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Colton Cutchens

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How much of a right do students have to questioning and independent thinking?

What is your opinion on how much students should be allowed to question? Do they have the right to question if they may see a logical fallacy? If so, how far are they allowed to question it? Why?

In addition: I understand teachers try to allow students to question, but sometimes are limited by the administration (and/or bureaucracy). Why is this?

  • Jan 10 2013: If students leave their classrooms not knowing what questions to ask -- not knowing how to instigate their own learning -- then the answers they have been taught or come up with become non-transferable and static. When I lecture (which isn't very often), I suggest to my students that they take notes on the questions I ask, not the answers to the questions. Most students have not been taught HOW to question or WHAT KINDS of questions lead to different types of answers. Questioning is THE most vital component of critical thinking, and it is, without a doubt in my mind and based on my experiences as a teacher, CRITICAL THINKING that enables students to learn beyond books and to apply their learning to situations outside the classroom.
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    Jan 5 2013: Silly people. The earth is flat, and all things revolve around it. How could you ever question that?

    If you are a teacher you are here to teach, not dictate doctrine. You are here to push people to learn, question, to explore, and to discover new things. If you have a problem with that find a new line of work.
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      Jan 5 2013: Hi David,

      You missed my earlier post. School districts don't allow teachers to push young people to learn, question or explore... to discover new things. They are to instruct the student to get a good grade on the state tests. Everything else is superfluous. And a large percentage of teachers have a problem with that. Turnover rates at some districts in my home area are worse then Mc Donalds. No offense to Mc D.
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        Jan 6 2013: Actually, the federal and state laws, rules, and regulations, union influence in politics, funding based on the results of standardized tests, and shortsightedness on the parts of our leaders, all combine to cause the issues we see. They combine to create a system that pushes all students towards the LCD. Punishing those who can be come great, and rewarding those that are borderline Forrest Gump. A school voucher system, and allowing parents to choose the schools their children attend, would do a lot to alleviate these issues.
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          Jan 6 2013: David, you got it right. I have heard of successful voucher programs and they do help.
          In my perfect world, all eduction would be private. Parents would pay for their children's eduction. Parents pay for Harvard for college, why not the 1st grade level. It's a mad dream, I know. But, I think the current Public School system has let us down for all the reasons you noted and a couple of my own.
          The initial concept for public schools came from the founding fathers who understood that the electorate in the new United States would need a clear understanding of the mechanics of a Constitution Republic to make it work. Today, civics is a high school senior snooze course. If you listened to the voters interviewed during the last election, I can honestly claim there has been a lot of sleeping going on.
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        Jan 6 2013: This whole 4 levels of comment stuff is horrible. It needs to be fixed.
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        Jan 6 2013: I wouldn't go as far as you and make parents to pay for all their children's education K-12. It would be a nightmare, where only the rich had educations and poor people got left behind. And government forcing people to pay a per child education Tax would be unworkable. In maybe 15-30 years we can get away with it as computer based education and course certifications become the norm. But now no way.
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        Jan 7 2013: To David and Mike- What do you think of all education, elementary to collegiate, being free to the public?
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          Jan 7 2013: Truth be told we are entering an age of abundance in education. You just need one person in a dorm room to pull together khan and other resources in a workable manner.

          So your point is moot, everyone with a cellphone or tablet will soon have education available for free.
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        Jan 7 2013: I do think I answered both parts of the question. One with a snarky remark, the other later on with my response about. "Actually, the federal and state laws, rules .....etc".
  • Jan 12 2013: One thing I haven't seen mentioned in this thread is how cultural and social environments influence whether students ask questions or not. In a composition course I taught a few years ago, one of my students, who was an exchange student from China, never spoke in class and never asked questions even though it was clear from her work that she was struggling with understanding the assignments. One day in class, we began an impromptu discussion about what the responsibility of a student was in his/her own education, and this student informed us that in her culture, questioning a professor was considered disrespectful, that it was tantamount to questioning the teacher's credibility. In other words, the responsibility for understanding material once a professor/teacher had explained it in class was on the student. This made me much more sensitive to the reasons WHY students might not ask questions and to clarifying for students what the purpose and impact of asking questions was in my courses.
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      Jan 12 2013: It is important, as you write, Tracy, that the culture of teacher-student relationships and responsibilities varies by country. You speak from the experience of having seen this, but many people confuse stereotype for having a real picture.

