Who Am I?
These three simple words live in the minds of many children in your school community. This question peaks at the convergence of identity and curiosity, and results in a complexity not easily understood by them.
It is our hope that all learners will be able to ask and answer this question. We believe their sense of belonging depends on it. However, there is a danger to this question as well. If your students are not provided a safe environment to discover who they are, they will be susceptible to believing who others say they are.
I liken a child’s identity to a mound of soft clay. The form the clay takes will depend on the artist shaping it. What influencers are molding your students’ identities? Are your students making their own contributions?
Cultured Kids is on a mission to unify school communities. Positive identity development and healthy self-discovery are key ingredients to our desired outcome. In order for a child to be truly known by their peers, they need to know themselves.
Different Types of Curiosity
In Ian Leslie’s book, Curious, he shares three types of curiosity:
Let’s consider anthropologist Jane Goodall as an example to showcase each of these types of curiosity. When Jane was a child she was given a stuffed chimpanzee by her father. This gift sparked diversive curiosity, which motivated an interest in, and exploration of, animals.
As she grew up her level of interest evolved. It was Jane’s epistemic curiosity (and some financial support) that led her to work on a farm in Kenya and earn a PhD in Ethology. Finally, Jane’s extensive research living among chimpanzees was the result of her empathic curiosity.
Hopefully we all give into diversive curiosity throughout our lives. Learning new skills, exploring new lands, and meeting new people help us to become more adaptable, likeable, and healthy.
It is easy to see this type of curiosity in your lower elementary learners. Children enroll at school with a sense of awe and wonder about the world. We are all familiar with the “Why?” stage children go through.
In these early stages, Cultured Kids aims to nourish and grow diversive curiosity. Through compare and contrast, learners can explore differences and similarities between themselves and peer groups globally. Activities that support exploration and discovery help to solidify some aspects of their individual identities. Additionally, children are also gaining foundational building blocks for constructive discussions about culture, race, and ethnicity.
By consistently encouraging diversive curiosity, learners will identify areas of deeper interest. Interests that will motivate a disciplined effort towards deeper understanding as they grow older.
In order to unify your school communities, each community member needs to feel a healthy sense of belonging. We define a healthy sense of belonging as a child’s ability to know and safely share their authentic self with others.
Knowing their authentic selves requires epistemic curiosity and safely sharing it requires empathic curiosity. We encourage and support these types of curiosity with upper elementary and middle grade students.
Greater self-esteem, self-confidence, and student voice come with a secure understanding of who they are. But, supporting this deeper process of self-discovery has other benefits as well:
Like Jane Goodall, many of your students will trace their future passion back to a specific event or experience as a child. Alternatively, some will find comfort in diversive curiosity and change professions, locations, or partners regularly, craving new places, experiences, and people. Through it all, one person will remain consistently present: themselves!
However, just like our professions, life partners, and locations are not fixed, neither are some aspects of our identity. Our life experiences will consistently challenge us to evaluate who we are. Self-curiosity and positive identity development will support unity in your schools. But, they will also prepare learners for life.
Quite often, we make assumptions about others. We can do this with our colleagues, staff, and students. Educators and students will do this as well. It is part of the human condition.
When we make assumptions, we trade questioning for knowing. For example, I can assume Brenda is not facilitating morning meetings on a regular basis with her class because she has poor time management. Believing I know this, stifles my curiosity.
Alternatively, if I rely on my empathic curiosity and begin asking questions about Brenda and her class, I would come to some sharp realizations. Brenda’s students all rely on the school breakfast for a healthy meal. In addition, a large group of Brenda’s kids are the last group to get dropped off in the morning. Brenda knows hunger will stand in the way of her students learning. So, she prioritizes their nourishment over morning meetings.
What does empathic curiosity have to do with your students' identity development?
There are two reasons why this type of curiosity is important:
Does Curiosity Precede Your Desired Achievement?
Ken Robinson said, “Curiosity is the engine of achievement”. If this is true, then school leaders should be prioritizing question development. Questions foster deeper curiosity.
A Right Question Institute study, based on question-asking data gathered by the National Center for Education Statistics, shows a steady decline in question asking throughout a learners K-12 journey. An average of 100 or more questions a day is depleted to a handful by the time children graduate from high school.
There are many reasons why this shift occurs. In Warren Berger’s, The Book of Beautiful Questions, he lists five enemies of questioning: fear, knowledge, bias, hubris, and time. Your educators, students, and parents may embody one or more of these enemies of questioning at any moment.
We believe “Curiosity is the engine of achievement” because achievement can take many forms. No matter what form you want it to take, the statement still serves true. When considering your students and their journey of self-discovery, we believe curiosity is the engine of self-exploration, self-understanding, and self-acceptance.