Curiosity Begets Glory

They say one can be too curious. Don't go around poking your nose into things. Don't wonder about things above your pay grade. Stay in your lane. Do your job. Punch the clock. Do what is expected.

I suppose there is a time and place where each of these sentiments is wise and true. Somebody else's business is usually their business, and the Bible does warn against being busybodies. It also warns against trying to crawl into the mysterious mind of God. He's revealed more than we can grasp as it is. It's plenty, and it's quite enough.

Our problem in the world is not that we are too curious. It is that we aren't nearly curious enough. Essays abound lamenting that our society is full of mindless drones, with the constant, warm, illuminated backlight of our iPhones reflecting off our faces. I am by no means the first to notice that while the Internet has put all known information in the world at our fingertips, we are far less wise and intelligent than earlier generations. What does it profit a man to gain access to all knowledge, only to become a person without substance—a virtual person?

iPhones are a really great invention. So is streaming video. Video games take my breath away with the universes they open to the imagination. But they are a virtual reality that seems to have captured our attention far more than reality itself. Reality is a revelation of God, stunning in its beauty, diversity, wonder, color, texture, and sound. How much do we really notice?

I've been thinking about curiosity because this year my eldest daughter is attending school for the first time in her life, at age 15. After homeschooling through the first eight grades, we decided she needed the opportunities our local high school can offer her.

I confess to being a bit worried about it at first. Let me make this crystal clear: we are not the model homeschooling family. We are shockingly laissez faire, and often just incompetent. Oh, how many times have we thrown up our hands and exclaimed, "Let's just send them to school!" My kids are lazy, like most kids. They often lack discipline, motivation, and initiative. (I'm listening to Senator Ben Sasse's book, The Vanishing American Adult, and every page convicts me to my core.) Really, the kids are just mimicking their parents.

Did we teach our daughter enough? Then, thinking back, I wonder: did we teach her anything? What, exactly, did we do? Yes, she worked her way through some math textbooks, did a few classes in a local homeschool co-op. She did have a science tutor. But it seems like there are whole subjects that got treated lightly, if they got treated at all.

And then... okay, I'm being modest when I say this: she's thriving. I mean, thriving. She's had zero trouble, even with honors classes. Now, maybe that says more about the quality of public education in our community than our great schooling, but I don't actually think those are the relevant factors. I think there are two things that have made all the difference (so far).*

* That is a very big "so far." This sort of post is something I write with fear and trepidation. I don't believe in "jinxes," but there is something true in not "putting God to the test." There is no pat-myself-on-the-back pride going on here; just honest observations in the present moment.

1. She has not been institutionalized to hate school. I know we often rightly shrug off the complaints of kids. They have, shall we say, a vested interest in being unenthusiastic about learning? Because learning is hard. I moonlighted at a church youth group last year and asked the kids every week how school was going. 99% of them groaned and complained and said they hated school. Maybe we shouldn't write that off as kids just being contrarians. Maybe they, you know, hate school. And maybe, just maybe, the actual thing we call school has something to do with that. Years and years of time-consuming conformity in the entirely otherworldly petri dish where the only people you interact with are people your own age. Maybe there's something wrong with that kind of system, do you think? At any rate, my daughter's classmates are in their ninth year of this alternate reality; she's in her first. She hasn't been institutionalized to hate it. Yet.

2. Far more important, I believe, is that while our formal education perhaps fell short in some respects, she had an indispensable informal education. What she informally learned was to live a life of curiosity. 

This is why, looking back, I cannot really remember what, if anything, we happened to teach our daughter: because her real education—being curious about the world—was something ingrained in her way of life. It wasn't a "curriculum." A "class." There were no quizzes or tests. There was just a life of being curious, and a life of delighting in the amazing contributions and gifts of others. A life of books, music, literature, films, drama, poetry, theology, baseball, and much, much more. Dad reading aloud The Lord of the Rings trilogy and all seven Harry Potter novels (and talking endlessly together about the genius, beauty, plot, and characters of both). It was not a "program." For us, immersing ourselves in these things, talking and laughing about these things at the dinner table every single night is a way of life.

So she grew up being curious. To love discovering new things. That's all school is to her. A day divided into different "periods" in which she gets to learn new things about this incredible cosmos we inhabit. You cannot successfully tell kids to be curious. They have to be curious. Sure, occasionally someone in their teenage years has a "spark," a moment of time when a thirst for learning overwhelms them. Those are the moments school teachers are always searching for like they're searching for the Holy Grail. But it's fairly rare. Wouldn't it be better to grow up a curious person? 

Kids are naturally curious. How and why are we educating them out of it?

We are still works in progress, of course. I've got more kids to raise, and I'm sure I'm making our mundane day-to-day life sound much more romantic than it actually is. Trust me, there are lots of off days. But here's the thing: sometimes—maybe even often, in fact—it is romantic. Moments that delight the soul and spark our feeling and curiosity and imagination. 

You can stifle curiosity, and I think an overemphasis on formal and programmatic education can sometimes do just that. But you can also feed it real food. You can, along with your kids, absorb the great wide world God has made. Each and every calorie of knowledge and wisdom, truth, beauty, and goodness is turned into the muscle of character. Curiosity makes us people of substancePeople of weightiness. Or perhaps better is the biblical term for that concept: people of glory.

Brian Mattson