I sat in front of the professor during office hours two days before the midterm exam. As I was flipping through my notes, page after page, I was searching for something that would allow me to ask a question. What were the things that I was at least a little bit “fuzzy” on? What material that we have learned could potentially be on the exam? And how could I create a question? The professor would stare at me with an earnest smile and his hands clasped together on his desk as he waited for a query.
The peculiar thing about asking a question is that it simultaneous shows what you know and what you don’t know. It would shed light on whether or not you understand the information of a course, but, more importantly, it shows that you are aware of how well you understand the information. I don’t know how much we should students who ask questions in class are not the ones who are ignorant or stupid, but the ones who are the most cognizant of their own knowledge.
As I sat there in front of my professor with my eyes rested in my poorly-organized sketches of notes and homework problems, I realized that I couldn’t think of a question. The professor suggested that I should come up with a list of questions that night to ask him during the next day. One thing that has made my classes more and more difficult over the years is that professors expect more initiative from students to ensure that they understand the material of the course. It becomes so demanding that professors can most likely tell whether or not students know that they truly understand the material. Throughout my academic journey, I’ve noticed a shift in the responsibility of learning from the teacher to the student. Back in high school, it seemed the responsibility of the teacher to make sure that everyone in the classroom was able to integrate by parts or understand how to write a thesis statement in preparation for the test at the end of the week, but, in my Logic and Philosophy class this past semester, the professor did not give us a “textbook” of material that we would “need to know”, but, rather, present information through lectures that required the students to initiate queries to make sure we understood the information. It forced us to confront the omnipresent fear of asking a question, whether in class or elsewhere.
I think that, when students are too afraid to ask questions, it is due to a social pressure that we worry how others perceive us. Indeed, when one asks a question, he/she definitely doesn’t understand something, so, by doing so, we are revealing our true ignorance. But, in addition to understanding material, we must know if we understand that we know the material. If students were able to recognize that this “ignorance” is what keeps science and research running, maybe we wouldn’t be so afraid to ask questions.
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