      Some months back, as an example, I ran across an educated person who believed that Americans are either trained/educated or disposed to trust what other Americans claim and to distrust claims made by those who are not Americans. I would sooner have said that Americans are trained/educated to question most of what anyone claims, regardless of where the speaker is from!
  • Anne N

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    Jan 14 2013: Students should be allowed to question and challenge the teacher to a certain extent. However, I believe that neither students nor teachers should diss each other's opinions. Sometimes, when the student is questioning too much in a classroom context, he or she should approach the teacher to ask them about the subject matter after classes. I believe the context in which a student questions is important as well. This is because not all students would want to listen to a debate between opinions in class.

    Teachers should definitely try to answer the students' questions and encourage independent thinking as far as possible. However, if the student goes so far as to disrespect the opinions that the teacher is trying to give, I feel that the teacher should be allowed to "reel" the student back in.

    In a nutshell, I believe that independent thinking and questioning should be done in appropriate manners in appropriate contexts.
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    Jan 10 2013: I am confused. We went from a discussion of students have rights to questioning ( information from teachers who might be limited or restricted ) and independent thinking. Simple question, simple answer. It's not about rights, students have a responsibility to question and conduct independent thinking. That is how most students best acquire information to process into their knowledge.

    None of this is about teachers, or class sizes, or funding or social responsibilities of school systems, public or private. Now students who do question or go on to independent thinking and are rebuffed; that is a sad disheartening situation. It makes no difference to the student about the teachers, the schools, the system, the universal cosmos. He was stifled in his quest to gain information to satisfy his need for his knowledge.
    Everything else is an excuse.
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    Jan 4 2013: Unlimited right........
    Why should be there any limit ?
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      Jan 4 2013: yes. there should definitely not be!
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      Jan 4 2013: When the questions prevent other students from learning, a limit should be in place.
      So teachers having to set some limits and they have rights also, how to find the balance between each of the rights is the tricky part.
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        Jan 4 2013: i agree.

        if you're being flat out disrespectful by asking questions for the wrong reasons rather than genuinely possessing a question, or simply to be a jerk to the teacher in the middle of class for whatever reason, there should be a limit on that. as soon as it becomes disruptive, that's stepping outside the student's given right and is infringing on other students' right (to be educated without such disruption.)

        the teachers definitely do have rights. there's got to be a balance. perhaps one thing that would help is if questions and comments were encouraged for after class, instead of in the middle of class. this right is NOT an excuse to cause disruptions and be disrespectful! there is a proper way to ask and make comments.
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        Jan 5 2013: "No question is dumb , answers can be".....having said that I do agree questions can be intensionally disrespectful or disruptive....which need to be handled in right way instead of just limiting the questioning....

        Students also need to learn how a question can be such disruptive ...so through answers they need learn not repeat such. The challenge is , many a times we adults don't know answers of all question that comes in curious mind of kids.....in many instances we feel insecure to agree that we don't know everything or even if we know due to taboo don;t know how to answer it so consider those question to be disrespectful or disruptive (it can have cultrual bias as well)....and that's the risk.

        @Linda I agree that we should also encourage kids to find answers of questions of their own , which will make them explorative and also drive their independant thinking....

        Many a times personally I ask my sons to find answers from books or internet though I know the asnwer ....that I do in a playful way....and this technique I don't feel as to be way of "limiting" question it's rather the other way.....however it's my personal feeling....
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          Jan 7 2013: i do the same thing with people. telling them to look it up, just as a way to show that you are capable of finding answers with your own resourcefulness and don't always need to be taught. it's a very important skill. :)
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      Jan 4 2013: I'm with Don. You can question all you want but do not expect the answers. Those you have to find out for yourself.
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        Jan 4 2013: I see what you are trying to state here and in your previous comment, but I think I need a little more explanation. Students have a right to unlimited questions and find the answers they are seeking about the information themselves, but sometimes must trust what the teacher is doing, whether it be the information itself or the structure of teaching. So does this also apply if a student thinks they see a fallacy within the procedure itself, set forth by the teacher or the administration? Should they be allowed to question it?
        • Jan 4 2013: It sounds like you are questioning where exactly that balance lies, right?

          The answer seems contextual, but there is no doubt this it is tough to determine regardless of the context. I think that in a group educational setting, students should definitely be encouraged to understand the material as much as possible, but learn to trust the teacher/book/others when the other student are not learning anything from one student's persistent questioning.

