Why Questioning Gone Extinct?

The threat of being ridiculed is perpetrated by class fellows and teachers“My mother made me a scientist,” reminisces physicist Isidor Rabi, Nobel Prize laureate. His mother would ask him frequently, “Izzy, did you ask a good question today?”
Why do our students not ask questions? What makes them wait with bland faces for the teacher to fill up the empty vessels of their brains like the students of Gradgrind’s school in Charles Dickens’ novel Hard Times? Its causative factors are not ambiguous. However, examination system, teachers and peer pressure are the prime factors that stifle the spirit of inquiry — the summum bonum to achieve the desired results of any education system. The unasked questions cause suffocation of learning in human mind. Gradually, the part of human brain associated with the faculty of questioning becomes vestige.
The thread that runs through these compelling factors is the prospective deterrence looming large in the classroom. The threat of being ridiculed is perpetrated by classfellows and teachers. Teachers interdict questioning because they perceive questioning as an iconoclastic threat to their authority or their so-called expertise. They make the questioner the butt of their jeering. Classfellows also jump on the bandwagon to scoff at the student for abruptly uttering the question that nabs the student’s mind when he applies what is being taught to some scenario in his mind. Such a cognitive aberration teachers and classfellows suffer from is called schadenfreude which means to find fun in the misfortunes of others.
Addiction to mobile phones has deprived young generation of the capacity to masticate on the questions raised in their minds. Child psychologists encourage the creeping and crawling among babies who visit every nook and cranny of the house. Even the change of the texture and temperature of floors, carpets and soil lends the child at baby or toddler stage sensory knowledge through serendipitous vibrations collected via the antennae of hands, knees and feet. When babies are calmed at the screen, they are denied the opportunity to navigate into the unknown. Such children, psychologists aver, when grown up, remain shy and hesitate to ask questions.
Our educational institutions are the nanny states of teachers, management or even the governments. The clawed grip on free thinking in our classrooms concretises the repressive regimentation of mind and behaviour depicted masterfully in George Orwell’s novel 1984. Suppression of questions promotes the habit of rote learning among students. Eventually rote learning tolls the deathbell for imagination. Students become incapacitated to venture on to know what follows “What If”. They never have any eureka moments in their life.
We are not wired by Nature to take anything for granted. Actually we are conditioned at home and school not to employ our faculty of reasoning. Then, our education system especially examination system does not require students to be skeptic. Students are required just to regurgitate the mugged-up stuff. Even our textbooks do not stir their imagination. Textbooks are resorted to by students and teachers as some revealed books never to be defied. The students’ answers are adjudged as per the contents of the books. Einstein exclaims: “It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.”
The Right Question Institute (RQI) conducts online workshops at the Harvard Graduate School of Education to offer active learning experiences in the Question Formulation Technique, a method of teaching students to ask better questions that can trigger a path to some discovery. Such a system does not exist even at graduate and postgraduate levels in our country. Now intelligence is not quantised as Intelligence Quotient, rather as Intelligent Questioning.
Acquiescence to manipulated ‘’facts and truths’’ without assaying them on anti-Cartesian cause-and-effect is patronised as the most courteous of manners. Being a species endowed with rationality it does not behove us to develop a blindspot to rationalism. To sustain our children’s curiosity and creativity, and ensure their school, college and career success, and make them grow resilient and constructive, we first need to instill the keenness of inquiry.
“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lightning of a fire,” exhorts WB Yeats.

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