Friday, December 29, 2006

How did we human beings get to become the dominant species on this planet? It isn't because we have opposable thumbs, as some hacks might suggest. If it was, then we'd be facing competition against the other primates and a couple of squirrels in a triple-threat match to be "King of the Hill". But so far, we seem to be the only ones able to survive pretty much anywhere on Earth. For changing the environment to suit ourselves rather than adapting ourselves to suit our environment, no one else is in our league.

I think it's because we've made 6 good friends, and we've been leveraging on their strength ever since. They are: who, what, when, where, why, and how.

Our ability to ask questions means that we no longer have to accept status quo all the time. We can question our current situation, draw implications from conclusions to our queries, and plan ahead to implement our desired predictions, forecasts and outcomes. We dare ask, "how might our future be better than it is now?" No other animal does anything like this.

So asking questions has to be our #1 most important skill to learn. It has helped us crawl out of the mud, climb down off the trees and it will eventually take us to the stars -- if we so desire.

When I look at our approach to education, though, I have to wonder if we are teaching the right skills. School experience for the student is almost entirely just learning what the answers are. But if they didn't ask the question in the first place, why should they care about what the answer is, anyway?

Besides, the skill of answering questions is a nonsense skill. Answers are static, fixed. Answers reinforce the status quo. Answers force acceptance, giving the impression that nothing can or will change, um, because. Answers are always right, even though they may be wrong. What's the shape of the world? What's at the centre of the universe? Whatever the answer, people at one time believed it, though today, we believe in a totally different answer. And whatever we believe must be right. Right? Whatever.

When we teach students to answer GP questions, whether compre or essay, to me it seems like putting the cart before the horse. We ought to be teaching (or re-teaching) kids to ask questions first.

I believe that the right questions will answer themselves. So when they learn to ask the right questions, they'll learn something that's so much more practical and potentially more life-changing than just learning the right answers.

Will try this approach with my '07 kids. Hope they won't kill me for educational heresy.

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