          With that said, I think it is ultimately the students that never stop asking "why" who end up becoming experts, innovators, and trailblazers in their field and who end up pushing the boundaries of what we know as a species. For example, we were once taught that electrons, neutrons, and protons were the smallest subatomic particles. If every student, in previous group setting, trusted the teacher after offered that conclusion, nobody would have never discovered fermions, bosons, quarks, etc (except maybe by accident, which they may have in a parallel universe).

          My point, which I think is just an extended form of Don and Linda's, is that questioning in the group setting should be encouraged up to the point where others students would not benefit. Outside of the group setting, they should be allowed to question without limit. In that case, the capacity to individually understand, the capacity of the collective human knowledge, and/or physical limitations become the only obstacles to finding the answers.
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    Jan 4 2013: when it comes to students independently question and thinking critically, they have an absolute right and nothing less... the right to question information presented until satisfied and in understanding. it's worthless to say they would be receiving an education if they cannot, at the very least, question its validity or call out a fallacy.

    at the point in which students do not have this right, what happens in the classroom becomes something other than learning; instead, it becomes nothing more than standardisation, repetition, memorisation, and information without purpose. when there is a lack of learner autonomy in the classroom, the student takes a passive role... a role where the rational mind does not belong. you cannot create a classroom environment so toxically authoritarian and oppressive towards critical thinking, yet still expect students to walk away with real, applicable knowledge. this seethes hypocrisy and lack of respect for these students, who are already shown a dysmal amount as a result of being forced into the long-obsolete american public education system.

    that was a bit of a ramble but i feel very passionately on this subject.
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    Jan 26 2013: Well, as you have read and should understand by now, question everything! To many, this is too much. To truly question means you will have to dig, to go to more than one source. Read between the lines. I don't know what I don't know = people making statements on subjects they know nothing about: but I saw it on fox news, msnbc, tv, it was on the internet...Students need to make a habit of questioning, if you just accept what you hear/read you may not know the truth. The other has been answered, How the school rates in the state is all that matters. Some teachers will go out of their way, give you more then just what you need for the test. But it is also true that some questions of religion or abortion can't be answered
  • Jan 14 2013: I think they have the right to question everything from the color of the sky to the foundation of our country. Education is meant to do just that; maximize every individual to his or her potential as an independent thinker.

    I think teachers really try to do their job. But laws like NCLB really curb that, and the teachers really don't have a choice. Their input on changing how the educational system works is really limited, if not eliminated entirely. With their pay penalized if the students aren't "advancing", teachers are sort of forcing students to be good test-takers rather than critical thinkers, despite that huge potential we each have.

    The reason behind that (warning, I am completely biased on my position, and very opinioniated, but here it comes), is private money. It seems to be the conservative dream to privitize schools for "efficiency", but, to me, its more like a sort of relish for making money of our public schools. Education should be free of money, and taking on the business model has already corrupted our schools enough, taking the educators out of the equation, and allowing for the wealthiest individuals and businesses to decide what or how to teach the students for them.
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    Jan 14 2013: As an educator, I believe students have all the right to question and to make logical conclusions. This type of thinking is how our country got out of tyranny and became independent from the British Empire. This type of thinking gave us the Bill of Rights, the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, and acts that were made law to help us in our quest for understanding. Students need to question everything so they can decide what is ethical and what is not. This is how they learn and become independent thinkers in this society.
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    Jan 13 2013: IMO Students have the right to question everything, teachers have the responsibility to answer everything about the subject and any related subjects being taught (to the best of their ability).

    There is no such thing as learning without questions and there is no thing above questioning. This is the root of all understanding, being able (or unable) to answer questions. Questions can teach the teacher as much as the student.

    So all things considered I consider it more of a responsibility (to yourself and for society) for a student to question.

    Great topic!
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    Jan 11 2013: As a former teenager (I'm 61 now) I understand completely what you are saying. The same situation existed when I was in school. Conformity, in it's simplest form is just following the rules.

    What is being revealed here (IMO) is the fact the learning environment, which is not completely functional, creates an atmosphere where the relationship between teacher and students are strained. This causes everyone to behave in a defensive manner rather than one where the free and open exchange of ideas can be played out.

