Tuesday, October 31, 2017

A teacher’s confession: There ARE stupid questions

We teachers try to encourage our students to ask questions by telling them this lie: there are no stupid questions.  Here is proof that stupid questions exist:

TEACHER: The paper is due on Friday.
STUDENT: When is the paper due?

It's important to encourage questioning in our students, but lying to them will not help. It patronizes them and undermines our credibility.

Here's what we should say instead: Sure, there are stupid questions and we all ask them sometimes, because let’s face it, it’s hard to pay attention all day long, and it’s hard to pick up every important (and obvious) point in all the readings we did last night. We all have surprising gaps in our knowledge of this complicated world. One person’s valid question is another’s stupid question.  So go ahead and ask that stupid question so you get that paper in on on time.

Instead of pretending that all questions are equally smart, acknowledge that we all need to ask a lot of questions to banish ignorance, some are better than others, and if I tolerate your occasional stupid question you'll tolerate mine and at some point we'll share some really brilliant questions with each other.

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