A piece of “what”: questions are wind in the sails on open seas, not speed bumps on “coverage road”

Questions are waypoints on the path of wisdom.
– Grant Lichtman, The Falconer


The difference between grappling and other forms of learning is that when the questions become the students’ own, so do the answers.
– Sizer and Sizer, The Students Are Watching


Questions are places in your mind where answers fit. If you haven’t asked the question, the answer has nowhere to go. It hits your mind and bounces right off. You have to ask the question – you have to want to know – in order to open up the space for the answer to fit.
– Clay Christensen as quoted by Jason Fried on “Why Can’t Someone Be Taught Until They’re Ready To Learn?” on Farnam Street blog


Great questions have legs. They propel the learning forward.
– Edna Sackson, “Great questions have legs…” blog post on What Ed Said

Have you ever gotten annoyed by repetitive questioning? In many ways, it’s natural to feel such annoyance at certain times. Yet, if the questioner is genuinely curious and inquiring authentically, then there is great reason to exercise patience and understanding.

Have you ever encountered a classroom where questions become discouraged? On more than a few occasions, I have heard a teacher indicate, “No more questions! We have too much to cover.” And I have read teacher-tip books about techniques and manipulatives for limiting students to a certain number of questions per class period.

When did questions become speed bumps instead of wind in the sails? Do you see questions as slow-down frustrations or travel-spurring energies?

The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.
– Plutarch

As a new year begins, here’s to those who strive to UNCOVER and DISCOVER…not just COVER.

[“A piece of ‘why,'” A piece of ‘what,'” and A piece of ‘how'” are strands of a series on why school needs to change, what about school needs to change, and how schools might navigate the change.]

8 thoughts on “A piece of “what”: questions are wind in the sails on open seas, not speed bumps on “coverage road”

  1. Pingback: A piece of “what”: questions are wind in the sails on open seas, not speed bumps on “coverage road” | Inquire Within

  2. FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Rhetorical – if not philosophical – questions regarding the 21st Century education of the mass population of the United States.

    I think educators now and in the future face the following formidable problems addressed in the following questions.

    1. How does this society retard, arrest and ultimately reverse the unfortunate process of the “dumbing down of America” that is currently underway?

    Forgive me if the terminology is not politically correct, but that is the only way that I can phrase it somewhat nicely. It seems to me a very curious situation that the more technologically advanced the U.S. becomes (i.e. use of smartphones, iPads/tablets, computers, Skype), the less inclined the population is to engage in academic pursuits and the more inclined it is to follow reality TV, paparrazi magazines, etc.

    I can only imagine that fewer people now can say they have read a book by Socrates, Shakespeare, Milton, Rand, Bronte, and comparable authors, than could say that 50 years ago. It seems to me that teachers are faced with the task of educating students who are distracted by the advances in technology. Granted, most students benefit from the advances when correctly cultivated, but the vast majority of students may actually be negatively impacted…

    2. How, with the rising cost of an education, can the U.S. compete with other nations of the free world in terms of educating the populus?

    Specifically, the cost of a private school education today (KG – 12th form) may run between 230K to 300K, depending on where one lives. And, the cost of a four year private college education is roughly 200K to 250K for tuition alone. I believe that education may be less sought after by the majority of the population for this reason, and the nation will be at a deficit in terms of its intellectual base in the years to come.

    • bmichelem,

      I am curious if your foundational premise is correct. In fact, is America “dumbing down?” Does the average American today have a greater or lesser degree of knowledge and wisdom than the average American in 1970…1930…1870? Depending on the criteria used to determine such a measure, I might argue that America has grown more knowledgeable as a whole. Access and consumption of information continues to grow and expand. Attendance at colleges has risen in the last twenty years…

      “Enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions increased by 9 percent between 1989 and 1999. Between 1999 and 2009, enrollment increased 38 percent, from 14.8 million to 20.4 million. Much of the growth between 1999 and 2009 was in full-time enrollment; the number of full-time students rose 45 percent, while the number of part-time students rose 28 percent. During the same time period, the number of enrolled females rose 40 percent, while the number of enrolled males rose 35 percent. Enrollment increases can be affected by both population growth and rising rates of enrollment. Between 1999 and 2009, the number of 18- to 24-year-olds increased from 26.7 million to 30.4 million, an increase of 14 percent, and the percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled in college rose from 36 percent in 1999 to 41 percent in 2009. In addition to enrollment in accredited 2-year colleges, 4-year colleges, and universities, about 472,000 students attended non-degree-granting, Title IV1 eligible postsecondary institutions in fall 2008.” (http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=98)

      Could actual number of readers of Socrates and Shakespeare actually be increasing based on the above, simple criteria?

      While tuning-in to reality TV seems to be on the rise, so too is viewing of such talks as TED, TEDx, Do Lectures, SXSW, etc. Online learning seems on the rise in practically every domain. People can learn from Internet searches, iTunes U, MIT online, Coursera, Edx, etc.

      Innovations in telecommunications seem to be on an uptick. Is this a sign of a more intelligent populace? We are a more connected country today than we were in 1970, aren’t we?

      However, if your premise is correct (and it may, in fact, be correct), then educational transformation may be the best way to reach the masses, given that we have mandatory education provisions in this country. We just need to work to make sure that education is enhancing, advancing, and improving…like medicine, telecommunications, transportation, etc.

      As for your second question, I hope you can find time to explore the explosive growth of free, online learning. It is now possible to take classes from many of the “best” American universities – for free! As this trend continues – and I believe it will – then we may see the democratization of university education during our lifetimes. Check out Coursera, as just one example.

  3. Pingback: A piece of “what”: Take 15 minutes to read an article and watch a TED talk – if you care anything about creativity, discoverers, and school. « It's About Learning

  4. Nice. I like those last word plays with”un” and “dis.”

    How often do you find students asking questions that you think, or know, they may be able to answer themselves, either after a brief pause for reflection or a bit later with some (perhaps guided) research?

    I am finding that I respond differently to various kinds of questions.

    • Bill, I completely agree about responding to questions contextually – to factor in questioner, situation, etc. Absolutely.

      In too many cases, I think school “trains” and habituates students to holding their questions rather than exploring them, developing them, expanding them, etc.

      I have countless cases of students’ questions deserving to BE the curriculum for awhile, but I fear my twenty year teaching career has too many cases of my stifling rather than igniting. Questions are sparks to be fanned, not embers to be doused.

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