Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A question for today

May I share a question?

It's always helpful to share questions, it enables them to grow. Not only do they grow, they often produce bigger and better questions. Which can only be good.

I heard two very interesting interviews this week and, in a beautiful instance of synchronicity, each of those being interviewed stressed the value of questioning.
The first recommended keeping a journal in which, each morning, you wrote down a question to focus on during the day.
The second, Gary Douglas, warned of the dangers of answers. Answers, he maintained, discouraged you from searching further.
Both implied that an answer was a dead-end, a full-stop. Questions, on the other hand, lit up the mind, excited the interest and encouraged further searching.

Why is it, I wondered afterwards, that modern eduction seems to concentrate on ticking boxes and answering questions? How did we foster the prevailing belief that the ability to supply an answer, even if this consists of no more than ticking a box, provides a student with the tools needed to move forward into adult life? What if (heretical thought for a school governor!) students were given the answers and asked to provide the questions?

I played with this idea. Say that the answer provided on one occasion was the word 'spade'. How many hidden layers of subtlety linger around that word? Christopher Fry summed it up perfectly when he wrote, 'a spade is never as merely a spade as the name spade would imply'.
Again, if the answer given was 'a rose', this could produce some fascinating questions. Might it even re-ignite Shakespeare's wisdom and enable the students to discover for themselves that it isn't the name that provides the beauty, structure, and scent?

This line of conjecture was getting interesting. I decided to stretch the net further and turned my thoughts to games for the mind. Surely this would be a certain place to find unquestioned answers?
But, no. As one who is addicted to her daily Su Doku, I know that the whole time the game remains a question it is both challenging and entertaining. However, I also know that the moment every square is filled, the moment it is a complete answer . . . well, the only value remaining to that scrap of scribbled newspaper is as a contribution to the recycling bag.

Could Maths and Science be the stumbling block to this revolution in thinking? Not, it seems, if we take basic arithmetic.
One and one makes two, we say . . . but two what? No two things are identical, and once you have two you have created a relationship, it isn't simply two. The combined talents, wisdom and efforts of two far outweigh that of simply doubling the talents, wisdom and effort of one. And if, instead of accepting the answer as 'two' you question what you've achieved and add a further one, you have a far more complex situation than that of merely creating three. Look beyond the simple answer 'three' and see that you now have a triangle. You have inter-connectedness on both sides of each component, you have a circling flow of communication. And communication of any kind is always a question, never an answer.

A final thought to take into consideration is the fact that answers aren't always as clear-cut and obvious as they seem.
To the question: 'What are thirty thousand pieces of carved stone added to fifty thousand pieces of carved stone?', the answer isn't necessarily 'eighty thousand pieces of carved stone'.
It could be, 'St Paul's Cathedral'.

Oh dear, this will never do. I seem to be concluding with the very thing I've been avoiding: an answer!
Would you be so kind as to take over from here and see where this line of questioning takes you . . . ?
Thank you!