to engage the world in new ways.

Here are a few questions to get us stared:

What can we do to spark curiosity in our students?

What real questions do you have related to the discipline you teach?

How do we sometimes, though often unintentionally, suffocate curiosity in school?

How can we cultivate an atmosphere of question asking in our schools?

This discussion is well worth our time. There are few things more vitalizing than a school buzzing with the curious questions of invested young people—this is music to my ears.

Dan Beerens is a K-12 educational consultant and international speaker specializing in curriculum mapping and design, school improvement, teacher supervision and evaluation, and staff development. He is the author of “Evaluating Teachers for Professional Growth: Creating a Culture of Motivation and Learning” published by Corwin Press.

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