The Problem with Curiosity

I’m noticing an unusual pattern of late. In education, there’s a strong underlying message to bring back or maintain curiosity and wonder as the foundation of learning. Meanwhile the media, both mass and traditional and social is intent on killing curiosity. Whether it’s politics, racism, environmental or a host of other modern issues, the message is pretty standard.

“Unless you believe me/us, you’re stupid or evil.”

The problem with curiosity is, it’s nice in theory, it might work in schools, but in the real world, curiosity is not valued and it’s often disdained.

I understand the passion the people have about many of these issues. But the absence of wonder and curiosity sends exactly the opposite message to our children when it comes to lifelong learning. The shortage of thoughtful, welcoming conversation and discourse is alarming. For a person genuinely interested in learning about two or more sides of an issue, good luck. There aren’t many safe places to ask questions and learn. Phrase a question incorrectly, and you’ll be hammered and chastised for your ignorance. So instead of engaging in civil discourse, you’re forced to choose a side and be bombarded inside an echo chamber that paints their opposition in the most demeaning ways.

I understand the passion the people have about many of these issues. But the absence of wonder and curiosity sends exactly the opposite message to our children when it comes to lifelong learning. The shortage of thoughtful, welcoming conversation and discourse is alarming. For a person genuinely interested in learning about two or more sides of an issue, good luck. There aren’t many safe places to ask questions and learn. Phrase a question incorrectly, and you’ll be hammered and chastised for your ignorance. So instead of engaging in civil discourse, you’re forced to choose a side and be bombarded inside an echo chamber that paints their opposition in the most demeaning ways.

I hear again and again, “schools should be more about questions than answers.” I speak to educators about the need to renew wonder and curiosity as the cornerstone of education.  It’s a bit ironic that for years now, the narrative has been that schools need to be more like the real world. “Schools are places where wonder and curiosity go to die.” When it comes to many issues, schools might be the only places where ignorance is embraced and addressed without judgment.

Think about climate change, politics and racism as three global issues. They are far more complicated than should encourage questions and discourse. The world rejects and chastises anyone who challenges any side.

At the risk of inviting the exact attacks, let me share two examples that illustrate my concerns.

Donald Trump is likely the most divisive human on the planet. Everything you read online and every conversation you have is designed to further your belief about him. Even the same information is up for interpretation. The article looks at how people will view the same story.

Most people in “Hate Trump” world likely never even saw the second picture of Trump and Francis. And vice versa for people in the “Love Trump” world. And it’s not only that they didn’t see the other picture. It’s that they have NO interest in seeing it because it doesn’t comport with their broader world view.
When we’re unwilling to interact with things that raise questions about how we view people and the world, we’re not in a very good place as a society.

To me, this isn’t about Trump as much as it is how unwilling we are to engage or as the author says “interact with the things that raise questions”.

The second example is from Canada. As someone who does not claim to have a great grasp of the residential schools’ history in Canada, I believe that it was not our best moment and it’s hard to deny that injustices were done as well as the concept being flawed from the onset. So we I see an article about someone challenging the narrative, I’m skeptical as well I should be. However, my concern is that institutions like universities are unwilling to engage. If her claims are false then a discussion in a public forum with educated and informed people should shine a light on her inaccuracies. The quote that stands out to me is:

“I’m not trying to win the argument; I’m trying to have the argument.”

So for anyone who wonders about her research and claims, we aren’t really encouraged to be curious. I share these, not to get you thinking specifically about these two examples but more broadly about how curiosity isn’t really encouraged as adults, at least not when it comes to important issues. Specifically online, I’m afraid to ask questions about many topics for fear of being seen as ignorant or worse. I understand people’s passions but as educators, I hope we have reason and logic which allows for questions and gaps to be addressed and valued. And even within our own strong beliefs, this quote should be considered:

My obsession with civil discourse has been shared multiple times on this blog. But this post isn’t even about the discourse as much as it is about simply asking questions and being allowed to be curious. What message do we tell our students? “Be curious now, because as an adult, you won’t be allowed to ask questions”

Safe spaces where questions and curiosity are valued are few and far between. Schools might be one of the only places where that’s true. In this case, let’s not be like the real world.

