Students Should Learn to Question

Schools today are based on the underlying assumption that students should learn answers. This commonsensical assumption is wrong. Students should instead learn how to ask questions and pursue their own answers.

Much of the current system is oriented around giving students answers. If we only care that students know some fact, then it's fine for us to simply give it to them at some point when they are ready to hear it. But a rational educational plan wouldn't care so much that students know some fact X as that they know how to reason using X. In other words, we should care that they know how to use X in an argument, or how X might be disputed, or how to find facts similar to X, or how far X can be pushed. For this to happen, students must have goals that lead them to care about reasoning with X. They must be given situations in which they come to care about how X might be disputed or how it might be used to bolster some point they wish to make. An education system that offers such environments cannot be oriented around facts. It must be oriented around questions.

In this view, there is hardly any reason to concern ourselves with whether students learn the underlying facts. In a fact-obsessed culture, this idea is anathema to what education seems to stand for. But in chemistry, for example, do we really care if students know the details of the periodic table? In physics, do we really care if they can apply the formula for calculating torque? In history, do we really worry if a student cannot name all the Presidents or Kings? In English, do really worry if a student fails to memorize lines from Beowulf? In these situations, we are primarily interested in helping students become curious enough about these subjects to genuinely want to know more. This means that we want to help students build the memory structures that encode knowledge in such a way that the encoding itself starts to demand more knowledge. Or, to put this another way, we want students to know what they don't know so that they will be motivated to find out more. We want students to go as good questions.

Next Story Questions in Class

Outline Where am I in the content of the book?

Give Me An Example

What Is Next?

What Should Be Avoided

What Can Be Done?

Give Me Details

Give Me Background

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