How curiosity impacts educational equity

LEE member Mary Kingston Roche recently gave a powerful TedX Talk about the impact of curiosity in our world. Mary is a mother, educator, advocate, entrepreneur, lifelong learner, and currently serves as the Senior Director of Policy for the Institute for Educational Leadership, a national nonprofit that aims to give everyone equal access to a great education and career and prepares leaders to change policies that advance these goals. Throughout her career, she has worked towards ensuring youth have access to a great education as a teacher, school board member, and volunteer with middle and high school youth. Read on to learn more about how Mary connects curiosity with educational equity.

How do you define curiosity? Why is it important for those who care about education equity to embrace it?

I like to define curiosity as a strong desire to understand and in turn, to connect.

It's important for those who care about education equity to embrace this definition because we can only truly address the deep systemic and structural inequities in education through a spirit and orientation of curiosity, including persistent questioning and listening, to understand the root causes of the issues communities face every day. 

Do you think there is a lack of curiosity in education policy spaces? If so, what do you think can remedy this?

I would invite all of us to reflect on our own curiosity, and assess how much we're nurturing it in ourselves, through being open-minded to new and different ideas and people, including those that challenge our thinking and proactively seeking out diverse perspectives and new experiences to broaden our worldview. I believe, as stewards of education policy that influence the quality of education children receive in our country, it is our responsibility to help create the conditions for curiosity in our friendships, work relationships, classrooms, and communities across our country. This means examining and addressing the ways that we unintentionally suppress curiosity in and beyond our schools, and investing in people, resources, and strategies to help our children's innate and powerful curiosity to flourish so they can identify and pursue what sparks their interest to become lifelong learners.  

What got you curious about curiosity? What makes you so invested in this topic? 

I got curious about curiosity by accident. I was feeling a little "stuck" personally and professionally in 2021, so I tried a lot of new things. I turned to books and signed up for a marathon. What was borne out of this was an idea of cultivating curiosity, and it combined all my experience, wisdom, and passion from different parts of my life–as a teacher, policy leader and advocate, and mother.

I realized, thinking about my collective experience, the sheer power of our innate curiosity not only for deeper learning, but also as a way to build community and bridge differences with one another, and yet how we as adults have been conditioned out of it, starting with our K-12 education system. As I began to read, reflect, and talk to people about it, I also discovered how much potential exists for us to reinvest in our curiosity, starting with our children to ensure they can pursue it in and beyond school, and in our communities to create "curious communities" as well as to use what I call "courageous curiosity" to bridge differences between us. 

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