What worries me the most about today’s students is that they’ve learned that being right is more important than being curious.
Need proof? Stop by my classroom sometime and watch my kids wrestle with questions that have no one right answer.
First, they will double-check their work just to see if there IS a right answer that they inadvertently missed in their initial thinking. Then, they will turn to peers to see if anyone else has found the right answer. The feeling in the room will change as time goes by and more and more students start to realize that there isn’t something obvious to write down. Kids will fidget. Noise levels will rise. Extra sources will be checked.
At that point, some exceptionally brave group will approach me to check their work. “Did I do this right, Mr. Ferriter?” they’ll ask. Pulled by the intellectual gravity of the moment, other groups with gather close, waiting to hear what I have to say and hoping that I’ll share the right answer with everyone.
“I’m not really sure either!,” I’ll say. “Why don’t you explain your thinking to me. Maybe there’s NOT a right answer.” That’s when pure terror runs across their twelve-year-old faces. The notion of a question without a right answer is literally crippling to them.
And that breaks my heart, y’all.
It is evidence of my failure as a teacher — and our failure as a profession — to prioritize curiosity in our classrooms. Moments where there is no clear right answer should leave students ENERGIZED — not PARALYZED. Questions with no clear right answer should be fun to think about and wrestle with. They provide opportunities for discovery — and discovery has always been the lifeblood of kids.
What my students have learned after years of traditional schooling, though, is that answers are more important than questions when you are trapped in a classroom. School is about making good grades, NOT being curious — and making good grades means forgetting about anything that leaves you wondering and figuring out what it is that the teacher expects you to write down on your flippin’ rippin’ paper.
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