Dear Students: Ask Questions

The question mark is, perhaps, the most powerful syntactical mark that exists. The nature of the interrogative clause or phrase is that of thought–you inquire as a response to a problem. You draft, you adjust, you adapt, you grow, you think, you try, you test, you risk–all thanks to a question mark. All thanks to a question. What is inquiry but a hypothesis waiting to be tested? What is testing a hypothesis but progressing towards something extraordinary?

It always starts with a question:

  • How can we achieve freedom?
  • How can we cure this?
  • Why am I discriminated against?
  • Why is there not equal pay?
  • What constitutes a moral action?
  • What is beyond our atmosphere?
  • How can we connect better? What validates human connection in the first place?
  • “What is love (baby, don’t hurt me)?” – Haddaway
  • How can we get there faster?
  • How can we travel the oceans and get our feet off the ground?

The nature of working undercover and discovering wrongs is founded in asking questions. It is seen within the title of investigative journalism. It’s why we find doctors who perform malpractice but are not persecuted against. It is how we hold power accountable. It is why we enjoy listening to interviews. Ask good questions, sit back, listen to the stories around unfold. Questions are how movements are made.

Sometimes we even respond to a question with another question. Question-ception.

The French philosopher Voltaire once said, “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.” Voltaire built this concept off Socrates, who used doubt and questioning to break the shackles of the overbearing Athenian aristocracy. Rather than preaching the wrongs of the government to the people, as many attempted before, Socrates spent time listening. He frequented markets, pinning his ears and asking questions (the very nature of the Socratic seminar we use today) in order to make the Athenian people think for themselves. While Socrates was eventually executed for his actions of enlightenment, his methodology has diffused itself into philosophy, education, and science. It developed into Aristotle and the rhetorical triangle. It created rhetoric. Socrates fed Plato. Plato fed Aristotle. All fed western thought. All were punished by the Greek state–all were feared over their ability to ask questions that evoke thought.

Today, the power of questioning can be seen in our very classroom, because it started with a question you asked. We told you to declare. To write your own version of the Declaration of Independence. To model it after our founding fathers who asked of the possibility. Their hypothesis based on the question: what would it be like if we were free from tyranny? They asked. Thought. Acted. Adjusted. And freedom was their result. That is the pattern in which ideas break the shackles of certainty–because suddenly there are paths, opportunities, and growth. Ask. Thought. Act.

And that’s what you did. You questioned what made you upset. What annoyed you? What augmented the feeling of emptiness–of apathy, after sitting in a space that is meant to enrich and fill your soul? You thought, drafted responses, adjusted them accordingly, and acted by developing a voice through writing.

Your answer echoed with all of us (your teachers), establishing a thread of commonality. That education can feel purposeless; its goals seemingly aimless and anachronistic–an ideology too long embedded in stone to be adjusted. That you think education too often becomes time wasted before you can go and live and become and learn in the world. It becomes, then, undervalued. And when education becomes undervalued in a culture or society, negative consequences for every single person ensue.

In response, we began to ask questions–how can we make education valuable again in a 21st-century space? What is valuable in an English class? What transferable skills do you need to take with you to be successful? And we brainstormed and thought and drafted and adjusted and reflected… and did it all over again–and this is how the changes this semester came about.

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This is all relevant now because this week we begin our discussion on inquiry–on asking good questions. How can we ask questions that evoke thought? That avoid certainty? That create solutions? That establish growth? That make a seemingly finite world blossom into infinite possibilities? As we dip our toes into the “-isms” of American Literature, this is what we will explore. We are pioneers, together, both in our new curriculum design, the skills we will create, and the world we will explore… and we are so excited to do this with you.

So question everything. Make sure they don’t just merit a yes or no response. Think. Listen. Analyze. Problem solve. Grow. Reflect. Try. Take risks. Do. For the world is transformed by inquiry, and you can transform the world.

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