the questioning classroom

From: Mervin Bitikofer <>
Date: Tue Feb 07 2006 - 20:01:22 EST

A recent periodical circulating around our school had as its theme:
"welcoming the tough questions in your classrooms".

Should school (at the high school level) be more about students
absorbing established wisdom or more about students exploring and
forging their own way, practicing and developing their own critical
thinking skills? Obviously some balance is probably the answer, but
should that balance only tip the latter way in college graduate and
doctorate courses and less so at the lower levels?

I anticipate some will say that both the above can be practiced together
- but to the extent that such happens under the watchful eye of the
instructor, encouraging some lines of questioning and withholding
encouragement in other cases - then the "critically thinking" students
are really being indoctrinated from on high though it may not appear so
at first.

One easy answer is to say that all critical thinkers examining the same
world, using common reasoning, can be expected to arrive at converging
conclusions. So let the students explore! They will eventually reach
truth. But of course it is so easy, then, to conclude that all who
don't agree with you simply haven't yet arrived. Or they have shut
their minds to *true* exploration. How convenient!

The authors in the periodical mentioned at the top obviously envisioned
limits on how accommodating the classroom can be to every different line
of questioning. In practice, none of us gets away from those
limitations. But towards which side of the balance should we aspire?
Do you want your undergraduates coming in docile, malleable, and willing
to learn and regurgitate all the "right" answers on demand? Or are they
better off contentious, adventurous, and bull-headed? (résumé for many
of the great thinkers of history?) Needless to say, our system is
happiest with the former category since they are, by far, the easiest
to plug through the system. And everybody gets kudos for high test
scores, so we love them.

What is the take on this from higher up the educational ladder?


Received on Tue Feb 7 20:07:07 2006

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