Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Questions Not Answers

A common perception (or hope) is that students go to school to learn.  Teachers tend to give tests to confirm students studied and learned.  The students are graded on the number of correct answers.  Before the lesson, most students often don’t think they know the answers.  So they ask questions.  Teachers often feel they must provide the answer to those questions.  And students expect to get the right answers to study for the test.  For most tests, there is one and only one correct answer.

Unfortunately real life doesn’t quite work that way.  For example, what is the correct answer to the question of “Who should I ask to the party on Friday night?”  Or, “What should make for lunch today?”  The truly “right” answer is usually relative and rather elusive.  The real world is complex and undergoes changes.  It is sometimes a very fluid and dynamic place.  For most of us, the “right” answer is relative to a number of factors that are both intangible/subjective mixed in with tangible/objective facts. 

One of the missing links in the question and answer system is listening.  The world is a diverse place.  Highly educated people (e.g. world recognized experts) are often not found in some of the places with very big problems.  Those places are often impoverished.  The people living there lack educational opportunities.  So they lack fancy diplomas and degrees.  They study in the “school of hard knocks.”  The lack of a diploma doesn’t mean they don’t know things.  To see a good example of the importance of asking good questions and listening carefully to the answers (and then asking more questions), consider Ernesto Sirollis’ talk “Want to help someone? Shut up and listen!” You may be shocked to see how some of the world’s top experts can be rendered ineffective when they ignore the knowledge of impoverished, “uneducated” indigenous people.

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