The Hungry Mind
Why I picked it up: My work has helped me understand how vital curiosity is to individual life outcomes, from the practical (employment, etc.) to the prosocial (tolerance, inclusive, understanding). Curiosity is also something that museums, as well as other sources of informal learning, are good at sparking and cultivating.
Study after study shows that visiting museums tends to be an "inherited" trait, with parents who visit museums tending to raise children who are also museum-goers. But is curiosity also "inherited?" We know that a curious childhood tends to lead to a curious adulthood, but public schooling doesn't always nurture curiosity. When that desire to learn is missing, learning is far more difficult. Additionally, curiosity is an expensive, resource-intensive thing to cultivate. How can we raise new generations of curious children if curiosity isn't actually nurtured for many (most?) children?
This book examines the origins of curiosity in childhood, and I want to see where I find agreement as well as new ideas to consider and test.
What you need to know:
My issue with the book: While I felt this was a solid introduction to curiosity in children, there was one big issue I had with it: there was no mention that curiosity isn't equitable.
Engel didn't go into the social justice issues of curiosity at all, but falls into a common, but incorrect, assumption that curiosity is free and risk-free. It isn't. It takes a ton of resources to cultivate curiosity, and those resources (financial, time, energy, know-how, etc.) are not necessarily available in all, or even most, households. How do we, as a society, truly make curiosity free and accessible?
Additionally, what happens when curiosity is misunderstood, shut down, or even punished, making it too risky to express? I've come across some references that suggest the ways African American children sometimes express curiosity are often misinterpreted by white teachers as troublesome or distracting, and the curiosity is thus shut down (or even punished). We should also consider what happens if the pursuit of curiosity by a child (or adult) of color is perceived as threatening to whites (it shouldn't be, but we don't live in an ideal world). In these cases, we have a serious equity issue. (Note - the idea that curiosity is too risky for some children is a newer consideration I am just beginning to learn about and I need to do my own literature review on it. *Head slap moment.*)
Bottom line, she didn't acknowledge that the pursuit of curiosity is a privilege of the haves.
Read or skip? If you are looking for an intro book on curiosity in children, this is a good choice, and there was general agreement with previous research on curiosity. Otherwise, no need to pick up. I personally did not find new ideas to consider or test (though this does not take away from it being a good primer.)
Full citation: Engel, Susan. The Hungry Mind: The Origins of Curiosity in Childhood. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015.
Have a suggestion for my reading list? Email it to me at susie (at) wilkeningconsulting (dot) com.
I respectfully acknowledge that I live and work on the lands of the Duwamish people, whose ancestors have lived here for generations. I thank them for their ongoing care of this land, and I endeavor to help museums bring forward a more complete and inclusive history and culture in their work.