Jul 4, 2009
“How do you know so much about everything?” – was asked of a very wise and intelligent man. The answer was “By never being afraid or ashamed to ask questions about anything of which I was ignorant”.- (J. Abbot)
When I was an undergraduate student (cliché unintended), I cannot remember a single lecture or clinical discussion that did not end with question time. The lecturer invariably obliged by creating time – and boy, did we ask questions! Of every shade of ignorance! Sadly, this is not happening today. Oh, where have the questioners gone?
We are constantly told that lectures should be kept to a minimum. And that education is a teaching – learning process; of progressive intellectual maturity of the tutor and the taught. Telling all is no longer in; creating curiosity for information is. Didactic monologues are out, group participation is in. Structured essays are obsolete. MCQ’s are in. Seeking answers to questions is the essence of the learning process. One pauses fifteen minutes before the stroke of the hour to query “Any questions?’ A deadly silence ensues. What? Not a single question? Isn’t anyone curious anymore?
Curiosity never killed any cat. Treat with suspicion anyone who flings that adage at you. Indeed, according to Samuel Johnson, curiosity is one of the permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous intellect. It is one of the first and simplest emotions of the human mind. In children, it is but an appetite for knowledge. A learned man once said that you can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him to learn by creating curiosity, he will continue the learning process as long as he lives. This is like giving a fish everyday to a hungry man. Such an act of misplaced generosity could only keep the man hungry for ever for he would never learn to fish.
Questions are the symptoms of curiosity. They are the essence of the learning process – whether they originate from the lecturer, the student or the examiner. They are the stepping stones – the rungs of a ladder. Where are the climbers today?
A questioner comes in different sizes, shapes and frames of mind. There are ‘Genuine Questioners’. They seek information and clarify doubts. They are a rare breed. But there are other types too. A ‘Depth Gauge’ is one, who with recently acquired information, tests the instructor’s knowledge. The ‘Incorrigible Questioner’ questions for the sake of questioning. He would not be at peace with himself if he did not. The ‘Commenter’ delivers never ending monologues, “from his experience” in the guise of questions. He is found at conferences. And then there are ‘Planted Questioners’ who are handpicked by the speaker himself to promote audience participation at seminars and symposia. I am sure there are other types – God bless them!
However, it is not the DICPs that we need worry about. I am constantly on the look-out for the Genuine type. They have to be encouraged, protected, promoted and stimulated to breed. Perhaps through an Act in Universities – akin to the ones on wildlife preservation. And on war footing. For without this endangered species, where would the answers come from?
“Oh where, oh where has my little dog gone?
Oh where, oh where, can he be?
With his tail cut short and his ears so long,
Oh where, oh where, has he gone?
-A Nursery Rhyme