Questions Anyone?

6 Sep

Asking Questions

In school just as in life and wherever and whenever we are trying to learn something, we should always ask questions. Asking questions is how we learn. And if the asking of questions is so important then consequently the finding of the answers to those questions is equally as important.

I believe that every question has an answer and every problem a solution.

For example: which came first; the chicken or the egg? The answer of course is the rooster! But seriously, the egg came first because there were eggs long before there were chickens. Now if you ask which came first, the chicken or the chicken egg? Well, let’s move on…

The difficulties we face in life and in schools, and the reasons why we often can’t learn how to solve our problems, occur because we refuse to accept the answers to our questions and problems or because we refuse to look for the answers for fear that we may find them and then be forced to stop doing what we know we shouldn’t have been doing in the first place.

Here’s an example of what I mean: In my 31 years of teaching, my school and school district had always been strapped for cash and was always looking for ways to find more money and revenue to balance the budget. One year the Board of Education decided to accept an agreement with Pepsi and in exchange for money and a brand new score board for our football field, all we had to do was install Pepsi soda machines in the high school and allow the students access to them during the school day. Sounds like a good deal doesn’t it? So then, for the price of 2 dollars each, a student could purchase a 20 ounce bottle of soda. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, the problem was that soon students were carrying around 20 ounce bottles of soda to all their classes and during classes most students would, open bottle, sip, close cap, put bottle down, pick bottle up, open cap, sip, offer bottle to friend…you get the idea.

And so the principal called a faculty meeting to discuss the problem and seek a remedy. “How can we get students to stop drinking soda in class?” he asked. And a brave teacher in the back raised his hand and said (after being called upon of course) “We could stop selling them soda.” To which the principal replied, “Very funny! But I want real answers.” No more brave teachers raised their hands, because we all knew that WAS the answer and the answer…wasn’t acceptable. This is called impasse, which is another word for stubborn stupidity, or making a deal with the devil.

Because we needed money our school was now in the soda selling business and because we sold soda the kids bought them and because they were big soda’s and cost 2 dollars and had reseal-able caps, no student was going to throw away their unfinished soda when they left the lunch room. (Would you?) And because we had a contract with Pepsi and took their money and spent it, we couldn’t back out now so… the only acceptable answer to the principal’s question had become unacceptable but since he couldn’t accept that, we had to continue to scratch our heads and pretend to look elsewhere for the captain’s strawberries, which of course could never be found (hint: in the movie, the captain ate them!) This is called a dilemma, which is just another word for not being able to get what you want, or a problem that has an answer that we refuse to, or cannot, or are unwilling to accept.

It’s a condition peculiar to mankind and next to Mother Nature most often the source of all of our troubles. We must ask questions, therefore we must learn the answers, therefore we must rely on others to help us and that’s what teachers do and that’s why teachers are needed. A good teacher not only answers a student’s questions but also encourages the asking of more questions and even encourages the questioning of those answers. A good teacher is not afraid to say, “I don’t know” and then follow it up with, “Let’s find out!”

But there is always that human dilemma lurking out there: The paradox of, the answer that can’t be accepted, leading to the quest that can never be completed. Most of us have experienced this dilemma. It’s usually easy to discern. Our questions are usually followed up with “What are you, a wise guy?” or “You’re too young to understand” or “It’s complicated” or “You’ve got to have faith”. These are all red flags indicating that your teachers have stopped looking for the answers or are ignorant of them or have motives that no longer serve truth.

We know what’s wrong with education and we know how to fix it. We’ve studied education and societies and how they have worked for centuries. It’s not as though the idea of having public schools is a new one. It was the creation of the first public schools by our founding fathers in 1796 in Rehoboth, Massachusetts and their belief in the idea that only a fully informed, educated and literate society could spearhead the United States’ advance from 13 backwater colonies in rural North America of the new world to the greatest most democratic technologically advanced nation in the world..

How did we forget how to do that? Duh, I dunno. Anybody want a soda?

…Coming up next: The 10 questions I was most often asked by my students during my 33 years of teaching high school. Any guesses as to what questions might be on my list?

3 Responses to “Questions Anyone?”

  1. elizjamison September 6, 2012 at 11:23 pm #

    I loved this post because it is so true. I teach at a high school and our kids purchase junk food and sodas from the vending machines as well. It is a problem – the trash is such a pain. But the real concept that struck me about your post was your comment about asking questions. I have been teaching for 7 years, not your 33 :-), and this year I have two “situations” about questions. My 9th graders are silent. They seriously have trouble asking me anything! I am known for my laid back atmosphere in the classroom, so this kind of chemistry really surprised me. I am trying to get them to open up, but it is really hard.
    The other aspect of this issue is that my 9 year old son, Jake, is afraid to ask his 4th grade (male) teacher questions. He doesn’t want to disappoint the teacher and is afraid to look stupid. I tell him all the time that it is his right to ask questions, that it’s okay. He still doesn’t feel comfortable. Why does this happen with some kids? I don’t understand because I was (am still am) that annoying person who asks too many questions just to be sure. I was never shy when it came to speaking out in class. Any suggestions from an experienced teacher would be greatly appreciated! 🙂

    • hpols September 7, 2012 at 3:16 pm #

      elizjamison, has your son had to listen to someone saying “what a stupid question!” – maybe more than once? It’s the best way to frighten the inquisitive mind into silence.
      If so maybe discuss a way with him how to react to something like this. With knowing how to handle this the confidence returns to offer questions again.

      This is also what I was thinking when reading this wonderful post. Encouraging questions also means not judging questions. Many easy comment on stupid questions, yet if they’d take a moment to really think about it, it’s sometimes exactly these questions that really encourage a good discussion or increase a learning curve.

      • elizjamison September 8, 2012 at 2:06 pm #

        I totally agree with you. Thanks for the suggestions! I am going to talk with him about this today.


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