Warren Berger has a terrific column posted over at Fast Company. He argues that the boldest innovators are terrific at asking questions that challenge existing assumptions and mental models. That's not surprising, of course. However, perhaps more interestingly, he cites a University of Michigan study that found that many business people are reluctant to ask questions at times because they don't want to seem ignorant or incompetent. Perhaps they don't want to be seen as upsetting the apple cart. Berger asked Richard Saul Wurman, the original creator of the TED Conference, about the reluctance of many people to ask the probing questions. Wurman argues that the educational system deserves some blame. Here is Berger's comment about his conversation with Wurman:
When I discussed the subject of “questioning” a while back with Richard Saul Wurman, the original creator of the TED Conference and a man who’s pretty much obsessed with questions, he immediately focused on the educational system. “In school, we’re rewarded for having the answer, not for asking a good question,” Wurman pointed out. Which may explain why kids--who start off asking endless “why” and “what if” questions--gradually ask fewer and fewer of them as they progress through grade school. And, Wurman observed, the questions they do ask tend to become “smaller and more proscribed.”
I think educators have to take this criticism to heart. We need to encourage our students to ask the "big questions" - as one of my colleagues told me the other day. We have to encourage them to challenge and probe, not just to memorize and regurgitate. That also means, however, that faculty have to stop advocating their own philosophies and ideologies, and focus instead on allowing the students to explore in a safe environment.