Questions, Anyone?

We think that getting an education is all about learning information when it’s really all about asking questions. That’s because questions help focus and sharpen our thinking. Answers just stop it cold. As Paul and Elder1 state, “Feeding students endless content to remember… is akin to repeatedly stepping on the brakes in a vehicle that is, unfortunately, already at rest.”

Questions, Paul and Elder continue, “determine where our thinking goes” (p. 62). Scientists would never get anywhere if all they did was collect facts. Instead, they ask questions such as “What other uses can we put this drug to?” “Why does Washington State have an inordinate number of cases of multiple sclerosis?” “How can we send a man to the moon?” And don’t forget Who and Where.

Interestingly, not all questions are created equal, especially in terms of critical thinking. Let’s take Bloom’s Taxonomy, that 60+ year old warhorse of a classification system that divides thinking into levels of cognitive difficulty, with recalling knowledge at the bottom. Unfortunately, that’s where most of our education is stuck—stuffing facts down our students’ gullets. What good are facts if we don’t question their validity, hidden assumptions, logic, and connection to the big picture? Socrates was killed in 399 BC because those in power thought he was corrupting the youth by fostering their intellectual development and encouraging them to question the status quo. So don’t think questions aren’t powerful. They are the very antidote we need against muddled thinking and seductive propaganda.

1Paul, R. & Elder, L. (2007). The thinker’s guide to the art of Socratic questioning. Dillon Beach, Calif.: Foundation for Critical Thinking.

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