Inquisitive to a Fault

John Barell

School districts throughout the country are struggling with the effects of the worst recession since 1929. The severe economic down-turn has resulted in teacher lay-offs, reduced budget allocations and elimination of programs across the country. These harsh economic conditions might have been avoided if our leaders had heeded the admonition of Dr. Sally K. Ride, America’s first woman astronaut, after her investigations of the Columbia Shuttle disaster in 2003. She advised that “One of the requirements of a NASA manager is to be inquisitive to a fault. You must ask and ask and ask.”

My adventures since leaving Montclair State University have been to work with teachers, administrators, parents and students to foster a culture of inquiry within all classrooms, working with curriculum and instructional practices to afford all students the opportunity to ask good questions, conduct purposeful investigations, think critically about findings and reach reasonable conclusions.

We identify complex problematic situations within all curricula that challenge students to do what comes so naturally, to become intrigued, curious and make learning more meaningful at all levels. We’re giving students “voice and choice,” thereby enhancing their engagement in the classroom.

We will surely need those who follow the words of wisdom of Sheindel Rabi, mother of the 1944 Nobel Prize winner in Physics, Isidore I. Rabi. Everyday Rabi came home from school as a young student she would not ask, “So, did you learn anything today?” No, she asked “Izzy, did you ask a good question, today?” That difference, asking good questions, led to his becoming a world renowned atomic physicist.

The inquisitive person is the one who identifies intriguing, puzzling and perplexing situations and raises rude questions; she challenges the common wisdom and asks “What if. . ?” about future consequences of current innovations and trends. Just imagine if all those folks in power during the housing bubble had followed the advice given to Isidore I. Rabi to “ask a good question, today!”

Imagine the not-so-quiet revolutions that can occur, virtually cost free, if parents, teachers and administrators challenge all students to be “inquisitive to a fault.”

The world awaits.


John Barell, Curriculum & Teaching,