Success in educational exams is based almost exclusively on giving the right answers. The ten-year-old who says the answer to 2+2 is “5” or that “surprise” is spelled “serprize” or that Columbus landed in the new world “in 1940” almost certainly needs additional tutoring rather than a promotion.
But I wish I were in the classroom again. Because we educators rarely appreciate the value of intelligent questions. And yet, the more we know about any subject, the more penetrating and numerous our questions become. I would love to construct a test in which I asked students to pose as many questions as they could about a specific subject. My guess is that one would be able to evaluate who knew as much by the questions alone as one could by the answers.
For instance, suppose one is asked to pose questions about quantum mechanics. How do questions like: Is it about machines? Isn’t it part of Einstein’s theory of relativity? Is it a theory about space travel? compare with questions like: In what way is the Standard Theory related to Quantum Mechanics? Why did Einstein reject the Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle? How does the Higgs Boson explain mass?
Or in relation to cooking, a field with which many of us may be more familiar, how do questions like: Why is this pastry so tough? How long does it take to cook dried kidney beans? How do you cook a fish? compare with What other ingredients besides eggs can be used as thickeners? Are there other ingredients besides yeast one can use to make bread rise? Why will some meats become tough if they are over-cooked, while others are tough if they are under-cooked?
I’ve learned not to trust either myself or other people in areas where they have more answers than questions. That includes everything from religion, philosophy, physics, math, computers, and psychology to sewing, cleaning, building construction, finances, and lawn-mowing.
You have to know what you’re talking about to ask really intelligent questions.
But now I have to go out and mow the lawn.
Whether I know what I’m doing or not.