Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Our Stupid Questions

They say there's no such thing as a stupid question, but I beg to differ. We hear stupid questions almost every time adults and young children are together. 

For instance, a child is painting at an easel, exploring color, shape, and motion, experimenting with brushes, paper, and paint. There is an adult watching over her shoulder who points and asks, "What color is that?"

This is a stupid question. 

Here's another example: a child is playing with marbles, exploring gravity, motion and momentum. An adult picks up a handful of marbles and asks, "How many marbles do I have?"

The adult already knows the answer. The child probably does as well, in which case, the adult is distracting her from her deep and meaningful studies in order to reply to a banality. Or she doesn't know the answer, in which case the adult is distracting her from her deep and meaningful studies to play a guessing game.

In a moment, these stupid questions take a child who is engaged in testing her world, which is her proper role, and turns her into a test taker, forced to answer other people's questions rather than pursue the answers to her own.

If it's important that the child know these specific colors and numbers at this specific moment, and it probably isn't, then we should do the reasonable thing and simply tell her,"That's red," or "I have three marbles." If it's not new information, and it probably isn't, she's free to ignore you as she goes about her business of learning. If she didn't know, now she does, in context, as she goes about her business of learning.

This is probably the greatest crime we commit against children in our current educational climate of testing, testing, and more testing. We yank children away from their proper role as self-motivated scientists, testing their world by asking and answering their own questions, and instead force them to become test takers, occupying their brains with our stupid questions.

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Unknown said...

You bring up excellent points and this article is well written. Great job.

alexandra said...

Might be my favorite post yet. I see this happen all the time. (And am occasionally, although I hope only rarely, guilty of doing something like this to my child.

God Loves This Terp! said...

I learned that while working with a awesome teacher. If you want to engage the child while they are absorbed, ask questions showing interest in their work. "What a beautiful shade of blue you used! What is going on in your picture?"

Karla said...

So absolutely true. Good point to keep in mind while I'm taking to my daughters

Anonymous said...

I am feeling this so hard! But now I'm wondering, what questions should we ask? What might be a better way to engage with them? Or do we ask/say nothing and just let them explore on their own?


Teacher Tom said...

I am very sparing with questions. I make a lot of mistakes, but my rule of thumb is to only ask questions to which I don't know the answer and that only that child can answer. Or more succinctly, I try to only ask genuine questions. Everything else is a stupid question.

Deborah Stewart said...

Ouch Tom!

Anonymous said...

love this, went to a PD on outdoor play recently, we were instructed to always be looking for opportunites to "teacH'. Why cant we just let them BE. only act when necessary