Insight and Inspiration 

There are some people that inspire me and some people that make me think. Sometimes they are the same person. Sometimes they aren’t. I see the act of inspiring people different from being insightful.

People that inspire me are those who display extraordinary determination or will to overcome challenges. Sometimes they are people who have shown a consistent character over time.

My Dad inspires me. He’s been an example to me for my whole life. His legacy speaks for itself. His faith and approach to life are honorable, to say the least.

My wife inspires me. She’s not only a fantastic mother and wife and educator but knowing some of her recent health challenges, makes what does even more impressive.

Lance Rougeux inspires me. I’ve worked for Lance for 5 years. He’s the best leader I’ve ever seen.  He constantly filters out the things that don’t concern his team. He’s never too busy for anyone and is the first to share gratitude. His goal is to make everyone’s job easier. He’s had to deal a lot but never complains.

People I find insightful are those that are typically well read and also are able to communicate ideas in a way that provokes my thinking. Usually, they are great storytellers as well.

Malcolm Gladwell comes to mind. I know some question his methods but he has a way of explaining phenomena in unique ways. He also uncovers obscure stories and finds the hidden truths. Danah boyd is another. Her research around teens and social media has provided a much needed nuanced look at a very complicated subject. Not only does she know her stuff but is able to add an empathetic voice that doesn’t cast judgment but captures the human aspect of this topic. Will Richardson remains someone I’ve read for a long time and continues to provide thoughtful insight and sees through much of the rhetoric, tradition, and paradigms that plague education.

A could continue this list but these give you a sense of my own beliefs and perspectives around the ideas of inspiration and insight.

Inspiration is more about the heart. Typically, it’s a demonstration of character that tells a story over time. Insight is about the mind. Insightfulness can sometimes appear to happen quickly but the truth is, most people who are insightful, read and think a lot before they share their insights.

Both of these qualities, inspiration and insight, are highly prized and neither can be acquired without dedicated time and effort. Recently, I’ve observed that there are those looking for shortcuts to be deemed inspirational or insightful. These shortcuts often come in the form of shallow quotations that fail to truly resonate or incite thought. True insight should engage and challenge the intellect, prompting more than mere agreement—it should spark a deeper contemplation or even cognitive dissonance that invites us to consider new perspectives.

Likewise, true inspiration should come from authentic experiences, not just emotionally charged videos or anecdotes that may exaggerate reality or rely too heavily on dramatic effects. Authenticity in this context is vital, just as it is for those seeking the keywordnajlepsze kasyno online, where genuine experiences and the integrity of the game are of the utmost importance. Using tactics that lack substance or meaningful context risks appearing insincere, much like an online platform that promises more than it delivers. Whether in personal development or online entertainment, the foundation of genuine content is what truly engages and retains.

One of the reasons I’m writing this is because, on occasion, people have used these words to describe my work. I’m flattered but unsure whether it’s well deserved and whether or not they know enough about me to really warrant their compliment.

I don’t think of my work as particularly inspirational. I hope it’s encouraging. I hope it’s affirming. I don’t feel comfortable having it labeled inspirational. When I hear someone like Natalie Panek tell her story of how she became a rocket scientist, that’s inspiring. When Kevin Honeycutt talks about his upbringing, that’s inspiring. I don’t have those personal stories. When I speak I often share videos or stories that tug at people’s heart and may even evoke tears. I  hesitate using them because I don’t want to be seen as going for a cheap cry. The truth is anyone can show a video that’s inspirational, but that doesn’t make them inspirational. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use them but I also worry about crossing a line of manipulating people. If it helps solidify a point I’m trying to make, that’s fine. But if it is just inserted superfluously, I get annoyed.

I do think of my work as insightful. I read a lot, I listen a lot, I get to spend time in many schools and districts and am able to glean a great deal. I’m also able to extract truths and principles and hopefully share them in a way that’s accessible and meaningful to others. I’ve worked on my ability to tell stories and provide perspectives that not everyone sees.

Is any of this making sense? Let me leave you with a few ideas that I’d love to know more about.

Who inspires you?
Who do you find insightful?
Do my definitions of insight and inspiration resonate? What would you add or subtract?
Are you noticing false insight or inspiration? What does it look like? How does it make you feel?

