Asking daft questions?

I wrote this post as part of #teacher5ady29dayswriting but had to edit it to 500 words. The end result perhaps did a disservice to my lovely dad… here is the full version!

When I was younger, my dad would frequently say to me “stop asking so many daft questions!” He will probably deny that but I would simply question the validity of his memory…

Anyway, he did. I was quite probably an exasperating child to parent. Years later I remember hearing the claim “there’s no such thing as a stupid question” along with “a questioning mind is an intelligent mind”….and feeling slightly vindicated. There are, of course, many stupid questions such as “shall we keep all Muslims from entering the US?” but in my late teens I liked the idea that I was perhaps not as daft as all that.

Years later again and there was a big focus in teaching around asking Quality Questions which would elicit the right kind of answers from pupils. The idea there was that, if you don’t ask the questions in the right way you will exclude some pupils from being able to answer them. Makes sense to me.

The opposite of a quality question would be what the Germans like to refer to as ‘Quatsch’. When I teach German, I like to highlight to pupils those German words which give utter pleasure just through the speaking of them. For me, the greatest of those is ‘Meerschweinchen’ which means guinea pig. But close behind is ‘Quatsch’, and specifically when it is in the phrase “Das ist ja Quatsch!” (‘that is just nonsense!’) which would sound: ‘dass ist ya kvatsh’, with a heavy emphasis on the final syllable. Try it out…….

See? Don’t you feel great?

Had my dad learnt German from my mum instead of her learning English from him, he would almost certainly have responded to my daft questions with that phrase.

I just can’t not question. If I look back through my blog posts, they are peppered with question marks. It is something which sometimes lands me in trouble because I have a habit of asking the awkward questions that create challenge to the status quo. In meetings, there will often be a moment, at the end of a discussion where a deal has almost been sealed, where I’ll tentatively pipe up “…but can I just ask…?”. It is generally not what people want to hear. But if there is just a chance that we are going to make the wrong decision in relation to the life or future of a child or young question, isn’t it a question we need to ask?

It is not always an easy thing to live with. The early morning wake-ups, worrying about whether I have done the right thing and whether there has been a question left unanswered in a situation, or one that could have been answered differently; they lead to fatigue, self-doubt, irritability and often low mood in the morning.

Back to my dad and his memorable comments. Another of his favourites (as someone who actually thought and questioned a lot himself) was “there are no answers, only questions.” I think he had probably nicked it from Isaac Bashevis Singer and ‘Shosha’, or maybe paraphrased a quote from that book which was a favourite of his back in the eighties. At the time I found the concept hard as I wanted answers; a life of certainty, control and predictability.

But now I live more comfortably with my questioning mind. And I am more able to accept that there are some questions to which there are straightforward answers and others to which there are not and which need constant revisiting.

Writing blogs has helped. The enforced ritual of thinking and reflecting each day has given me a huge sense of satisfaction and allowed my brain a structured time to question. The fact that people have been interested in some of my ‘Quatsch’ has been a huge bonus and I am hugely grateful. I sometimes wonder if it is a hugely self indulgent task but then remember that people are perfectly free not to read what I write if they so choose.

I am not sure that I will be able to carry on every day once February ends. But then again, who knows?……




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