What is the Question?

Thoughts on teaching a student to ask the right questions

I have been having delightful “private” conversations about this for some time. I think it’s time to throw it out into the public sector for comment and discussion. If classical education is all about the questions (and it is), and if questions can be of a greater or lesser quality (and they can), then we must (should, ought to) be able to teach students how to ask better questions. When I have posed the next logical question, “How do you teach students to question well?” I come across a lot of methodological answers, but Andrew Kern recently threw my way something of a model or basic strata of questioning that seems to be the root of the issue. I use “root” carefully, as I believe that as a teacher seeks to bring a student down a path of learning, the following questions are the general basis for the specifics of that path. Now I know Andrew did not birth them, but rather gleaned them from throughout classical studies on the Topics and the like.

The following are the roots of any good questioning on any given subject. I almost think the wise teacher should print these off on a 3X5 and have it in their pocket whenever they are planning a lesson or leading a class and run short on Socratic fuel.

Definition:
What is it?
Who is it?
What do you mean by…?

Comparison
How is x like y?
How is x different from y?
In degree?
In kind?

Relation
What is the relation between x and y?
What are the causes of x?
What are the effects of x?

Circumstances
What was happening at the time of x?
What is written around x (context)?

Testimony
Who says what about x?

Now that we have those on the table, the next move would be discussing the “ins” and “outs” of applying these to specifics. I would love to see either models of this suggested, or other possible root questions, or discussion of clarification for any of these. It seems so unorthodox for Christians to purposely seek to inculcate a “questioning” spirit in our students, but I think this is born out of becoming so convinced of the cynic’s point of view in our postmodernist culture that questions everything because it does not believe anything is possibly true. They question to assure themselves there is no truth; we question in order to arrive closer to the Truth.

A side bar here is the need to continue to visit the questioning of Christ. How often He taught in this manner cannot be denied, and rather should be the model for such thinking to be applied. Any great questions (or comments) are hereby requested.

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