Category Archives: what other people say

Day 288 – Retroactive Inquiry

Looking back at my post from yesterday, I’d like to say that I really don’t see curiosity as being mutually exclusive to critical thinking skills, although my post (written in a hot and crowded room when I was in a bad mood) could be interpreted that way. After all, as Walter Kotschnig said, “Keep your minds open but not so open that your brains fall out.”

This morning, in a cooler, quieter place, it struck me that the idea that managers earn and deserve their tens of million in compensation could be a good point to practice Inquiry on. Some possible questions:

Data selection step

  • What cases are you thinking of?
  • What criteria for determining compensation are you using?
  • How do you see the job, skill set, contribution, etc., of top managers?
  • What are you comparing their responsibilities to?

Adding meanings step

  • What do you think happens when those amounts of compensation are not paid?
  • How do you see the connection between the skill set and so on and the amounts paid?

Drawing conclusions step

  • What do people get paid for? or Why do companies pay salaries?

Taking action step

  • How can we establish appropriate pay scales, in your opinion?
  • What systems can we set up to make that work?


With special thanks to Quote Investigator for the original source of that quotation:  I thought erroneously that it was from Carl Sagan.

Day 271 – The journey is more important than the arrival

Michel de Montaigne said (and this I remember because it was the topic of one of my college application essays) that the journey is more important than the arrival. Luckily,  we managed to achieve both yesterday.

I was out walking with a friend and my dog along a trail we had not been on for a number of years and never very often and we simply explored. It was an exquisite day (although it did get a bit hot towards the end) and a beautiful place and so we walked without worrying too much about where we were going and how we were going to get there. It was incredibly relaxing and fun.

That may not have been exactly what Montaigne meant, but it worked for us.

Day 224 – Trying not to kill curiosity in our schools

I have to confess I was a little stuck today. I wasn’t sure what to write about so I went to YouTube and searched for “curiosity”. The first couple of pages were full of stuff about NASA and Mars. I didn’t really want to get into that today, so then I searched for “curiosity lecture” and came to “The Hungry Mind: The Origins of Curiosity” by Susan Engel, a psychology professor at Williams College. Since part of my work is teaching in the classroom (groups a bit older, though, than the kindergarteners and 5th graders she studied), I thought that would be useful and could be interesting.

Some points I took away from her 20-minute talk:

  • Before they go to school, children ask between 25 and 50 questions per hour about how things work. Once they get to school, that number drops to about two per hour.
  • In studying why this is, Engel and her assistants came to the conclusion that teachers feel so much pressure (presumably from the education system) to solve certain kinds of problems that they don’t feel they can allow children to deviate from the given task.
  • In situations in the lab where teachers and pupils being studied were told to “Have fun learning about science” they were much more likely to go off track and explore, exhibiting more curiosity (and creating more chances for real discovery) than groups told to “Have fun filling out the worksheet”.
  • Clearly, teachers’ behaviors matter to how much curiosity is lived in a classroom.

I believe that not only children, as Engel says, “… learn best when they’re trying to get the answer to their own question ….” I also learn better that way. In fact, as I have gotten older I have become far more resistant to learning what other people think I should, when they think I should. I want to follow my own topics in my own way. Sometimes, like schoolchildren, however, I do need to read up on something assigned. Recently, for example, I was expected to read up on a company, their history, organizational structure, and product lines, before running a workshop for them. Of course it makes perfect sense that I should know something about that if I’m working for them, but it was a real slog–slow and requiring a lot of discipline.

Question to be answered (maybe) later: Is there a way to develop curiosity intentionally about things we need to learn to make learning them more interesting (a balance of exploring and ending up where we should)? If there is, how could we develop or  foster that?

Day 218 – Existential curiosity, long time no see

Existential curiosity is in some ways the hardest for me to practice. I can’t help being aware of the fact that John O’Donohue (the author of the river quotation) was a priest. His job was to put his life in the hands of God and follow, and the Catholic church presumably made sure he didn’t go hungry. I have a different role. But I have nonetheless been practicing  a certain level of  existential or river curiosity. I have been working a piece at a time on what I wish to offer professionally, letting ideas come and also go. It’s not easy, because I would like to have some answers and a direction to start moving in, but it seems to be working and it seems to be delivering worthwhile results. So I continue to sit in my boat on the river, not the river itself but letting myself be carried along by the currents as its course unfolds.