Wednesday, December 30, 2020

They Say There are No Stupid Questions. I Beg to Differ.

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 offense 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.


Stupid questions are just one of the ways that well-intended adults, through the words we habitually choose, create a reality for young children in which they are discouraged from, and sometimes even "punished" for, thinking for themselves. In so many ways, both overt and subtle, adults unwittingly tend to shut down critical thinking, replacing it with a reality in which mere reaction and obedience is rewarded. 

If you are keen to dig deeper into this phenomenon and to learn how you as an educator or parent can transform your language in ways that empower real learning, then my new six-part e-course, The Technology of Speaking With Children So They Can Think, might be a great way to start your New Year. Early bird pricing ends soon, so don't delay. To learn more and to register, click right here. We need more critical thinkers in the world! Thank you.

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