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Keep Asking Dumb Questions

November 17, 2010

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.”

8 Comments
  1. November 17, 2010 8:06 PM

    I wanted to vote yes on the first two. Ah, a technical limitation in PollDaddy, not unlike that in LectureTools.

  2. arjunindianhongkongkid permalink
    November 18, 2010 1:35 AM

    Yes, it might clarify, it might spur interesting conversations. Agreed. But at some point we need to progress. There are a lot of questions that are best left unanswered. There are a lot of actions which we do, and when we start asking “Why should I do it?” questions, it hinders our progress and well, it is simply dumb to ask those “Why should I?” questions such as “Why should I wear clothes? Why should I believe in the Holocaust?” .

    If we start questioning all the time, it is dumb and it wastes resources. The next point, I’ll make is more controversial. I believe Research, on subjects other than Natural Sciences and Economics, lacks utility. Dumb questions = Hindrance = Resource Loss = Dead Weight Loss

  3. ariellagomolin permalink
    November 18, 2010 2:01 PM

    I do believe there is a line that should be drawn between questions that hinder progress and questions that allow progress to continue. However, who are we to be able to determine where that line is drawn? What if individuals truly believe that questions such as “Why do we wear clothing” can allow for a major discussion from which a progression can come out? What if individuals believe that such discussion and debate will allow for greater progress to occur than just leaving the question be and not asking at all? What in one’s eyes may be hindering progress may be the key to successful progress in another’s. It is an individuals choice to decide whether questioning something will help society or will hinder it. Each individual draw their own lines for questions that are worth questioning and ones that shall be left alone. Where that line shall be drawn in a society as a whole, I do not know and I do not believe others know it as well. It is unfair to be subjective and assume that some questions are worth questioning and some are not. This in and of itself hinders progress from continuing on.

  4. neilrab permalink
    November 18, 2010 5:00 PM

    I like this post a lot and actually agree with most of it. I’m an advocate of constant participation because that’s how I learn best. Any time I have a chance to teach what was learned in class to my friends or help someone out with their homework, I gain a more solid knowledge on the subject. In class, for example, I don’t think I would know as much as I do if it wasn’t for discussion, where we can have smaller conversations and we can express our opinions, allowing confusing topics to be clarified. As for talking in lecture, it’s not really my thing. I don’t want to raise my hand in front of 200 people and run the risk of looking dumb. However, it’s a habit I need to change since like you mentioned in this post, it’s probably one of the best ways to not only learn but to also spur interesting conversation and occasionally clarify what was talked about in class.

  5. Koralcf permalink
    November 20, 2010 12:20 PM

    I think the only way to make our own judgments and create our own perspectives in order to be free is through asking questions. One person’s question may seem dumb to someone else, but what does that hurt? I agree with your main point and with Mill. Asking questions regardless of how dumb they may seem to others is the only way to develop a sense of judgment and learn. Modern studies have shown that students who simply sit in classes and do not engage or ask questions do not learn as much as students who particpate and get engaged in class; therefore, I think it is clear that raising questions is clearly the best way to learn.

  6. changmc permalink
    November 21, 2010 10:16 AM

    I really enjoyed this post but in regards to the meeting of lecture 4 times a week instead of having 2 discussion sections implies that the professor has all the RIGHT answers. The purpose of discussion is to create and improve upon different perspectives of the material and like a lot of other things, there is no absolute right answer.
    A post above mentioned where the line should be drawn in discussion of whether or not a question is dumb. It is very difficult to draw this line because some questions can be deemed absurd or irrelevant, but if one has a serious question, no matter how obvious it may seem, asking in order to facilitate the understanding of one person is meaningful.

  7. Will Butler permalink
    November 21, 2010 5:21 PM

    I think that this post can also be tied together with a quota by Socrates that the professor uses alot: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

    I agree with this statement, but an interesting philosophical exercise is to ask for what reason? A very nietzschian ounter-argument would be if we are doomed to die and the human species is doomed for extinction than for what reason do we wish to progress and examine our lives.

    This isn’t an argument I agree with, but it is something to think about in relation to the quote and post.

  8. madelineysmith permalink
    November 22, 2010 11:50 AM

    I don’t really agree with this post, mostly because I do not necessarily learn best when interacting with people or asking questions in discussion. If I am still engaged in what people are talking about who’s to say I can’t take just as much away from the discussion? The majority of the time people are all asking the same kinds of questions. Often when I participate it gives me less of an opportunity to actually think about what we are talking about. Obviously this is just my opinion. In your post though you talk about reflecting on your personal experiences. I agree with this, but I don’t think it can really be applied to a poli sci class, despite how interesting it is.

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