    My question to some of the teenagers here is, how can the school environment be altered to promote a better environment, conducive to the free and open exchange of ideas between teacher and student? What do you think prevents this environment from being established?
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      Jan 12 2013: i am a engineering student.i am from india .Here student just memorize their syllabus because professor have not ability to teach us. then how can we ask questions to those who dont have ability to answer our question.
      and we ask questions to our friends because they will understand us because professors are not like our friends so they understand us always try to make joke of student question for just keep their respect in classroom.All of us fear from professors if we misbehave with them they will detain us. thats why i just stay from them......
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        Jan 12 2013: @ Parth Mahida:

        "...how can we ask questions to those who dont have ability to answer our question." Your question answers itself my friend. Ask a rock instead and you have the same situation. You would not ask a rock because you know, beforehand that the rock does not know the answer. Instead, you search for the answer in other locations or from other people. There are many notable Engineers in India who would be willing to answer your question. I would suggest forming a study group, which will increase your odds of finding the answers you seek.
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      Jan 12 2013: I think that some teachers provide enough space for growth, for instance recommended reading is an amazing way for students to explore answers on their own. However, one must appreciate that social interaction helps others/some along. How do you introduce discussion? perhaps tutorials, or group discussions led by a tutor. I've seen these and enjoyed these.

      I also always appreciate teachers that are understanding and knows that I have burdens. A simple 'I understand' makes me work much more harder.

      I think the biggest downfall of education is that we are expected to have a certain amount of knowledge at a certain point and thus taught a certain amount of knowledge at a certain point. It is cyclical, this gauge that is used. I have been kicked out of a class for 'knowing too much' or asked to stay quiet because apparently I had an advantage over the other students. I dropped out. If anyone looks at my stats they're going to see I DROPPED OUT and not that I spent classes where I was asked to 'observe' or possibly help someone with an answer or some thing.

      Independent learning does take some responsibility but I believe assuming the students have that capacity rather than assuming they don't does much more good than bad.
  • Jan 10 2013: I am not saying that all questions warrant an immediate response. I would say that all questions made in class should be relevant to the class. They should be probing, and insightful, and on topic. I too dislike those who ask questions just to disrupt the class.

    I have taught for a few years, and although I teach in a very different arena to a University lecture, there are some parallels which cannot be forgotten. I too have experienced the students to are just there to be disruptive, but they have a right to ask questions, and I will do my upmost to answer them during their breaks (that is, if they are still interested without the rest of the class present!). But I would say that in my experience the majority of questions are there so that students can clarify what I have said, and to expand their knowledge on something they are interested - these are questions I will always try and answer in class as they are to the benefit of all present. I would go so far as to say that if I ignored them I wouldn't be doing my job. I would also add, that in my experience at least, being flippent to students does more harm then good as they can lose respect for you. I would much rather come out on top by telling them I will talk to them about it later should they wish, than tell than ridicule them.

    In answer to Brock, I never said that I was always right, and there is nothing wrong in me being wrong. But there is a huge difference between being told you are categorically wrong, and explaining the error you are making. I would say that explaining the error is actual teaching as I would be able to improve for next time, whilst being told to sit down and shut up leaves no room for free thought.

    Also, Carolyn's original point above does say 'example'. Either way, the point she is making is no less valid.
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    Jan 9 2013: I have always felt that learning can only support itself - Mistakes are the best teachers and innovation the child of mistakes. I hate having to learn materials from a book to spill it back out. I've lost marks in school for not writing something the way I should and my parents, on realizing that I CAN regurgitate the thing but refuse it have grown weary and angry with me - 'I am a revolutionary' and statements of that sort. We have a right to use and question OUR education; something we pay for, a VERY scary time of our lives, to figure out not just our future but the future in general. I wish my teachers and parents would stop telling me how hard THEY had it and how lucky I am and just for ONE second listen to what I WANT from my EDUCATION.
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      Jan 9 2013: You get to say what you want from your education when you get to graduate school. Until then, we are not concerned with what you want. We are concerned with what you need.
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        Jan 12 2013: And of course, if you climb out of bed after 6pm or before 6am, the boogie man is going to get you...
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          Jan 12 2013: Like I said, students do not know what I know. Get over it.
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        Jan 12 2013: how about a hug my dear?

        *whispers: "contrary to popular belief; standing on a cliff and yelling 'I have all the knowledge in the world', does little to convince people..."



        "there, there"
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          Jan 12 2013: Too funny! I do apologize if my posting seemed that I had some emotional commitment here. It was just a statement of fact.

          Look you sound like a reasonably intelligent person. But I do not teach the 'Introduction to' or 'Fundamentals of' courses. By the time a student reaches the level of the courses I teach they are competitive and have been told most of their lives what a great student they are. They actually think this and it is somehow wrapped up in their self-esteem.

