Awaken wonder through engagement

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“What do you think?”

When was the last time someone asked you this?  And if you answered, did you just regurgitate what you heard some other expert say about this topic?

When was the last time you asked your children or your students this question?

There’s a problem in that the school system of today was created over a century ago to fill factories with workers who could follow direction.  The modus operandi: We know everything; Fill your head with facts; Follow directions.

In other words, shut up and follow orders.  Color in the lines, not outside. Do this, not that.

When I was young, I thought my father knew everything.  Anything I asked him, he had an answer for. Even when he would say, “Because I said so.”

But this mindset doesn’t work in today’s world.  We need curious, passionate, questioning people. These are the people who will be leading corporations, governments and shaping the world.  Every company, organization, the government is seeking problem solvers. People who ask questions that lead to innovation, invention and improvement.

It’s a shift in how we teach.  Instead of automatically giving facts, data, answers, we use questions.  And it’s best when it’s an open-ended question.

An example of a closed-end question is one that can be answered with a simple “Yes” or “No.”  It’s a question that has a definite answer and usually does not provoke discussion.

An open-ended question needs more than a single word to answer and often leads to even deeper questions.

In my music lessons, I try to answer questions with my own questions. They often produce a surprising answer.

I asked one of my young students how you would describe this music I had just demonstrated.

“It’s like a fight between left hand and right hand!”

Such a memorable and exciting way to describe music.

Another came up with a hysterically funny way of describing dotted half notes as “the one with the poop behind it.”

Another time, I asked a student what they thought the song “Lean On Me” by Bill Withers was about.

“Maybe this person couldn’t walk too well and they had to lean on their friend.”

Yes!

These kinds of insights are much more meaningful and memorable than anything I could have said.

But as students get older, I’ve noticed that they are less likely to give an answer or even ask a question.

It’s as if school has taught them to wait for the right answer.

Sometimes I push further and say, “But what if you did know?”

We’re rapidly moving to a world of artificial intelligence.  Machines that have all the answers. Every child now knows how to ask Alexa, Google or Siri about so many things.  But these are all factual. Without the ability to think and ask new creative open-ended questions, what kind of jobs will be left?

In a recent Wall Street Journal opinion piece, researcher Kai-Fu Lee writes

“While AI is great at optimizing for a highly narrow objective, it is unable to choose its own goals or to think creatively. And while AI is superhuman in the cold-blooded world of numbers and data, it lacks social skills or empathy—the ability to make another person feel understood and cared for…

What does that mean for workers who fear being replaced? Jobs that are asocial and repetitive, such as fast-food preparers or insurance adjusters, are likely to be taken over in their entirety. For jobs that are repetitive but social, such as bartenders and doctors, many of the core tasks will be done by AI, but there remains an interactive component that people will continue to perform. The jobs that will be safe, at least for now, are those well beyond the reach of AI’s capabilities in terms of creativity, strategy, and sociability, from social workers to CEOs.”

Social-emotional skills are what separates us from the machines.

We need to encourage thinking.  Encourage questions. Kindle curiosity and wonder.

“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” – Socrates

Here are some questions that you can use to generate original thinking and more questions:

  • What do you know about this topic?
  • What do you want to know?
  • What have you learned about this before?
  • How do you know this is true?
  • How do you feel about this?
  • What actions should you take?
  • What new questions do you have?

What questions do you use?  What do you think? Please share below.

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