What is the key question?

Not to sound like Abbott and Costello, but actually “why” is the key question. A year ago, my boss’s boss, Pam Bator — new in that role at the time — started a blog called“Why?” Note the question mark, as it’s an essential part of what serves as a four-character acronym. Although the primary purpose of her blog is to share information, to tell us why, she is also inviting us to ask why.

This invitation flies in the face of current trends in education, especially from the right. So many of today’s so-called “reformers” want nothing more than to restrict teachers and students to measurable facts. They can’t tell us why, since their answers would be unacceptable. They can’t encourage us to ask why, as we’ll ask awkward questions. And they certainly don’t want uppity students to ask why, as that would be questioning authority. Remember Mr. Gradgrind from Hard Times?

Thomas Gradgrind, sir.  A man of realities.  A man of facts and calculations.  A man who proceeds upon the principle that two and two are four, and nothing over, and who is not to be talked into allowing for anything over.  Thomas Gradgrind, sir—peremptorily Thomas—Thomas Gradgrind.  With a rule and a pair of scales, and the multiplication table always in his pocket, sir, ready to weigh and measure any parcel of human nature, and tell you exactly what it comes to.  It is a mere question of figures, a case of simple arithmetic.  You might hope to get some other nonsensical belief into the head of George Gradgrind, or Augustus Gradgrind, or John Gradgrind, or Joseph Gradgrind (all supposititious, non-existent persons), but into the head of Thomas Gradgrind—no, sir!

That, of course, is Charles Dickens’s satire from 110 years ago, but it sure sounds familiar today.

Categories: Teaching & Learning, Weston