          I teach incredibly rigorous courses and it has an effect on the students in my class. All of a sudden they go from being such a stellar student to being lucky if they can pass the class. Because of this they think it has to be someone else's fault. Me or the school. Or maybe it's not for them.

          I counted one semester. I teach about 5,000 pages of text. in one semester. This is not my fault or the Unis fault but it is the dictates of the profession I am guiding students toward.

          I see students that say the same thing as you. I'm smart, I've never failed, you're doing it wrong.

          If you are bored in class or already know the subject, you should proficiency out of the class. I did that for about 6 classes both undergrad and graduate level. It saves a lot of time and annoyance.

          But please consider the possibility that everything you are saying has been said before. Students always think they are the only one with the problems and we've seen it all before.

          I have single moms living out of cars in my class. Sometimes I take them home. You have no basis to whine.
    • Jan 9 2013: Students do have choices in what they learn. However, the purpose of tax payer funded education is to prepare the student for a 21st century economy.

      For OUR money, WE expect children to learn at a minimum, reading, writing, math, science, and a few other things...Children do get to choose some electives as well, like art, music, wood shop, automotive, etc...

      We also expect them to put effort into their studies. A diploma or a degree is the product of work.
  • Jan 9 2013: Very valid question. The replies stating curriculum restraints, is IMHO, a cop out, hidding behind the establishment, in an effort to avoid the question.
    In an honest learning environment, questions should be encouraged, not discouraged, and if there is a time constraint, then change the time frame to allow time for said questioning.
    Every speech I've ever conducted, I've always allowed time for questions, such questioning is evidance that listeners have listened to what you've said, digested it and come up with questions as a responce.
    Has it ever occured to posters here, that the anger young people display today, may in part be driven by the hypocrisy they see their parents and adults in their lives practicing one thing and preaching another to their kids, and when they ask questions they are put down or ignored ?
    You bet they have a right to ask questions, and if folks can't answer them, they need to find the asnwer themselves. NOT COP OUT.
  • Jan 8 2013: Always ask the next question. Always.
  • Jan 7 2013: The only time this question ever seems to come up is when there are religious implications associated with the material. No one would question whether a calculus class should teach calculus, or that a wood shop class should teach equipment safety.

    It would be absurd for a student to debate calculus before learning it, and it follows by the same logic that it would be just as absurd to debate evolutionary theory before learning it. Miss-information does a disservice to the other students - at no point can the student, prior to learning the material, ever claim to be an expert.
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      Jan 8 2013: Are you saying that students question the integrity of the subjects themselves?
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        Jan 8 2013: They should. They also should question the knowledge of the teacher and the accuracy and assumptions of the textbooks and other materials. They should question the scope of a course and the sequence of courses within a department.

        They don't, though. Teachers don't, either. No one does.

        Why do we teach algebra 1, geometry, and then algebra 2? We teach Macbeth in 12th grade because it's in the textbook. We don't teach A Comedy of Errors at all because it isn't in the textbook.

        Everyone with a stake in education (which is everyone) should question everything about education.
        • Jan 8 2013: The students don't have the expertise to question what subjects should and shouldn't be taught. They simply don't have the life experience to know what matters most. That is where parents, teachers, business leaders, and school boards come in. They DO have the life experiences to know what will prepare a child to be ready for a 21st century economy.

          As for questioning the text books...The students are NOT subject matter experts. The hundreds of subject matter educated people that reviewed the textbook prior to them ever entering your school district are. If you think the students already know the material, then let THEM teach the class...Absurd huh? Of course, if they already know it, then what do we need YOU for?

          You asked, "Why do we teach algebra 1, geometry, and then algebra 2?"

          Just because YOU don't understand the sequence, doesn't mean that it is incorrect. In the end, algebra 1 teaches practical math that can be used in everyday life. Geometry teaches logic. Algebra 2 is when math starts gearing more towards a serious study of math and science, which doesn't necessarily apply to all students. The sequence is very rational. Math educators understand it, because that is what they do, day in and day out.

          But really the question I have for you, Alan, is why do you think you know more about education than someone with a degree in education and has actually studied education theory? Sure, you are a teacher (or so you claim), but are you really claiming that EVERYBODY else is an idiot?
        • Jan 10 2013: "I do understand the sequence of algebra and geometry because I asked the question years ago."

          Then why did you bring it up? Were you relying on other people not understanding it to perpetuate some kind of BS myth that the entire school system is in shambles, and that nobody knows anything? Pathetic!

