When I was five years old, I took cat testicles to my kindergarten classroom for Show-and-Tell (remember Show-and-Tell, version 1.0?? Now it’s called “Facebook”). I brought them in an orange Tupperware that my parents happily supplied, and in some solution that kept them in their (almost) original shape and form. Looking back now, I can clearly see the giant thought bubbles popping out of my beloved kindergarten teacher’s head as I confidently shared the story and knowledge I had regarding said testicles (removed from my big gray cat at home, on the piano bench, by our family veterinarian). The thought bubbles screamed, mostly unintelligible, with a few question marks here and there, but bless her head—she let me share. And she let the other kids ask questions. And she defended me (and her choice) to any other parents who may have questioned why their kid came directly home and asked about feline balls. And thus, curiosity and an insatiable thirst for knowledge was protected, nurtured and encouraged to grow.

Growing up on a farm, I had the magnitude and minutiae of the world at my fingertips. Birth and death and everything in between surrounded me and I was encouraged to ask questions about all of it. When a teachers’ strike closed down my elementary school for three weeks one winter, my mother carried on with lessons at home, based in the constantly changing flow of activity on the farm: weighing chicks, counting elements in pond samples and writing about observations in the fields and trees. There was always space for learning, space for expansion, space to be awed by even the most mundane.

As I’ve grown up and moved through an undergraduate program in English, several jobs that held various levels of inspiration, travel and study abroad, a Master’s degree in counseling and the most recent expansion into being a parent and professional in higher education, I’ve learned that the space to be curious is not confined to the lucky and charmed experiences in my childhood. Sometimes, curiosity is met with fear by others: skepticism, sarcasm, even avoidance and hatred, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t the most crucial of necessities in so many ways. To be a lifelong learner—someone who is active and engaged in seeking out new knowledge and experiences and sharing those with his or her community and world, is to be a contributor and uniquely influential. It allows for adaptability and the ability to adjust when the currents change. It allows for one person to recognize another person’s passion and uniqueness and to step in to help those grow—either by asking the right questions, saying the right thing, or by simply stepping back and letting a kid share with the world what she finds to be most fascinating.

As a person currently involved in higher education, I recognize the emphasis placed on managing a schedule and meeting structured expectations, in class, work, sports, clubs, and beyond. The expectations are important—focus on grades, achievements, and meeting or exceeding standards in your education and career. But don’t forget, in your pursuit of answering all the necessary questions, to ask some questions of your own. Be curious, even about the day-to-day, and share what you learn so others can be excited with you. In fact, in recent research on career “success”, as published in Perspectives of Psychological Sciences,  it was found that curiosity (along with conscientiousness) is a much better predictor of success and achievement in academics and career than your level of intelligence! So, learn simply for the sake of learning, and you will be surprised at how far you might go.

Oh, and if your kid ever wants to take testicles to school, my advice to you is: let her. Just make sure you know which Tupperware she used before packing lunch the next day . . .

Posted by Malia Arenth, Career Services Career Counselor

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2 thoughts on “Curiosity and the Cat: Being a Lifelong Learner

  1. Wonderful and encouraging article. I did not grow up in an environment that fostered curiosity and in fact had my curiosity crushed on many occasions when attempting to express creativity in school. I still remember the sting of my kindergarten teacher telling me I was using the WRONG COLOR on an element of a coloring sheet and making me change crayons; I am now 60 years old.

    My children are the kind of kids who would have taken testicles to school had they gone to school, and I’d have been thrilled to let them. We taught them at home. The kids were blessed with a very creative and curious dad, and together we managed to raise kids who are the same.

    Two of my kids are recent OSU grads, as are two “kids-in-law”. One more child will graduate this year, and I am blessed after a long absence to return to university (also OSU though that’s not where I started) and pick up where I left off 37 years ago.

    I am thankful for you and all those like you who contribute so much positive energy to the learning environment at OSU.

  2. Thank you so much for your comment! I admire the multiple educational roles it seems you and your kids’ father have fostered in your family: education at home, university level, and now being on what is still (surprisingly) considered to be a “non-traditional route” of returning to higher education after a long period of absence. I hope that you find you are met with more openness and flexibility when you are asking questions and “choosing your crayon” (so to speak) now and in the future. And congratulations on all the recent and soon-to-be graduations!

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