Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends on It by Ian Leslie was part of a faculty book club at my college, and ultimately I loved it, in part because the book spends a great deal of time arguing the necessity of a liberal arts education. As a professor teaching literature, humanities, film, and creative writing courses alongside the more “practical” composition courses, I am obviously a huge fan of liberal arts and a well-rounded education.
The book makes many excellent points – which I primarily agree with – but it was definitely a shallow dive rather than a deep academic exploration of curiosity. That being said, I fully enjoyed the book and found some practical takeaways. For example, I always have my students write research questions. Leslie argues that when doing so, I should ensure the questions lead to mysteries rather than puzzles; puzzles can be solved, mysteries not necessarily.
Another point made in the first section of the book is one I know but tend to ignore for ease. I know, I know, bad Trisha. Specifically, Leslie argues that students need to be in the zone of proximal learning in order to spark curiosity: you need to be right at that intersection of knowledge and lack of knowledge. In other words, they need some background knowledge, some place to start from, in order to learn the new information. Sometimes, according to Leslie, a lack of curiosity is explained by a lack of knowledge.
The second section of the book moves into the ages of curiosity through to curiosity as subversive, and there is a special section on the importance of literature which – clearly – excited me. One quote in particular stood out to me: “Only fiction has the power to cross the mental barricades, to make strangers intelligible to each other, because it moves people’s hearts as well as minds” (Leslie 67). While I believe non-fiction does have the ability to do this as well, I still take Leslie’s point to heart. And I plan on using this quote in my syllabus this Fall for Intro to Lit.
In the third section, Leslie focused on ways to stay curious, providing 7 specific steps people can take in order to maintain a high level of curiosity. My favorite of these is to stay foolish. The book tackles this problem in section 2, but one of the reasons students don’t display curiosity in class – as evidenced by questioning – is their fear of looking stupid and/or their fear of looking smart. Ridiculous right? I think the advice to stay foolish needs to move to the idea of allowing yourself to be foolish when it comes to students.
I have really just scratched the surface of the book here, so I recommend reading it on your own sometime whether you are a teacher yourself or just interested in curiosity.