Asking the Right Questions

Asking the Right Questions

A never followed, but often cited wisdom is that learning is not about knowing the answers but asking questions. If learning is about asking questions, education, both the process and the state of being, is about asking the right questions. I believe both educators and the educated are either trained or conditioned to ask many questions, but usually the wrong ones. Then the right question to ask now is what makes some questions ‘right’?

The right questions for education to ask are the questions of accretion and expansion. Questions that encourage asking more questions are the right questions. The wrong questions are those of dissipation and contraction, and are designed to bring all further questions to an end.

In most schooling experiences we are all asked, and trained to ask, many of the wrong questions. For every time I wrote an abnormal essay in school and received some sort of positive feedback, there were ten occasions when I was asked why I wrote such things in nervous exasperation. Not discouragement so much as vague discomfort for having upset the boring apple cart of interchangeable summer holiday narrations. The ones who were to be educating me in how to deal with the wider world didn’t know quite how to deal with a slight variation in their small world.

As the educated (in progress), we too were trained to ask the wrong questions. We should have been asking, among other things, “How can I use this practically?” Instead, we were most often asking in unison, “Will this question be in the exam?”

This saga of asking the wrong questions can be ascribed to one deep insecurity which is inherent in the system we’ve built. I discovered it unwittingly on the few occasions I asked the right questions of people much my senior, and in response I was asked a wrong question to end the exchange. The root of wrong questions is the inability to admit one simple thing: “I don’t know.”

The educated and the educators of the world must first be made comfortable with the universal fact that we simply don’t know most things. We as individuals are not aware of most of what our civilisation claims to know, and our civilisation as a whole doesn’t know more about the basics of existence that we do know. The faster we reach this acceptance, the faster we can stop defensively asking the wrong questions and move to the more disconcerting, the more exciting, right questions. Then and only then, education can begin.