Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Just Question: A Blog & Spoken Word Piece on....Questioning.

Askin’ all them questions....” That’s a good thing actually, in the right context.

To begin with, I am a huge fan of quotes.   A quote has the ability to sum up many concepts in just a few short words or lines.  They can and should be dissected often, with interpretations and meaning being pulled from them.  I say that, to introduce to you one of my favorite quotes, which comes from Voltaire:

"Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers"

This quote means a lot to me now.  Unfortunately, I have not always valued questions.  I tended to look at life in terms of dualities, basically black and white... and not because of my race.  Seriously though, I tended to have an outlook that said that something was either true or not, right or wrong; give me a question and I’ll find the answer.  It was the answers that I believed made a person intelligent, or successful.  Looking back on my growth in maturity, at least the little that I have made so far, I am positive that it was the gradual shift towards asking more and more questions that was the most important element.  It is not that I suddenly learned to ask questions, for I always had them.  The difference is the value I placed on the questions, and the purposeful asking of grand questions, many of which have no clear answer.  

I am not sure if my memory is weaker than some, or if others simply exaggerate their ability to recall events from their past.  Personally many of my memories are simple snippets, and they seemingly have no rhyme or reason.  One event that I look back on as pivotal in my life contains many of those sketchy details, but I do remember enough to trace my path towards the enlightened to one day in Germany when I was about 19 years old.  I was working as an Air Traffic Controller in the Army at the time and there was a conversation going on about politics.  I knew nearly nothing on the subject at the time, and only a bit more now, but as always I had my ideas about how things should work.  I kept hearing my co-workers mention the terms “left” and “right” in their discussions on policies.  It was then and there that I asked myself what exactly those identifiers stood for.  

Completely random questions came to me at that very moment, and the days, months, and years that followed.  Questions that probably should have come up before, but never really did.  Many of which I believe help to determine an individual's ability to merge into society properly, what I now call American Middle Class codes.  I will save my venting on that subject for another day.  
Some of the types of questions that came to me include:

What do these opposing sides believe?  Do they believe it themselves, or is it for their constituents?  Are constituents everyone in their district, or just the ones that vote?  How are districts even formed?  Why are there only two sides?  How does money influence their decisions?........What do people do with so much silverware on their tables?  How do people remember names of individuals that they just met so easily?  Aren’t cable companies monopolies?  Is there a proper way to write an email?  Why is the NFL draft legal?  Who are the Beatles? ....

Beginning to Value Questions:
Being flooded with questions at every turn changed me forever.  Though given my lack of maturity I felt a heavy weight, because I saw my questions as lists that needed answers to be memorized.  I found myself wishing for a book that could give me all of the needed information to understand the details of conversations, stories in the news, and other daily references. During my college years I learned that  a man named E.D. Hirsch did make such a book, and luckily I didn’t find that out sooner because I probably would have bored myself to death trying to read it!  E.D. Hirsch heavily values answers, though it must have been some large questions that lead him to his ideas on knowledge and intelligence.  

I never did find a single source for all of the knowledge I was seeking at the time, but over the years I have accrued much of the information needed to help me successfully navigate the world that I live in.  This was accomplished by asking myself more questions, and finding answers to them when possible in books, online resources, discussions, and internal thought.  

The point of the matter is, the information was never hidden from me.  Besides the fact that it was always available if I knew where to look, though I didn’t, the most important ingredient that was missing was my personal understanding of the importance of questions.  Discovering “who” James Dean was, “what” the Emancipation Proclamation did, “when” women were granted the right to vote, “where” the mid-west was located, “why” fast food was unhealthy, and “how” to travel by airplane, was all a matter of how much I cared to question the subject at hand.   

But, It Took So Long!
So why didn’t I ask questions before?  Well, anecdotally I believe that is where urban schools fail their students most.  Parents are ultimately responsible, and should instill the desire to question in their children as well.  They are often products of the same environment however, and when they are working long hours, order and obedience in the household seems to be their primary concern, which makes a lesson on questioning pretty unlikely.  

