Letter From Ed: November, 2015
Recently I received an advertisement to continue my online subscription to the New York Times. The catch phrase of the ad was, “Where will your curiosity lead you?” which sparked all kinds of interesting thoughts. As I’m sure you know, one of the leading character traits of successful business and institutional leadership is curiosity. If this is a common thread for success, then why is it so, and how do we promote and support it?
These questions make for lively conversation, and for the garnering of many points of view, one not any one more right than another. Curiosity manifests itself in numerous ways, the expression being varied but the result is always the same – creativity, exploration, failure, invention and resiliency.
In education, the curious mind is fostered by having teachers effectively provide opportunities for students to manipulate and “play with” complex (but appropriate), academic concepts in ways that stretch their thinking, challenge their assumptions, and deepen their conceptual understanding of academic material, while supporting and promoting curiosity and exploration. The blending of the concrete and abstract, the application of knowledge to an ever- expanding spiral of possibilities, and having students try things — without a fear of failure — that is education. It is without boundaries, without limits, and without time constraints. Our faculty embrace this concept. They are masters of making the complex simple and attainable while still showing progress and accountability.
At the recent Fall Mingle, I was engaged in an interesting conversation about testing, and the value and frequency of standardized testing in schools. Does testing generate curiosity, does it encourage creativity, and does it help promote resiliency? Standardized, bubble tests are an easy way to gather information, but is the information accurate, and is it valuable in predicting the success of individuals? Does it measure ones understanding and retention of key concepts and material?
As an example, at the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey, students are given final exams at the end of each term. To test the retention of material, school officials re-administered the final exams, three months later to the same students. Students who had previously done extremely well on the exam, could not pass the exams when re-administered. What is this telling us? Would students have been better off engaging in projects and experiences that had meaning to them, with outcomes that helped solve problems and applications that could be tweaked and replicated?
A Time magazine article I read over Fall Break addressed a similar theme, the reduced emphasis on SAT and ACT scores in the college admissions process, and connected the measurement of future success to something more meaningful than a multiple choice test . There are currently over 800 colleges and universities that no longer require the submission of test scores as part of the admissions package. Schools such as American, Mount Holyoke, Smith, Wake Forest, and Union, to name a few. Their focus has changed from test scores to “What does a unique high school academic program look like, and what qualities does a student need to be successful?” MIT (currently ranked number one in the US News and World Reports College Ranking), as an example, has started asking applicants to submit a video or evidence of their creativity, as a way of assessing their curiosity and thus a predictor of their ultimate success in their programs.
As colleges de-emphasize tests scores for applicants, they are turning to research showing that a student’s potential relies on more than cognition. Traits such as optimism, curiosity, and resilience may actually play a stronger role in determining a student’s long-term success. It is really one’s ability to sustain interest in and effort towards long-term goals that predicts success over and beyond conventional measures of talent.
While these thoughts and trends implant themselves in the ranks of college admissions, it is comforting to know that schools such as ours have been cultivating these traits in students from the beginning of their elementary school experience. Those less tangible qualities such as intellectual curiosity, thoughtfulness, leadership, civic engagement, and social consciousness form the backbone of an elementary and secondary education, something I value and believe will form the genesis for our next generation of leaders, disruptors, and innovators.