Intellectual Curiosity – Digesting The Digital Diet
Being curious enough to ask the right questions of our 21st century digital world is more important than ever. Having a limitless diet of information at our fingertips is all very well, but it brings with it the potential hazard of consuming media like junk food; unhealthy and lacking in nutrition. How can we help young people to discern fact from fiction, real news from ‘fake news’ and understand how data can be manipulated, misreported and decontextualised? Schools must play a vital role in the development of their students’ intellectual curiosity and help them to learn the skills to question and challenge the ‘truths’ they come across every day.
Credible journalism and academic authority are now relatively loose concepts, as at the touch of a button, anyone can become a published authority on just about anything and, with a little bit of media savvy, make it readily accessible to the masses. School-aged students today have a smorgasbord of resources available to them that go well beyond the confines of the classroom, some less appetising than others and from very dubious origins. Where once we’d head to the library to feed our curious minds, students today can access an estimated 1.8 billion websites and data sources, everything from Buzzfeed and Wikipedia to viral social media content and YouTube “how to” videos; the options are endless. School will always be the most fundamental part of the learning journey, teaching students not only ‘how and what to learn’ but crucially, providing a toolkit of skills with which to properly navigate and digest an increasingly broad diet of information. But how do we develop those skills?
Encouraging inquisitive, innovative thinking is absolutely key. Freeing our minds from the confines of the everyday is one of the best ways to explore intellectual horizons. School initiatives which actually step outside the academic curriculum are essential if we are to stimulate the most expansive and fertile thinking. Indulging curiosities and learning cool and intriguing stuff just for the fun of it, is valuable in itself. It’s the mind-bending, seemingly unanswerable questions like “where in the brain is the self” that really get the synapses firing.
As one of the most curious intellectuals, Albert Einstein advised over half a century ago “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing”. Einstein’s advice is as relevant today as it was then. Students need to be creative, inquisitive thinkers; problem-solvers, able to keep afloat in the rough seas of digital media, and unafraid to tackle and examine the ‘truths’ that pervade all of our lives. These are the qualities that will give our children the edge to succeed in their future learning, to have real appetite for the lessons life has to offer, and the confidence to consume boldly but with caution.
Suzie Longstaff, Headmistress, Putney High School
This article first appeared in The Huffington Post, 9 November 2017