Learning is Asking the Question, Not Finding the Answer

In a recent blog post, John Merrow writes, “Schools today must provide opportunities for young people to create knowledge out of the swirling clouds of information that surround them 24/7.  You went to school because that’s where the knowledge was stored. That was yesterday. Think how different today’s world is. Today’s young people need guidance in sifting through the flood of information and turning it into knowledge. They need to be able to formulate good questions — because computers have all the answers.”

Sir Ken Robinson is one of my favorite speakers.  In this video, he urges us to shift paradigms because school is the one place in this ever-shifting world that has remained largely constant over the past 100 years.


Heidi Hayes Jacobs discuss this in Curriculum 21.  She examines the roots of our present education system as designed by “the Committee of Ten, appointed at the meeting of the National Educational Association in 1892” (8) and who “recommended that all students—whether college bound or work oriented—should be taught the same curriculum…an academic program predicated on English, history, civics, mathematics, biology, chemistry, and physics on the high school level” and that “schooling would take place over 12 years—8 for the elementary grades (in which we now include middle school) and 4 for high school” (9).

When I first read this a few years ago, I was truly shocked.  To see it so blatantly written, that schools are largely doing the same thing as was determined, not in the last century, but in the century before, is pause for reflection.

A teacher I respect immensely recently stated that he believes schools will never take anything off a teacher’s plate; rather, as change occurs, schools continue to add to an already full plate.  Another colleague responded that while this may seem true, hopefully, what was added a few years ago has become ingrained and automatic.  That is the hope, and yet, with a full plate, where is the time?

I recently developed a leadership workshop framed around a series of essential questions.  The goal here, aside from modeling the UbD ethos which we use as a school, was to highlight that the question, and the dialogue surrounding the question, is far more important than the answer, particularly since the answer varies drastically based on the perspective and the situation.  As leaders, this is the essence of what we must know.

Reflecting back on the opening quote of this blog post, teaching questioning is not new.  Socrates was the master of questions.  However, as Jacobs points out in “Socrates Fails Teacher Evaluation,” we seem to have gotten waylaid in the 19th century model of finding the right answers.  This was a good model for its time.  Now what?  When we think about teaching in first grade, we need to be able to envision, not just what students need today, but what students need 15 years from today.  At the rate the world is changing, this is becoming a far greater challenge, and yet, it also poses exciting opportunities for growth.  In all that we do as educators, we should be asking what tomorrow looks like and seeking to merge tomorrow with yesterday and today.  That is what will be relevant for children.  And ultimately, it is they we serve, for without them, we don’t exist.

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