Tuesday, October 13, 2020

On "Stupid" Questions

"Carl Sagan, in his work The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark said: "There are naive questions, tedious questions, ill-phrased questions, questions put after inadequate self-criticism. But every question is a cry to understand the world. There is no such thing as a dumb question"." (Wikipedia (2020) “No such thing as a stupid question” in Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_such_thing_as_a_stupid_question, [accessed 31/5/2020])
In training there will be elements which we do not know. There will be questions which arise from training which we need answered for us to go on with our training. There are different options available: ask another student, ask the trainer, or go see if you can find the information yourself.  In many situations people will opt for the last one until there is no other avenue, for fear of having to ask a question in the group. This fear can cripple not only the individual's learning but also the group's learning. This is primarily caused by the nemesis of the "stupid" question.

When a so-called "stupid" question is asked, the group usually responds with derision, and sometimes the trainer does too. This does not encourage the asking of any question within the group at all. It creates fear that the same sort of social rejection will occur. As a trainer it is something that we should fight against, it is something we should fight against even as fellow students. Each question should be treated with respect.

Some will claim that a question about something that has already been answered or explained should not be asked and is a "stupid" question. Is it really? What if the individual did not understand the explanation? If the information is useful, what is the harm of hearing it again? Is it not better that they hear the information again than make a mistake later and have to re-learn?

Some will claim that questions about things which are obvious should not be asked and are "stupid" questions. If the question is being asked, clearly it is not obvious to the individual who is asking the question. Such approaches do not take into account different paths to the same situation, different cultural or social situations, or people who may be new to the group.

The concept of the "stupid" question closes the mind off to chances for learning. The simple question seeks to the heart of a matter and can open new ways and new ideas about things. It can even give simple solutions to complex problems which people who are too embedded may not see. Questions in every group need to be encouraged.

Questions allow people to learn about their environment. We ask questions all of the time without realising it. Questions should be encouraged so members of a group, or school, can all become familiar with its operations. A person who is new to a group or school is not going to know how things operate and through questions, they can learn. We should always be encouraging questions from our students and our classmates.

For a much more in-depth discussion of the subject of "stupid" questions, their effect and how questions should be encouraged see one of my other blogs https://historicalsocialpolitical.blogspot.com/2020/07/on-stupid-questions.html. If you are interested in a pdf of this discussion, please contact me via e-mail.