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Professor's Prologue

Bill Bryson: An Author with Intense Curiosity

By Robyn Meadows, vice dean and professor of law for Widener University's School of Law in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

What do quantum mechanics, Babe Ruth, Australia, Shakespeare, English grammar and the nearby Appalachian Trail have in common? Bill Bryson. Bryson has tackled these topics and more as an author. His curiosity coupled with a keen observational sense and, let's face it, an incredible sense of humor tie his eclectic list of books together and are the reason readers anxiously await his next release.

People are innately curious, and interesting people are intensely curious; they're curious about science, history, literature, religion, people, sports, art and everything else that contributes to the base of human knowledge and culture. Curiosity moves the human race forward. It can build bridges between communities and cultures. It spurs scientific discoveries, technological innovation, medical breakthroughs, artistic creations and cultural advancement. From Plutarch to Walt Disney, Samuel Johnson to Eleanor Roosevelt, Oscar Wilde to Einstein, these great and interesting people recognized the importance of a curious mind and the continuing pursuit of knowledge to advance the intellectual growth of an individual and the human race.

Children are born curious. Their penchant for getting into trouble and almost killing themselves as they learn about their world amply demonstrates this (see Bryson's The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid for examples). Curiosity is the primary learning tool for children. They question incessantly, mimic those around them, explore with reckless abandon, and regularly test Newton's scientific laws (the Universal Law of Gravitation being one of their most popular test subjects). Unfortunately, as they grow into adulthood, they often lose that natural curiosity, be it through their hard-wired survival instinct or the influence of cultural acceptance norms. Yet it's that human proclivity to be curious that is precisely what our world needs to solve the myriad of problems it faces. We need more individuals who are willing to test the boundaries of accepted wisdom and to seek out the unknown to continue the betterment of the human condition and, even more importantly, to save the planet.

Sparking the curiosity in others is what drives not only authors, but the best teachers and universities as well. William Arthur Ward once said, "The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires." As teachers and professors, we strive to nurture our students' natural curiosity, instill a desire and aptitude for lifelong learning and inspire a passion for helping others and the world A formal university education should not and does not "strangle" curiosity, as bemoaned by Einstein, but must "awaken the natural curiosity" in a student's mind, as extolled by Anatole France. For any professor or university, this is the legacy to leave. With this shared commitment to stimulating curiosity, it is fitting that Widener University is hosting the curious mind of Bill Bryson for the first installment of the Philadelphia Speakers Series. Unlike his less-than-memorable time on the Pennsylvania leg of the Appalachian Trail (A Walk in the Woods), here's hoping that this visit leaves him with a "good word to say" about Philadelphia and Widener.

Robyn Meadows is Vice Dean and Professor of Law at Widener's Harrisburg campus. Professor Meadows received a B.A. from Michigan State University in 1979, a J.D. from University of Louisville School of Law in 1983 and an LL.M. from Temple University School of Law in 1991, where she was an Hon. Abraham L. Freedman Teaching Fellow. Vice Dean Meadows practiced civil litigation in Florida and was a partner in a litigation firm from 1986-1990.. E-mail Robyn at rlmeado@wswidener.edu.