At birth we are blessed with a natural curiosity. There is a great wildness in it. A shaft of sunlight illuminates a world of dust and delicate objects floating in air, as if by magic. A child who catches a glimpse of this will stop whatever it’s doing and begin to explore what it sees. We are called to learn.
Our natural curiosity is like a wild animal; it hunts where it needs to in order to satisfy its deep hunger. As children, we awaken each day with an insatiable appetite to learn. It is in our early years that we are “wolves of learning”. There is a deep, DNA-based, natural connection between learning and survival; call it the burning relevance of the empty stomach.
Over the centuries, as we have institutionalized learning, we have taken something precious from our children, our young “wolves of learning”; and from ourselves. The wildness of our natural curiosity has been tamed, domesticated, and subdued.
We have done this by giving our children virtually no control over their education, little responsibility for their learning and whatever natural curiosity they have has been replaced with a structured curriculum. We reward them for following directions and doing what they are told and reprimand them if they wander too far from our agenda. Since it is our agenda and not theirs, they put minimum effort, if any effort at all, into what we ask them to do. They are in compliance mode. Compliance produces the lowest level of effort. Fear of retribution becomes the prime motivator rather than the excitement of learning.
We have trained them to expect to be fed without going on the hunt. Like domesticated pets, we offer them bland processed learning laid out in prescribed amounts at certain times of the day. We decide what they are fed, how much, and when. They rarely experience learning by their own wits, their natural curiosity, or even serendipity. They will not gorge on learning and fight over the scraps until their bellies are full.
We have so successfully domesticated our students that they are likely to rebel when they are asked to use the natural gifts for learning with which they were born. It’s as if we were trying to release a pet house dog into the wilderness, the odds of survival would be small. Within hours the dog would be back in front of the door, begging to have its master serve its dinner to it in a dish.
Let us find ways to give our children back their birthright, their natural curiosity and facility to learn. There have to be ways that we can organize our learning institutions to accommodate individual curiosity and the standardized curriculum. I believe that thoughtful educators can create environments that are less restrictive and provide much more natural habitat for learning. Let us find ways to foster the wildness and thrill of learning again. Let us answer the “Call of the Wild”.