On Curiosity & Novel Thinking

Aaron Swartz, in a 2009 interview with Ronaldo Lemos, had this to say:

When I was a kid, I thought a lot about what made me different from the other kids. I don’t think I was smarter than them and I certainly wasn’t more talented. And I definitely can’t claim I was a harder worker – I’ve never worked particularly hard, I’ve always just tried doing things I find fun. Instead, what I concluded was that I was more curious – but not because I had been born that way. If you watch little kids, they are intensely curious, always exploring and trying to figure out how things work. The problem is that school drives all that curiosity out. Instead of letting you explore things for yourself, it tells you that you have to read these particular books and answer these particular questions. And if you try to do something else instead, you’ll get in trouble. Very few people’s curiosity can survive that. But, due to some accident, mine did. I kept being curious and just followed my curiosity.

The part about young children’s curiosity is precisely why my Early Childhood Studies professors preach so heavily against using traditional, academic-based methodologies in preschool classrooms. The very things Swartz talks about here -- curiosity and creativity -- are crucial aspects of a child’s cognitive development. The time to foster these ideals is early, and we (educators and parents) shouldn’t stifle it out of fear that children will miss out on learning more “important” concepts like letter or number recognition. However well intentioned, it’s much better that a 4-year-old explore his or her creative side as opposed to mindnumbingly reciting the alphabet. Those are rote skills that can be learned later on; creativity can't.

(via Daring Fireball)