Curiosity, Mindfulness & Education

Organizers: Asia Ferrin and Perry Zurn

This working group is a vibrant collective of faculty, graduate students, community leaders, and local educators. We aim to develop interdisciplinary research and public practice, at the intersection of curiosity and mindfulness, that can best enhance learning environments in the 21st century.

Events and Resources 

Motivating Questions and Ideas

In both historical scholarly work and contemporary empirical research, curiosity is often associated with distraction, anxiety, and ADHD—that is, mental states that are hyper-active, future-oriented, and somewhat disorganized. At the same time, in historical and contemporary practices of mindfulness, curiosity is often utilized as a tool for resolving states like distraction, anxiety, and ADHD. This raises interesting questions about the relationship between mindfulness and curiosity. Does curiosity inhibit mindfulness? Foster mindfulness? Does mindfulness enhance or diminish curiosity?

We posit that the connection between mindfulness and curiosity is in fact symbiotic. This working group seeks to further explore two concepts, which we call “mindful curiosity” and “curious mindfulness.” Not only is such conceptual clarification interesting and important in itself, but we believe these concepts can also be useful in educational, moral, and political contexts.

Meeting Times

Spring 2019

Feb 25th, 4-6pm, Humanities Lab

Mar 25th, 4-6pm, Humanities Lab

April 15th, 3:30-5:00pm, Letts Formal

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Fall 2018

Monday, September 24: 4-6pm, Humanities Lab

Thursday, October 25: 4-6pm, MGC 200

Monday, November 26: 4-6pm, Humanities Lab

Our first public lecture: From Cigarettes to Smartphones to Cupcakes: How mindfulness can hack the mind to move from craving to curiosity” by Dr. Judson Brewer

Click here for more details.


Asia Ferrin (Philosophy, American University)

Asia Ferrin is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at American University. Her primary research interests are in Moral Psychology, Feminist Philosophy, and Ethics. In her research, she pursues projects that help us better understand our moral selves and moral interactions with others. She explores questions about what makes people good or behave well, in addition to questions about what exactly it means to be a good person or act admirably. She is currently working on a book manuscript in which she argues that given the intelligence of automatic processing and the centrality of empathetic capacities in moral agency, we need new pedagogical frameworks for moral education and moral development. Her work intersects with normative philosophy and empirical psychology and cognitive science. Feel free to visit her professional website for more information about her teaching, research, and service.


Perry Zurn (Philosophy, American University)

Perry Zurn is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at American University. He researches in political philosophy, gender theory, and applied ethics. Zurn is the author of The Politics of Curiosity (University of Minnesota Press, under contract) and the co-author of Curious Minds (MIT Press, under contract). He is also the co-editor of Active Intolerance: Michel Foucault, the Prisons Information Group, and the Future of Abolition (2016), Carceral Notebooks 12 (2017), Curiosity Studies: Toward a New Ecology of Knowledge (forthcoming), and Intolerable: Writings from Michel Foucault and the Prisons Information Group, 1970-1980 (under contract). His work appears in Carceral Notebooks, Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, Journal of French and Francophone Philosophy, Modern and Contemporary France, philoSOPHIA, Radical Philosophy Review, and Zetesis. For more, see Zurn’s website.



Michael Benson (Elementary Teacher, Oyster-Adams Bilingual School)

Mr. Michael Benson has taught at Oyster-Adams for over 6 years, and teaches 2nd grade English at the primary campus. He loves working at Oyster because he gets to meet people from all over the world, of many cultures, and with varied backgrounds. Mr. Benson graduated from the University of Connecticut with a B.A. in Philosophy and earned his teaching credentials at the University of San Francisco. When he’s not teaching 2nd grade Mr. Benson enjoys reading, backpacking, and traveling.


Noel Bicknell (Elementary Teacher, The Lab School)

Noel Bicknell has worked as a special education teacher and training coordinator at The Lab School of Washington since 1999. He is an adjunct professor at the Corcoran College of Art and Design at George Washington University where he lectures on special education topics for future art teachers and museum educators. Noel holds a Master of Arts, Special Education: Learning Disabilities degree from American University. His Bachelor of Arts degree is from The Evergreen State College where he studied social science and visual arts. Noel’s divergent artistic interests include leading a jazz combo, throwing Asian-inspired pottery, and forging iron as a blacksmith. He is especially interested in how the arts inform the education of divergent learners.


