Who Killed the Curiosity? : Wherein We Meet Johnny

The librarian noticed the sullen dark-haired first-grader still wandering the shelves minutes before the bell would sound.

“Johnny, can I help you find a book?”


“What do you want to read today?”


“What do you want to know more about?”


“What kinds of things do you do when you go home?”

“Play World of Warcraft.  That’s all I do.”

At this the librarian began to scratch her head, desperately thinking of items  in a primary school library that could compete with the excitement and strategy of killing your mortal enemy.  She was, also, biting her tongue to suppress her instinctive disapproval at the development of blood-lust in 6-year-olds.

“Is there anything you have been learning about at school that interests you?”

“Once there was a book about this cool car, a Lamborghini.”

“Hmm… I believe that one is out right now, but the Maserati book was returned today”

One look inside and Johnny was smiling.  It was a good moment.  Johnny didn’t smile much at school.

Johnny is a real student (name changed of course)  He really does play adult video games with his mother in the evenings.  This is his passion.  He is not interested in school and does not find joy in learning things that will be tested on the state-mandated skills tests in a couple of years.   He is very familiar with the principal’s office.

There are a lot of “Johnnys.”  Even in the lower grades, students do not necessarily come to school bursting with the stereotypical innocent joy and curiosity of early childhood.   Exposure to adult themes in our changing society, busy parents with no time to indulge the passions of childhood and the deprivations of poverty are some of the factors that shape young minds before they come into our classrooms.

As educators, we often teach lessons as we would have liked them when we were young.   We try to sugar-coat learning with duckies and bunnies and plan themes around happy holidays.   We plan educational experiences around who we wish our children were and not who they are.  Johnny is not a “duckie and bunny” sort of child.

A couple of days before Johnny wandered into the library this week,  I had the privilege of participating in a Twitter discussion with the title #learningdispositions .    A number of educators were determining  strategies for teaching children the learning attitudes and skills to enable them to be successful 21st Century learners.  As the discussion progressed, joy, passion and curiosity became focal points.  Several participants were concerned that externally motivated compliance and “playing school” with meaningless assignments took away the joy, passion and curiosity of students. Others pointed out how authentic project-based learning with choices provided for more engaged learners.

My question is how do we apply this to Johnny?    How do we help Johnny find the joy of learning as Pam Moran describes it in her post If Reading’s Not the Goal, Could It Be Joy? .  Is there a Johnny you can reach out to this week?  Perhaps you can find a way to mentor a student the way  Paula White took time to encourage the passion for technology in  her 5th grade student in Passionate Learning.  When the days are long and stressful this week, will we be modeling our joy, passion and curiosity for our students?