If education is essentially a search for meaning, then should our goal as teachers be to ask good questions even when there are no clear answers?
For decades, our education systems have been built around the transmission of knowledge from teacher to student. The prescribed curriculum provided one path through the maze and gave students few opportunities to learn through experimentation – to connect their own dots.
Young Joo Kim writes ‘when trasmitting knowledge from the top becomes a dominant teaching practice, students develop a habit of mind that submits and conforms to ideas of others, rather than constructing their own views and thoughts on a subject.’ My colleague from the US, Marco Torres refers to it as the single layered classroom. One question, one pre-determined answer (see Ferris Bueller’s Day Off ).
In the industrial model of schooling, the teacher might have had the answers but today, it is Google. In last weekend’s New York Times, Neal Gabler wrote:
We live in the much vaunted Age of Information. Courtesy of the Internet, we seem to have immediate access to anything that anyone could ever want to know. We are certainly the most informed generation in history, at least quantitatively. There are trillions upon trillions of bytes out there in the ether — so much to gather and to think about.
And that’s just the point. In the past, we collected information not simply to know things. That was only the beginning. We also collected information to convert it into something larger than facts and ultimately more useful — into ideas that made sense of the information. We sought not just to apprehend the world but to truly comprehend it, which is the primary function of ideas. Great ideas explain the world and one another to us.
In Singapore, teachers don’t just want their students to comprehend the world but to recognise how they can change it. Many schools have introduced action-research. As one teacher quoted in The Flat World and Education “Action research is concerned with changing situations, not just intepreting them…the aim is not only to make students learn why the world works in a certain way, but rather what they can do to improve it.” ( p187).
Marco uses Nokia and Apple to illustrate this point. After dominating the mobile phone market for a decade, Nokia’s question was ‘how do we make better phones?’ Apple considered the challenge and asked ‘how do we help people have a more personal communication experience?’ One focussed on the product, the other on the user experience.
In many ways we have tied schooling to the product, content to knowledge, teaching to curriculum delivery and we have allowed the answer to shape the question.
When the profession is guided by good questions, the instructional core is strengthened and we move a few steps closer to wisdom.