Monday, December 1, 2014

There Are Stupid Questions

            Since Kindergarten I’ve heard the words, “There are no stupid questions,” repeated by authority figures time after time.  There is certainly something to be said about embracing the freedom of education that we are lucky enough to enjoy in the United States.  Still, I find there comes a time when kids need to be told the truth about questions.  Life isn’t an elementary school classroom, and the ugly truth is that there are stupid questions.
            This adage promotes the type of creativity and exploration that allows children to grow immensely.  To have the power and audacity to question authority in a learning environment is prerequisite to learning how to think as an individual.  In school, kids have the opportunity to soak up as much knowledge as they can before graduating to a life of responsibility and independence.
            The negative side effect of this principle, however, is that students become completely dependent on being given the answers rather than seeking the answers themselves.  Even in college classrooms, I constantly witness intelligent students asking professors to repeat definitions that are clearly printed in the reading, or bolded on that day’s PowerPoint presentation.  So, despite the stupid questions mantra, I struggle to believe that every lazy reach for basic information is really a valuable use of class time.
            Obviously, there are instances of simple questions that serve to clarify or elaborate on any given topic of study; this post does not intend to negate the use of questions as another tool for learning.  Instead, what I’d like to focus on is the thoughtfulness exhibited throughout classrooms.  The problem lies in the relationship between teacher and student; in order for questions to be worthwhile for the class, the exchange must be a dialogue, not a lecture.
            The idea is that if students ask interesting, derivative questions, the teacher will give specific, extensive answers.  In essence, the answer can only be as good as the question that prompts it.  So, perhaps there are no bad questions.  Yet, the deeper we delve into the subject matter, the more our teachers have to work with.  If we ask for the definition, I’m afraid that’s all we’ll get.  If we dare to go further, to reach, to leave our comfort zones, that is when we truly learn.
            Students who ask the professor for the definition of each term will usually get the answers they seek, even if they could have found those answers themselves by simply opening the textbook.  These kinds of students will take diligent notes; they’re not slackers, they’d just rather ask than read.  These individuals will probably even score well on the tests; definitions are gold on multiple-choice exams.

            Nevertheless, you’ll never hear me ask one of these questions.  When I raise my hand in class it’s because I have to something to say.  I like to ask questions that not only beg the response of the teacher, but also ones that seek the reaction of my peers.  A classroom is a community—one whose growth is directly correlated to the effort exhibited by both the students and the teacher, together—and stupid questions drag that community down.