During his early years, Albert Einstein was not considered particularly bright. In fact, he was a late reader. As a young student his teachers saw little in him that previewed his brilliant future. Yet, he grew into one of the most important scientific thinkers of his time, or any time.
We encounter students every day that might not be demonstrating special talent or intellectual potential. Yet, within them may reside the potential to make a difference for mankind. They may invent life changing cures for diseases, discover the secret to reversing climate change, or create a business that transforms trash into building materials and reduces our dependence on limited natural resources. We cannot know or predict what the future holds for our learners.
Our challenge is to protect a full range of life options for our students and design opportunities for them to discover what their future could be. The crucial question for us is how to help today’s students build a path to their best future.
Interestingly, Albert Einstein may have left for us a “blueprint” we can use to help meet this challenge. The answer resides in three Einstein quotes about himself and learning:
- “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.”
- “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”
- “Study is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.”
The first quote addresses a common perception of Albert Einstein that he did not share. We think of Einstein as a brilliant man with amazing talents. Yet, that is not how he saw himself. He believed that what set him apart was his curiosity and passion and persistence to understand, not his intellect. We know that curiosity is a powerful force for learning. In fact, without it, little important and lasting learning is likely to occur. If we hope to preserve a limitless future for our students, we need to do all that we can to stimulate, nurture, and preserve their curiosity.
The second quote expands on the idea of curiosity by placing it in action. The more curious we are, the more we feed the potential of our imagination. The more we explore and engage the world around us, the more we can imagine what might be possible and how we might make our lives and the world different and better. Equally important, this idea embraces the limitless possibilities of the imagination. We may find that our learners are limited by what we know right now, but they do not have to be limited in what they think, hope, and create. After all, curiosity and imagination can be the fuel that drives the pursuit of knowledge to make what is imagined real. We may think that imagination is frivolous and even a waste of time, but most of the greatest inventions and advancements in our society originated in someone’s imagination.
The third quote invites us to think about how we ask students to engage in the process of learning. The idea that study should be in pursuit of learning how to think counters much of traditional instructional practice. We used to think that education was the transfer of knowledge from adults to the minds of young people. Einstein reminds us that teaching students to think opens the door to tapping their curiosity and imagination as sources of thought, reflection, and insight.
Einstein urges us to think about our work as lighting a fire in the minds of students, rather than attempting to fill an empty vessel. He suggests that we choose to be curiosity igniters, talent scouts and imagination developers.
Imagine how these ideas as daily drivers of our attention and efforts can transform the experience of students and provide energy and satisfaction to our work. They can transform our relationships with learners and make learning irresistibly interesting and purposeful.