Urban schools or maybe schools in general, with No Child Left Behind testing dictating the educators lessons more and more, are focused too much on providing answers.  If schools are preparatory institutions for life as an adult, then skills must be the most important element of an education.  

"Good teaching is more a giving of right questions than a giving of right answers."
-Josef Albers

It is not possible to force feed all of the information a student will need in life, but it is possible to teach them how to find that information on their own as it is needed.  

"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."
-Chinese Proverb

Taking it Further
The impetus in writing this, and the cementing of my theory on questioning came from an odd place.  I began watching a series titled “Ancient Aliens” on Netflix on a late night.  While the show may propose some theories that would be considered fringe, it was the questions that the series brought forth that really sparked my interest.  

To get a full understanding without belittling the show, it is necessary for one to watch it for themselves, but in a basic way I would say that the series questions how Ancient civilizations built some of the world's greatest structures.   Looking at the evidence such as the materials used (granite and other hard stones), the shaping of the materials, (precise cuts), and the designs made in the structures (intricate and identical), among other clues, the series questions how these structures were possibly made with technology of a lesser degree than our own.  The possible answers developed by the show’s researchers range from the ancient civilizations possessing greater technologies than our own to them being given the technology from alien beings.  The overall theme is; they didn’t have less technology than us, they had more.

Though understanding the truth behind the creation of these structures would be great, it is not the answers that were most important for me.  Instead it was the questions, and the implication of the questions themselves.  The most important question for me is, “why have I never wondered these things on my own?”  Am I so programmed not to question that I would look at the Ancient Pyramids, Easter Island Statues, Machu Picchu, and Stonehenge and not heavily question how they were made, and how they have lasted. Am I purposefully programmed this way?  Who decides to keep us believing these things?  Why would they?

It is very possible that a logical explanation exists for everything known and unknown in the world.  Is it not probable though that there are many things that we have yet to learn about the past?  Shouldn’t we look at such clear enigma’s with more scrutiny?  Honestly, the idea that ancient people did all of this with simple pulleys, ropes, and slave labor seems a bit far fetched now that I give it a little thought.  But again valuing the question is the key, for with an answer or not, if one does not value the question then the topic ends.  

The immediate realization that I made was that there must be far more complex questions that go unnoticed and unasked.  Not that being a conspiracy theorist is a healthy way to go about living.  One must at least wonder about the world around us:  Why is ‘natural flavor’ listed as an ingredient?  Is it not made of separate ingredients itself?  What is in it?  or Why exactly do we have fluoride in our drinking water? Dentists clearly have us avoid swallowing it in their office.  or How is the TSA so necessary when Amtrak and Greyhound have nearly zero security?  Are they not good enough targets for radicals?

Basically I wondered what other obvious questions I never thought to ask.  As a mature adult who knows the value of questions in achieving the modest successes I have earned in life thus far, I imagine that asking more questions of my surroundings and the things I see and hear could only enhance my ability to help others, which I see as the purpose of life.  So I took my early lesson of asking questions to find success, and enhanced it.  I now attempt to question everything, not because I am looking for the right answer, but because I want to consider, and make myself aware of, the possibilities.

Wrap-It Up B'
I am glad that I matured enough to find the value in questions.  I take pride in my responsibility to share this knowledge, I am thankful for the ability to do so through writing, and I am humbled by the ability to do so in the classroom.  I implore you to go out and discover some questions...the ones that have no answer are the best ones...like
"If anything is possible, is it possible for anything to be impossible?"

Serious questions are good too like:

What was the first mover?
Are we being deceived or protected? Who is hiding the information, and how do they decide when to do so? What, if anything, could be changed by asking these questions?

Check out the Spoken Word piece that I did in conjunction w/ this entry below.

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