Keep Asking Dumb Questions
The first day of class the professor said something along the lines of, “Any teacher that told you, there are no stupid questions was a liar because there are stupid questions…But it’s okay because we all have them. So ask away.”
At the time I really liked this idea because as an aspiring teacher myself, I was intrigued by this spin on the cliché saying that teachers love to say when they want adequate participation in their classroom. Still, it made me wonder, why do teachers value participation so much? Some may argue that teachers value participation because they want to see who actually did the reading. Others may say that it is important because it allows students a chance to build public speaking skills. However, I think the philosopher John Stuart Mill put it best in his piece On Liberty, when he said, “There must be discussion to show how experience is to be interpreted… Very few facts are able to tell their own story, without comments to bring out their meaning.”
So, what does this mean? I think it means that unless we engage in thoughtful discussion and reflect on the events in our lives, they are meaningless. For example, if I travel around the world experiences amazing things, but never take the time to reflect on how those journeys have affected my life and my perspective in general, I am not truly living.
Some may argue with me on this, but let’s think about an example that can relate to all of us, our political science class. We meet four times a week, twice for lecture and twice for section. Why don’t we just meet four times for lecture? I mean the professor has all the answers already, right? I would argue that while it is useful to allow your perspectives to be informed and influenced by others, you must personally spend time reflecting on various situations for yourself. For that reason, we have discussion sections because it allows us the opportunity to either support or challenge what has been said in lecture.
Ultimately, Mill, like many of the other philosophers we have read, believed that the simple act of doing things, going places or listening to others just isn’t good enough. We must make our own judgments, reflect our own lives and create our own perspectives if we ever wish to be truly free. As Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”