Curiosity Is a Unique Marker of Academic Success

Jul 25, 2017 by

Curiosity is underemphasized in the classroom, but research shows that it is one of the strongest markers of academic success. A boy builds a dinosaur robot; his teacher assists him.

David Mercado / Reuters Scott Barry Kaufman –

When Orville Wright, of the Wright brothers fame, was told by a friend that he and his brother would always be an example of how far someone can go in life with no special advantages, he emphatically responded, “to say we had no special advantages … the greatest thing in our favor was growing up in a family where there was always much encouragement to intellectual curiosity.”

The power of curiosity to contribute not only to high achievement, but also to a fulfilling existence, cannot be emphasized enough. Curiosity can be defined as “the recognition, pursuit, and intense desire to explore, novel, challenging, and uncertain events”. In recent years, curiosity has been linked to happiness, creativity, satisfying intimate relationships, increased personal growth after traumatic experiences, and increased meaning in life. In the school context, conceptualized as a “character strength,” curiosity has also received heightened research attention. Having a “hungry mind” has been shown to be a core determinant of academic achievement, rivaling the prediction power of IQ.

Yet in actual schools, curiosity is drastically underappreciated. As Susan Engel has documented in her book, The Hungry Mind, amidst the country’s standardized testing mania, schools are missing what really matters about learning: The desire to learn in the first place. As she notes, teachers rarely encourage curiosity in the classroom—even though we are all born with an abundance of curiosity, and this innate drive for exploration could be built upon in all students.

Curiously (pun intended), curiosity is also virtually absent from the field of gifted-and-talented education. A recent survey of required identification methods across all states found that only three considered motivation a part of giftedness. IQ, on the other hand, is required by 45 states, while 39 require standardized tests of achievement.

A recent feature story in Scientific American further punctuates this point. Misleadingly titled “How to Raise a Genius,” the article summarized the results of a 45-year study of children who at age 12 scored in the top 1 percent on the SATs and were subsequently tracked and then supported. At least 95 percent of the participants experienced some type of educational acceleration as a result of their identification, and most participated in enrichment programs such as Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Talented Youth (SMPY). The SMPY program—which counts Mark Zuckerberg and Lady Gaga as alumni—was initiated to “find the kids with the highest potential for excellence in what we now call STEM,” and to figure out how to support them to increase the chances of them reaching this expected potential.

Source: Curiosity Is a Unique Marker of Academic Success – The Atlantic

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