Should we question our questions?

Bird Droppings March 20, 2013
Should we question our questions?

Yesterday as I was sitting in my class room after finding in my files an article from a few years back about the innuendos about who and why Georgia students in middles schools across the state did so poorly on CRCT’s, Georgia’s version of school year grade end tests in subject matter. Sadly the state knew ahead that the failure rate would be high and still administered the particular tests. I am always amazed by teachers who say they teach and actually try and fail students. I just finished a discussion with a colleague about passing a fellow who had a 79 on his end of course test in geometry and was failing the class due to homework not being turned in. He had an 86 disregarding homework on test scores and quizzes. For me that was a no brainer he mastered the material and do you cause trouble for next year’s teacher failing a kid who knows the material and also happens to be SEBD, severely emotionally and behaviorally disturbed. Always amazes how some people think.

“To find the exact answer, one must first ask the exact question.” S. Tobin Webster

“Ask the large questions, but seek small answers, a flower, or the space between a branch and a rock these are enough” Kent Nerburn

I wrote an email to a friend only a few moments ago sitting here gloating at issues I should have addressed and could have before they were issues. Some days I am bad about letting the flow go and spill over as it may be. I read this line from a book I am reading and wonder now as to answers I was seeking, maybe too often we seek large answers from small questions or ask the wrong questions thinking we know the answer already.

“Quality questions create a quality life. Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.” Anthony Robbins

Somewhere on my shelves in my room at school maybe in a drawer are a series of tapes from this guru of self-help, he occasionally has a good thought or two. Max Thompson of Learning Focus School fame uses the term of the Essential Question as an integral aspect of learning. We need to ask an essential question and build from there as we develop our course or train of thought often adding additional questions to stimulate and emphasize key issues and points. Several weeks ago I used some thoughts from Zen teachings from over a thousand years ago and from Socrates even before that who also taught by asking questions and answer questions with additional questions.

“You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.” Naguib Mahfouz

“The uncreative mind can spot wrong answers, but it takes a very creative mind to spot wrong questions.” Anthony Jay

If a wrong question is asked I wonder is that a paradox or can that even be? Can you ever ask a wrong question? When I am talking with future teachers in our Early Childhood class I tell them as the four year olds they teach they will find they ask questions incessantly. We have to let them and yet here I am asking if a wrong question can be asked. I look at these two thoughts and perhaps it is not wrong questions but poor questions. I have a student who will often ask questions and many times I sit looking at others and wondering, where did that question come from? It is sort of like if I am discussing blue birds and the question asked is that bird blue. It hit me during reading a test for small group testers recently that so often my vocabulary and that of many students is vastly different and when I read a sentence not even thinking about words students may know the answer but not know the question. In determining the sequence of events in photosynthesis at what stage does oxygen appear? What if you do not know the word sequence and know the photosynthesis cycle which you studied diligently the night before for your test? In effect you guess not based on the answer that you know but guess based on not totally knowing the question.

“If you do not ask the right questions, you do not get the right answers. A question asked in the right way often points to its own answer. Asking questions is the A-B-C of diagnosis. Only the inquiring mind solves problems.” Edward Hodnett

Over the years I have acquired many books dealing with the care of animals and have even participated in publishing several in days gone by when I was in that line of work. Years back we found a book for diagnosis of aquarium fish problems. It was questions with various answers, such as if answer A go to page 3, or if B go to page 6, then on page 3, if A go to page 34, and on 34 if C this is the disease, a dichotomous key. In looking at questions and answering you literally could follow your way to a diagnosis. Essentially it was the taxonomy of an animal, specifically fish disease. A good friend in Virginia literally borrowed the idea and wrote a sheep manual in a similar fashion that at one time was the Ovine diagnosis book of choice across the country. Actually have my name in there somewhere as a resource and editor.

“It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.” Decouvertes

I had to think as I read this if you know the answer why question. Is the paper white? I know it is but I am questioning and in questioning will show it to be white so in effect proving its whiteness or not. I learned it was white even knowing it was.

“He must be very ignorant for he answers every question he is asked.” Voltaire

“To find the exact answer, one must first ask the exact question.” S. Tobin Webster

“For example, when you sail in a boat to the middle of an ocean where no land is in sight, and view four directions, the ocean looks circular, and does not look any other way. But the ocean is neither round nor square; its features are infinite in variety. It is like a palace. It is like a jewel. It only looks circular as you can see at that time. All things are like this.” Eihei Dogen, 1200-1253

Maybe we who ask the questions need to listen more carefully to the answers and in listening learn as well, a symbiosis perhaps osmosis is a better word of sorts. It is about another day beginning and another sunrise to see. In talking with a friend who used to be just across the hall, that is all she looks for and as she rises each morning is thankful for another day having survived breast cancer. You know what, as simple as that sounds for some and her in particular each moment is a miracle. I recall after seeing her each morning smiling and thankful for another day my day would go so easy and I too am thankful. I ask with a sincere heart please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart. This is for a very special friend who greets each sunrise and who has greeted every day for nearly twelve years that I have known her, Buenos Dias. As I close as always please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

Wa de (Skee)

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