Would love your thoughts. (Shout out to John Spencer for listening to me natter on about these things and providing great insight as well. PS. He’s very insightful)

The Least Talked About Problem in EdTech

Having been involved with educational technology for almost 20 years, I’ve had more than my share of conversations around the issues of  implementation, integration, transformation, use of technology in the classrooms. People are usually quick to point out the barriers which are mostly around leadership and pedagogy and more recently the word is mindset.

But no amount of change in mindset addresses the least talked about problem with edtech. Bandwidth.

Maslow Wifi


My journeys have led me to work with some wonderful educators who indeed have a resiliency and passion for innovation. They are the ones who create work arounds when a site is down or blocked, they tether their phones to create wifi for their students. They spent hours editing video and installing apps on their student devices. While they are great champions and sometimes are highlighted, they are a problem in that leaders assume all teachers can and should act in this way.

Imagine teaching English using books with half the pages ripped out. That’s essentially what it’s like for teachers trying to use devices with no bandwidth.

Bandwidth issues aren’t talked about largely because we aren’t quite sure what the issue is. Is it a small pipe? Is it throttling? Is it that a classroom is all hitting youtube? Is the bottleneck internal or external? I don’t know the answers and am not an expert in bandwidth but I believe it’s one of the biggest problems impeding success with technology in schools. I don’t even know who to blame.

I have heard leaders treat bandwidth and technology as a luxury making statements like, “Do you want 5 more teachers or new devices?” This both a false dicohtomy  and a disingenuous way of dealing with the issue. Would a leader ever say, “Do you want 5 more teachers or electricty and plumbing?” If we’re going to ask teachers to innovate, to make the most of the technology, we have to have more bandwidth. I’m hearing teachers telling me they are back to using worksheets because the bandwidth is so bad. I hear this in district after district. Forget about introducing technology to teachers skeptical about its effectiveness. You’re wasting your time and theirs.

I’d love to hear your experience, suggestions and frustrations. It’s an issue I need to learn more about and one I think we need to be advocating more than any other issue in educational technology.


When Sharing Goes Bad, Pithy Quote Fetish and Kids These Days

I left a comment on Wes’ blog after this rather unfortunate event happened. I decided to repost here with a few additional thoughts and modifications.


Photo: by Wes Fryer


I think there are three issues that come to mind for me:

1. It’s important we understand and accept the trade offs with technology. Too often we in the ed tech community have to oversell technology in order to make in roads. We’re not naive, I don’t think we ignore the downsides, but perhaps if we prepare folks for deeper understanding, these kinds of things won’t be seen as a reason to discontinue. 99.99% of my experience in sharing has been overwhelmingly positive. I have to think that for most people who have made sharing a part of  what they do, it’s similar. But I’m afraid if you’ve not made this your default, it might make you gun shy. That’s unfortunate. Yes, occasionally sharing goes bad. But in the same way that being kind can backfire, I hope it wouldn’t stop you from continuing to be kind. Understand this comes with the territory. Some might suggest Wes shouldn’t post pictures of his kids. I disagree. Many of his images have been used for positive outcomes.  If not Wes’ kids they would have found somebody else’s. Would this mean we’d never post pictures of children for fear someone might do something nefarious? I would argue that notion is problematic.

2. The triteness of social media is starting to get stupid. Twitter is the epitome of this as the 140 characters is not being acknowledged for its limitations. It’s a great medium that does certainly things well. But we often we try and craft to many ideas inside those few characters and it comes off like this. Personally, I’ve been careful not to engage in much meaningful discourse there because it can’t do the things I’m doing here…explaining myself in detail. Even the use of quotes and pithy sayings is getting problematic. Not that I’m immune to it and do share those too, but I’m trying to ask myself and others questions like, “What exactly are you saying?” and “Wait a minute, I’m not so sure that’s true” but often if the words seem to flow and fit and if you add a compelling image, you can get away with a frivolous idea and seem wise. A pithy quote might be a useful way to engage but often is incapable of capturing the full nuance of important ideas. Particularly as these can gain momentum quickly with retweets and favorites, I worry that we turn off our crap detector in favour of jumping on the bandwagon that can seem edgy and clever but may be lacking much reflection or perspective. I’m fortunate that in my network I have people who aren’t afraid to call me out on some of those pithy quotes I share and force me to think before I post and engage afterwards to insure that I put a little meat on the bone.

