Developing More Curious Minds

Developing More Curious Minds

Developing More Curious Minds

Developing More Curious Minds


After the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, many people questioned why no one had anticipated the terrorists' acts, even when events and intelligence seemed to point toward them. John Barell wonders if the attacks speak to a greater societal problem of complacency. He believes many students have become too passive in their learning, accepting information and "facts" as presented in textbooks, classes, and the media.

Drawing on anecdotes from educators and his own life, Barell describes practical strategies to spur students' ability and willingness to pose and answer their own questions. Antarctica expeditions, outer space discoveries, dinosaur fossils, literature, and more help define the importance of developing an inquisitive mind, using such practices as

• Maintaining journals on field trips,

• Using questioning frames and models when reading texts,

• Engaging in critical thinking and problem-based learning, and

• Integrating inquiry into curriculum development and the classroom culture.

To become habits of mind, students' daily curiosities must be nurtured and supported. Barell draws a vivid map to guide readers to "an intelligent revolution" in which schools can become places where educators and students imagine and work together to become active citizens in their society.


The primary skills “learned in college” should be analytical skills of
interpretation and inquiry. In other words, know how to frame a
question. How do you evaluate the safety record of an airline? How
do you evaluate the risk when you smoke? … In this is also the
capacity for intelligent empathy, the ability to understand the other
side even when you may not share it. You should not be dependent
on the sources of information, either provided by the government
or by the media, but have an independent capacity to ask questions
and evaluate answers.


The ability to pose good questions when we are confronted with complex situations contributes to our growing up to living our lives to their fullest potential. We cannot, however, wait until our students become freshmen in college. We need to cultivate their curiosities within the curricula from the first day of kindergarten through their graduation from high school.

Why is this even more important now?

Because of the terrible events of September 11, 2001.

For weeks following that day of infamy I was consumed with the question: “How could this have happened?” Some said we could have predicted the horrific attacks. Certainly, we had warnings, such as the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000 and the bombings of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and the World Trade Center in 1993. Terrorists had left their calling cards across Europe and at home. But our leadership did not rouse us to national awareness.

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