from The Worldview Literacy Book   copyright 2009            back to worldview theme #30


     In the United Nations' "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" adopted in 1948, intellectual freedom is summarized as follows. "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions with-out interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers." You'd expect those who value "Intellectual Freedom" (theme #30), and see it as a basic human right, would also respect "Valuing Human Rights" (theme #32).  But not so fast! Besides this free inquiry aspect, there is another, equally important part to this theme: intellectual curiosity.

     Intellectual curiosity involves the desire to use one's intellectual and reasoning abilities in investigating, exploring, learning, and extending one's conceptual framework.  This attempt to make sense of the world begins in early childhood with recognizing patterns, similarities & differences, and building concepts.  Related concepts make up conceptual schemes, many of which fit together into a framework.  Parts of this intellectual structure may get torn down, rebuilt, and refined over many years—perhaps over a lifetime devoted to learning!  Children are naturally curious.  One wonders why so relatively few of them grow up and become intellectually curious adults who value learning?  In this regard we consider four things that dampen curiosity and hinder learning.

     First, educational systemsthat discourage children's questions (their wondering "what if?") and nix open-ended, hands-on, discovery type inquiry in favor of curricula structured around narrow objectives and related testsdampen curiosity and creative thinking.  Where student performance on standardized tests given by the state is critically important with respect to student advancement, school funding, and perhaps even teacher compensation, teachers may "teach to the test" and ignore everything else.  Many once eager to learn students grow up taking courses that are a) heavy on memorization of facts or performing rote tasks without deeper understanding,   b) lacking breadth and relevance, and c) do not teach critical thinking skills.  Teachers and administrators are not solely to blame: eventually students learn to narrowly focus on what they'll be tested on.  Many teachers of high school or college age students try to enrich courses but become discouraged by students who repeatedly ask, "Will this be on the test?"  Sadly, many college students' top priority is getting credit for courses, maintaining good grades, getting a degree and a job—instead of learning and intellectual exploration! 

     Second, along with too narrowly focusing on aspects within the cognitive learning domain, schools tend to ignore the affective domain, which relates to emotions associated with learning experiences.  Curricula which stress intellectual basics— reading, writing, and arithmetic—may do little to


promote students' emotional intelligence (Figure #18c).  This refers to the ability to 1) be aware of one's own emotions, 2) control those emotions, 3) sense, comprehend, and respond to other people's emotions, and 4) help another's emotions develop in the context of a relationship.  Some feel that EQ (emotional intelligence quotient) is as important as IQ in predicting a student's future success.  If emotions interfere, one's mind is not free to learn!

     Third, what students learn in churches or from religiously dogmatic parents sometimes destroys their motivation to fully explore aspects of biology, geology, and astronomy that involve evolution.  In some schools, evolution is simply not taught in high school biology classes given administrators' desires to avoid controversy and placate religious fundamentalist (see  theme #9A) parents.  Sadly, nearly 400 years after Galileo got into trouble with Church authorities for teaching the Earth orbits the Sun, in some places religious orthodoxy is still an obstacle to free inquiry!  Rather than being obstacles, parents can aid their children's full pursuit of intellectual freedom.  As James D. Moran describes it, "Adults can encourage creativity by emphasizing the generation and expression of ideas in a non-evaluative framework and by concentrating on both divergent and convergent thinking." (See Figures #30a and #30b.)  He adds they "can also try to ensure that children have the opportunity and confidence to take risks, challenge assumptions, and see things in a new way." 

     Fourth, there may be financial impediments to learning.  As students transition from high school to college, what education and access to information costs becomes an obstacle for many.  Between 1998—2008 tuition at American public universities increased an average of 4.2% / yr  (in constant dollars, adjusted for inflation, according to College Board). Where once outright grants benefited poorer students, today those who do survive and graduate find themselves saddled with massive loans to pay back.  Along with tuition, textbook and professional journal subscription costs have similarly soared.

     While those living in democratic societies and valuing intellectual freedom lament the existence of these four obstacles to intellectual pursuits, similar people living under authoritarian regimes (see theme #20B) have an even more troubling concern: censorship!  This involves restricting communication and access to information by altering, deleting, or suppressing it—typically for political or moral reasons.  Censorship seems oddly out of place, given that the Information Age is about making increasing quantities of information more easily accessible.  But if having too little information is a problem in authoritarian parts of the world, elsewhere, too much information can be a problem. It can produce a clutter that prevents people from picking out what's important!  In this regard, students can benefit from values articulation exercises and websites like project Worldview's!

Figure #30a:  Two Types of Thinking

Convergent Thinking

a person...

brings facts, information and procedures together and focuses, narrows in on finding the (typically) single correct solution

 highly applicable to math, science, and

engineering problems

Divergent Thinking

a person...

thinks out of the box,

broadening, expanding,

creative brainstorming in response to stimuli, triggers, or prompts

 more applicable in artistic pursuits, humanities or where there is no right way


Figure #30b:

Divergent Thinking / Creative Problem Solving




imagining, dreaming


a number

of new

ideas, creations,

products for consideration



searching diverse realms for

new ideas,





probing, questioning

curiosity to gain new insights








elaborating on, adding to

existing ideas, creations


taking intellectual risks, being bold, daring



adding new levels of complexity to conceptual




original thinking,

generating unique insights

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