McGraw Hill Education
  • In Other Words

Where Did All the Questions Go?

by Denise Brennan-Nelson
April 24, 2014

“The power to question is the basis of all human progress.”
                                                -Indira Ghandi                  

Where Did All the Questions Go? 	When I ask a room full of five and six year olds if they have any questions, I hear all sorts of funny stories and interesting comments—some having to do with the topic I have been sharing with them, but most are completely unrelated. They haven’t yet learned the art of questioning. But they will, right?

What do you think happens when I ask a room full of adults the same question? Do hands excitedly shoot up, vying to be picked so their brilliant, bountiful questions will be answered and they will learn something new, something they didn’t know? Not exactly.

I recently asked a group of teachers standing in front of an assembly of students if they had any questions and the only bountiful thing in the room was my embarrassment when none of them had a question for me. What did I do wrong? Had I not stirred their imaginations and curiosity enough to illicit a question from any of them?
Some of you may be thinking:

  • I put them on the spot and they are not quick-on-their-feet thinkers.
  • My presentation was fascinating and thorough and I had answered all of their questions.
  • My presentation was long and boring and they wanted to get the heck out of there.

Yes, it could have been any of those things (though I really hope it wasn’t the latter) but lately I have been wondering—where did all the questions go? What‘s happened to our sense of fascination and curiosity? Are we teaching questioning skills in school? Are we able to formulate and ask insightful questions ourselves? What are we afraid of? That our questions won’t be cool? That, contrary to what we’ve been told, there really are stupid questions?

The truth is, I rarely ask for questions anymore. The silent stares I get in return have left me “question shy.” There are some questions that I can count on - “How old are you?” and “Are you rich?” I understand that these questions satisfy a natural curiosity. But we all know that these are not the thick, meaty questions that we long for. They are not thought-provoking, insightful, authentic “let me think about that for awhile,” questions. Occasionally, I receive a few that fit that description. Some of the really good ones I am still pondering.

That’s what a good question does: It makes you think and wonder and ponder. But maybe that’s part of the problem. Perhaps we are uncomfortable engaging in deeper and more complex questioning.  Or are we just too busy - in our schools, homes, and lives - to step back and question anything?

We need to give our children and ourselves the time, security, and support to question.  As Albert Einstein put it, “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”

Don’t stop questioning. And please, continue teaching children the art and skill of questioning. We need more inquisitiveness in the world, don’t you agree? More “what ifs” and “why nots.” Questions that require more than a one- or two-word answer.

In my line of work asking questions has played an important role. Many of my books started with a question:       

  • “Grady the Goose”: “Why do geese fly the way they do?”
  • “Someday is Not a Day of the Week”:“Why are there seven days in a week? Andwhat would happen if we had an eighth day?”
  • “My Momma Likes to Say”: “Remember all the funny things Mom used to say?”

And my very first book, “Buzzy the Bumblebee” got its wings when I learned that scientific studies pointed out that bumble bees are not equipped to fly. “It’s a good thing bumblebees don’t know that!” I thought, which lead to the question, “But what would happen if they did?”

My newest book, “Teach Me to Love” also began with a question: What are we teaching our children? In the story, baby animals learn to run and climb and hop and swing, and ultimately, to love. I can’t help but think about a Teach Me sequel. And as I do, I find myself asking, “How can we better teach our kids to wonder, inquire, probe, search, seek, study, explore, analyze, examine, question?

Now there’s a question worth pondering.

Come see Denise Brennan-Nelson at IRA's 59th Annual Conference. She will be signing "Maestro Stu Saves the Zoo" in the Sleeping Bear Press booth (#1446) on Sunday, May 11th.

Denise Brennan NelsonDenise Brennan-Nelson has written several books for children, including “He’s Been a Monster All Day!,” “Maestro Stu Saves the Zoo,” and “My Teacher Likes to Say.” As a national speaker, she encourages adults and children to tap into their imaginations to create richer, fuller lives. She also travels the country sharing her reading and writing enthusiasm with schoolchildren and teachers. Denise, who lives in Howell, Michigan with her husband, Bob, and their two daughters, Rebecca and Rachel, strives to spend each day teaching and learning with a creative spirit. Find out more about Denise at www.denisebrennannelson.com.  

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