Lynn Borton (Host of “Choose to be Curious” podcast, Arlington Independent Media)

Lynn Borton is a facilitator—of conversations and transformation—with more than 25 years of experience in strategic governance and change management in the non-profit sector.For nearly 25 years Lynn worked with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness – the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization), capped by a dozen years as chief operating officer. She has long focused on inclusiveinteractive and iterative approaches to support leaders in achieving personal and organizational goals. Lynn graduated from Yale with honors and a degree in Religious Studies and is proud member of Leadership Arlington Signature Program, class of 2014. Today, Lynn hosts a radio show on curiosity and is devoting her time and talents to getting people thinking and talking about curiosity.


Liam Carbutt (MA Student, Philosophy, American University)

Liam is currently a senior at American University in Washington, DC majoring in Philosophy. He is passionate about education and would like to be a high school teacher some day. In the past he has worked as a Teaching Fellow at Breakthrough Greater Boston where he taught literature to a class of seventh grade students, he has worked as an assistant special education teacher in an elementary school in Massachusetts, and he has tutored students of many different ages in the DC Reads program. He is also currently a teaching assistant for an introductory philosophy class at American University. Additionally, Liam has experience working with federal policy working as an intern at the Congressional Relations Office at the Peace Corps.


David Keplinger (Literature, American University)

David Keplinger is the author of five collections of poetry, most recently Another City (2018), The Most Natural Thing (2013) and The Prayers of Others (2006) , which won the Colorado Book Award. His first collection, The Rose Inside, was chosen by the poet Mary Oliver for the 1999 T.S. Eliot Prize. Professor Keplinger has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, held a residency in Denmark through the Danish Council on the Arts, and a two year Soros Foundation fellowship in the Czech Republic. In 2011 he produced By and By, an album of eleven songs based on the poetry of his great-great grandfather, a Civil War veteran. He has published poetry translations of Danish poet Carsten René Nielsen and  German poet Jan Wagner. His areas of interest include contemporary American poetry, European poetry and poetics in the twentieth century, poetic meter and form, creative writing pedagogy, translation and artistic collaboration, and the poetry of witness.


Elissa Margolin (Health Studies, American University)

Elissa Margolin is a full-time faculty member in the Department of Health Studies. For nearly a decade, she has worked in the service of some of the world’s poorest, providing technical direction, management, and leadership of national-level public health programs in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. As Senior Technical Advisor and Team Lead with the U.S. government in Vietnam, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, she has overseen multi-million dollar comprehensive HIV prevention programs, managed inter-agency teams, and mentored rising technical experts in the field. Her passion for global health began when she spent a year directing a pediatric nutrition and recuperation program in rural Haiti, caring for children with kwashiorkor and teaching mothers from remote villages about improving their infant feeding practices.


Stephen Masson (MA Student, Philosophy, American University)

Stephen Masson (he/him) is a second year master’s student in the philosophy department at AU. He is chiefly interest in philosophic approaches to identity broadly, but race and gender specifically. In this working group he hopes to discuss the political dimensions and considerations of both curiosity and mindfulness to understand their use in pedagogical development


Emily Peterson (Education, American University)

Dr. Emily Grossnickle Peterson is an Assistant Professor in the School of Education and an affiliate faculty member in the Psychology Department and the Behavior, Cognition, and Neuroscience PhD program. She joined the faculty at AU in 2017 after receiving a PhD in Human Development and Quantitative Methodology with a specialization in Educational Psychology from the University of Maryland, College Park. In her research, Dr. Peterson applies methods from educational psychology and cognitive neuroscience to investigate cognitive and motivational factors that support (or hinder) student learning in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). Her current research examines questions such as why spatial reasoning skills predict science achievement and how teachers support student curiosity. Dr. Peterson will be accepting PhD students for the 2019 academic year.


Cameron Roman (MA Student, Philosophy, American University)

Cameron Roman is a graduate student in the Philosophy and Social Policy program. He is from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  His academic interests outside of philosophy include law, psychology, literature, film, and Native American studies.  When he isn’t carrying around an ancient text, his favorite authors include Stephen King, Richard Wright, and Louise Erdrich.


Interested in joining?

Email: asiaferrin at gmail dot com or pzurn at american dot edu