First published in Teacher Plus, Jan 2024

Helping children become literate and numerate and building a robust conceptual foundation in various subjects are the main goals of education. While these aims should continue to be emphasized, a comprehensive education also needs to address other facets. In this column, I will explore seven skills or dispositions that are essential for children to cultivate, so that they grow into well-rounded human beings. The 7 Cs, as I call them, include curiosity, compassion, creativity, communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and constructive feedback. Every other month, I hope to explore and examine the relevance of each one of them to education

F or this issue, we start with an intriguing feature of the human condition that has been construed as a behaviour, trait, or drive. I hope your curiosity has been sufficiently piqued to examine curiosity deeply and holistically. In their book, Curious Minds, Perry Zurn and Dani Bassett, a home- schooled pair of twins, describe their unconventional education where they were given complete license to study what they want, when, and how. The only diktat imposed by their mother, when it came to their education was “to love earning”.

Given the unusual latitude granted to them as learners, the twins sought knowledge, far and deep. Further, they also began questioning conventional gender norms that were strictly enforced by their parents, but by virtue of their digging and seeking, they “broke down walls, crossed boundaries, and scaled heights to become interdisciplinary scholars.” Perry Zurn is currently a professor of philosophy at American University while Dani Bassett is a professor of bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania

The twins posit a “new theory of curiosity,” wherein they conceptualize curiosity as a network of connections of “brain and body, system, and society.” While curiosity is generally perceived as “information-seeking,” Zurn and Bassett emphasize the relational aspect wherein connections are forged
among “systems of knowers, knowledge and things known.” Thus, they define curiosity as a “practice of
knowledge-network building.”

All networks are comprised of “nodes and edges” or fundamental units and connections. Traditionally, curiosity has been perceived as a drive or an impetus within an individual to seek or understand something. This conceptualization, which is still prevalent, puts individuals at the centre as they acquire various nodes or nuggets. In contrast, Zurn and Bassett exhort us to reimagine curiosity as being “collective and interconnective” rather than “individual, intellectual and acquisitional.” Where we’re motivated to find linkages and build bridges, fashioning a “new paradigm of curiosity as edgework”. And, in doing so, both the ‘knower’ and the “knowing community” are enriched.

The authors also point out that Western philosophy highlights “individual nodes of knowers and knowns,” Indigenous thought, and for that matter, Eastern philosophy, has always prized the interrelatedness of everything. Further, rather than viewing curiosity as a state or trait, we may view it as “more of a practice” ever-changing, but always part of a larger ecological network.

Curiosity is elemental to learning of any kind as it is a ‘process’ that can “lead us” to nuggets of truth. The truly curious also appreciate the uncertainties and vast unknowns that lie before us to be explored, within, across, and between disciplines. I think the term transdisciplinary would be apt to describe Zurn and Bassett’s approach to curiosity as they crisscross between neuroscience, psychology, philosophy, linguistics, and mathematics.
Further, Zurn and Bassett pinpoint three distinct styles of curiosity. The busybody wishes to know anything and everything,” whether at home, school, or work. Like butterflies, they flit from theme to theme, spinning a fairly vast knowledge web. They are also spurred by novelty and seek out the unfamiliar. Though their knowledge may be wide- ranging, it may not be deep. Typically, busybodies are open to new experiences and thrive on variety rather than penetrative understanding.

Hunters, on the other hand, may follow a single path with an almost unidimensional focus, studying the same object from multiple lenses. With dogged perseverance, they follow, observe, experiment, and analyze a topic in depth. Like real hunters, they too are attentive to the object of their hunt, picking up nuances that other people may not even notice. The deeply-researched networks of hunters are tightly woven.

In a study the researchers conducted on “knowledge network building” by observing users of Wikipedia,
they found that some people mimicked the behaviour of busybodies by surfing pages with only tangential connections. In contrast, the hunters pursued specific themes and toggled between pages that were “closely connected”.
The dancer’s identifying characteristic is their propensity to leap across conceptual spaces, fuelled by “creative imagination”. Instead of weaving tight webs like the hunter or a loose one like the busybody, the dancer may dismantle traditional networks, invent new concepts, and create radical shifts.

Thus, the busybody, hunter, and dancer navigate “conceptual and social space” differently, creating distinct knowledge webs. Though most people exhibit one style of curiosity in most instances, some people can effortlessly juggle between these three forms depending on the nature of the project they’re working on. Zurn and Bassett also add that there might be other forms of curiosity, waiting to be discovered.

Given this radical construal of curiosity, what can schools do to promote curiosity, where every kind of mind is driven to seek in its own ways? Zurn and Bassett argue that in our current mainstream systems
of schooling “social inequalities, ableism, and disciplinary silos build walls between learners, their potentialities, and communities”. Thus, we need to re-conceptualize learning and re-imagine learning
spaces so that all types of learners can thrive.

According to the authors, rather than asking if someone is curious, we may rephrase the question to find out what type(s) of curiosity they exhibit. Classrooms may support diverse pathways and styles of curiosity, as each type of mind forges unique, idiosyncratic connections. Providing “multidimensional and multisensory learning opportunities” can motivate a heterogenous cohort of learners, both neurotypical and otherwise, to flex their curiosity and add to the richness of our collective networks.

Moreover, we need to abandon the notion of learning as residing within an individual, taking in information. Instead, we may view learning as a collective process of building “ever-richer webs” of meaning and connection. Students may also be empowered to question, deeply and earnestly and not be afraid to shake and even reimagine the status quo. Zurn and Bassett aver that marginalized groups, whose needs haven’t been recognized by conventional schools, may question the “homogenization of learning environments”.

As curiosity is “socially curated,” schools may broaden the range and types of questions and practises that learners may explore to create more equitable learning environments that embrace the perspectives and needs of a diverse cohort of learners. Where art, music, dance, carpentry, gardening, political activism and meditation are as legitimate as literacy, numeracy, and scientific reasoning.

We may also encourage students to transcend disciplinary boundaries, especially if their curiosity leads them to explore divergent pathways and make conceptual leaps that transgress traditional epistemic
boundaries. We also need to allow for “greater individualization” in education where students can direct their learning based on their current interests and proclivities, while contributing to our collective knowledge networks.

By reimagining curiosity, we may allow children to flit, fly, or float as they both understand and deepen
our collective understanding.

(The writer is the author of Zero Limits: Things Every 20-Something Should Know & blogs at