The Other I

May 29, 2015

Right answers aren’t as smart as I thought

Filed under: Just Stuff,Teaching — theotheri @ 1:41 pm

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.




  1. Interesting line of thought! Describe a scenario and get the students to ask questions – well, quite unusual. But then why not?


    Comment by tskraghu — May 29, 2015 @ 2:25 pm | Reply

    • I always tried to respect student questions, but I was retired before I thought of using student-generated questions a major teaching technique. I wish I had. Don’t you think it would encourage students to want to look for answers themselves and to value questions rather than seeing them principally as expressions of ignorance?

      On Fri, May 29, 2015 at 3:25 PM, The Other I wrote:



      Comment by Terry Sissons — May 29, 2015 @ 8:26 pm | Reply

      • I like this line of thought, though it is largely unexplored.


        Comment by tskraghu — May 30, 2015 @ 1:40 am

  2. “But I wish I were in the classroom again.” – So do I – to thank 90% of my teachers from Infants school through to college. in the late 1940’s we had 41 cohorts and Miss Meadows. She had so much patience, understanding and love of her job it made being in school a pleasure!


    Comment by lairdglencairn — June 2, 2015 @ 6:25 am | Reply

  3. What a wonderful compliment to your teachers! And you know, my guess is that they have no idea how important they have been in your life – and perhaps in the lives of hundreds of others. Especially Miss Meadows. Do you think she knew how much she mattered?

    Thank you for this comment. I think it is immensely valuable. Our teachers change our lives.


    Comment by theotheri — June 2, 2015 @ 8:13 pm | Reply

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