3. Kids these days. With regards to the content or idea shared here, my response to the tweet was:



I’ve been sharing a series of staged photos with audiences that show my family all sitting around reading a book, then one of them on their devices and finally one of them looking at their devices together. The point I make is that we somehow have a negative reaction to the image like the one shown of your kids but swap those devices for books and suddenly we have beautiful children engaging in an intellectual pursuit vs the word they used in their collage. I extend the argument further and suggest that I find the image of them sharing their devices the more social. My point as well is that books have been promoting isolation and anti-social behaviour long before computers came along. We simply have to stop using these kinds of things to polarize us.

Always interesting how a simple tweet can generate so much thought and controversy. So let me ask you:

  • Would something like this stop you from sharing or thinking about starting to share?
  • How often are we calling BS on pithy quotes that seem to get applause from many others?
  • When will we making general assumptions that using technology is a mindless, intellectually shallow activity?


Don’t Ask People What They Want

Cross posted at the Huffington Post.

Steve Jobs never believed in focus groups. Guy Kawasaki, who worked for Apple and Steve Jobs said, "Apple Market research is an oxymoron. If you ask people what they want they'll tell you "Better, faster and cheaper"- that is better sameness, not revolutionary change. Many other innovators have echoed similar sentiments. This flies in the face of the idea that the customer is always right. Jobs also said "people don't know what they want until you show it to them" No doubt he was a brash visionary that designed some very innovative products that many people adore. 

In education I hear this sentiment a lot lately: "Involve and engage all stakeholders". That sounds lovely. Why wouldn't we want input for parents and the community? All stakeholders in this case probably means every parent and taxpayer. That's a lot of people with a lot of ideas about what school should look like.  There's a desire to be transparent and be collaborative. These are words I use with great frequency to describe learning. But I'm beginning to question these ideas when it comes to making bold moves in education. 

I think of Zac Chase's tongue in cheek post a few months back about turning off his phone on the plane. He writes about whether turning off your phone will or won't impact the flight:


But I don’t know.

And that’s the key.

I don’t understand the system. Aviation, engineering, electronics – all these are outside the areas of my expertise.

In this system, I have an amazing amount at stake. I am thoroughly invested and committed to its success.

Entire sub-systems and interactions are beyond my understanding. Thus, I keep my mouth shut. If I decided to study aeronautics, become familiar with everything involved in the process of moving a plane from one side of the country to another, then would I have a space to speak up.

When my life and the lives of others are on the line, it’s probably best not to disrupt a system I do not understand.

I see all the ways in which flying planes and running a for profit business is NOT like a public school. They don't have a public directly paying for all kids. And yet, like Zac I try and show some humility when it comes to many government decisions. I vote people I think we represent me well and wait 4 or 5 years to assess and determine if I think they should continue their work or not. We have many persons and public people very invested in education and very knowledgeable. However when it comes to envisioning something new and different it's more than just fear that holds them back, it's ignorance. I don't say that in a demeaning way. I say that in the same way I don't understand many systems and don't spend anytime envisioning and experimenting with new ideas. Add to that those that don't care.


So as the conversation and dreams of a new place of learning happens in staff rooms and even district offices, who should really be involved in that process? I'm well aware that in many cases, these conversations are not happening but I have been part of these in schools, in our district and even at the provincial level. In these discussions, the topic of stakeholders always comes up. Even suggesting students be part of the conversation. My caution is that depending on the students, they too aren't seeing and picturing many new ideas. I realize that it's our job to engage students and parents in conversations like this but at some point, someone needs to do something. Maybe without full consensus. 

Will we really be able to create something awesome by asking people what they want? I think the average parent, taxpayer, student and even the average teacher just wants a system that's better. Higher "student achievement" (i.e. test scores) and lower dropouts. If schools did this, most people would be happy. But I know I wouldn't necessarily want those things. We can do better, we have to do better. I'm looking to be part of creating something different and I don't think it can involve all stakeholders.