You're listening to the Still Curious Podcast with me, Danu Poyner. No guests today, we're six months and 15 episodes into the show, so I thought I'd do a solo episode and try to theorize a little based on what I've learned so far.
When I started this podcast, I had a question in mind. If we all start off with a sense of curiosity, what happens to it as we get older? Why do some people still have their curiosity intact while for most of us it tends to wear off, get chipped away or otherwise ground down. And what is it about those people who are still curious that make them my favorite kind of people to be around? I was particularly interested in the connection between curiosity and learning, because for many curious people, learning seems to be a kind of superpower. It may even be that curiosity itself simply is a love of learning.
In the earlier episodes of the podcast, I tended to talk about curiosity in an abstract way with my guests. I've since backed away from that direct approach. I found it's more interesting and illuminating instead to ask people about the ways they're led through life by their interests, how they like to learn and the moments that led them to changing paths in life.
That's because the concept of curiosity doesn't resonate with everyone. Even necessarily with those I would consider to be curious people. For For some, it seems to have an idle, leisure class quality to it. Something that's only available to people with lots of spare time and isn't necessarily productive. In other words, to some people, the word curiosity can smack of a kind of privilege only available to people with too much time on their hands, or those who, if life were a classroom, had only ever sat in the front row.
So there are some for whom curiosity expresses itself through action, doing and tinkering. Being interested in things and then quickly finding out about them and absorbing them, making them part of their repertoire, but who hesitate to designate themselves as part of a category called 'curious', perhaps either because they don't feel like they belong in the same group of people who are stereotypically curious, or more tellingly, perhaps because they don't want to be mistaken for that kind of person.
Front row and back row are interesting, and I think useful, categories. Like all social theories that divide the world into two kinds of people, it oversimplifies things, but the point of oversimplifying things so bluntly is precisely to draw our attention to something we might otherwise fail to see. For Chris Arnade, a former Wall Street trader and physicist at John Hopkins University, what we risk failing to see is that when front row people end up talking only to each other about how to make sense of the world and design the societies we live in, a lot of people get left behind and made invisible.
Arnade has a book called 'Dignity: seeking respect in back row America'.
I suppose I mentioned this because school and school-based institutions have so much to do with this topic. Not for the learning itself but because of the habits of mind, these institutions form, the discipline they set. the social status they confer, and the resulting way they sort people, opening doors for some and shutting the gates on others.
In other words, in institutionalized education, what ends up becoming most important is the institutional part. Most schooling isn't ultimately about the learning. It's all about being able to pass tests. And what's at stake isn't your learning or understanding so much as whether or not you're considered fit to be admitted entry into an in-group.