          My main point is, and has always been, that students have a right to ask questions to better understand the material that is being taught to them. This has not been taken away from them in any way, shape, or form. That is why this entire thread is BS...It is a non-existent dilemma, and nobody has been able to demonstrate one REAL example to the contrary. However, students do not have a right to be disruptive to the education of others.

          Students are smart, but so are the textbook writers, the teachers, school boards, review panels, and other education experts that approve the textbooks and curriculum. This is why I asked if you thought everybody else was an idiot. Of course they are not, and I am glad you agree. Asking questions about why this must be learned is fine, but not to the point of disruption.

          As for history...We all know that history is written by the winners. Students can ask questions for sure, and some do. My experience has been that most history teachers love a lively conversation, because at least the students are showing interest in the material. I've seen classes where nobody says anything. Not out of fear, but out of apathy.
      • Jan 8 2013: Cotton, I am saying that I question the motive of the question you asked in general.

        We have all been in a class room. We all know that most class room environments are pretty open and allow for the discussion of ideas. You propose a dilemma that simply doesn't exist outside of disruptive conversations that claim "God did it, let's stop teaching science."
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          Jan 9 2013: Colton, Brock's thought here raises the question of whether there is a specific situation in your experience that brought this question to mind- a classroom you felt put unreasonable limits on questioning.

          I don't have the knowledge of classrooms worldwide to know whether most class room environments are pretty open and allow for discussion of ideas, but you are writing from the United States.

          As discussion and questioning are the norm in classrooms in the United States, are you asking specifically whether there is anywhere one would draw the line on what is acceptable to ask? You ask about logical fallacy. Here I would say questions are clearly within bounds, subject to the teachers need to manage time, as other respondents have pointed out.

          I am not aware of any case in which teachers would like students to be able to ask questions but administration does not allow it, unless you mean in the sense of demanding a particular pace through the material which makes time management such a great concern. I have never heard claim of an administration directing teachers not to allow questioning along particular lines.

          Every teacher has an obligation to the whole class. There are times a student asks a question that lends itself more to being answered privately, as it doesn't benefit the whole class. An example might be a question that the teacher and class discussed fully when the person was absent. In that case, the teacher would suggest they catch up on that privately.

          As another example, one of my daughters in a course at university described a TA section in which students were collected for an hour to get help from the TA on a challenging assignment. Because of questions from one student well behind the rest, the hour was spent answering that student's very basic question to which all the others knew the answer, leaving the other students entirely underserved. this issue falls under time management, I think.
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          Jan 9 2013: To Brock- There is much to question at all times. If the intent of the question and education itself is to promote reasoning and understanding, then it seems everything, religious or not, should be allowed for the student to question and seek a rational answer. Everything from the subject matter to how the education system is ran, because if the intent is for understanding, then the answer given to the student will almost always be logical and make sense. Is this claim logical? If not, why?

          To Fritzie- I see where time management can come to take place, but students do not always have to ask their questions within class time, as many people have said. also, it seems to me that education administrations and bureaucracy do not allow students to question what their procedures are. That also pertains to when I mention a logical fallacy. If the student has the right to question a logical fallacy, as you have stated, are they able to question a logical fallacy if they believe they see one within the administrator's or bureaucrat's procedures?

          To Brock and Fritzie- I am a student of philosophy, and so I am questioning what I believe to understand if those beliefs are true, regardless of whatever my beliefs originally were. I seek unbiased understanding through reason.
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          Jan 9 2013: Who is this guy! O_O
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          Jan 10 2013: Brock, your claim is flawed. You seem to equate asking why with saying something is wrong.

          Students should question what they are taught and in what order because it is in their interests to know the reasons. As edcuated people, we know why it's important to teach basic economics, for example, but students may not see the utility unless teachers point it out. "Why do we have to learn this" is not the same as "You're wrong to make me learn this."

          Students should question their textbooks, especially asking "How do we know?" Any history textbook, for example, is inherently biased because of what the editors have included and what they have left out (never mind for now the diction and syntax). My students should ask what makes Shakespeare (or anyone else in the canon) so great, and I should help them discover the answer.

          I do understand the sequence of algebra and geometry because I asked the question years ago. Asking the question does not mean or assume something is wrong. Asking the question simply means someone doesn't know the answer.

          "But really the question I have for you, Alan, is why do you think you know more about education than someone with a degree in education and has actually studied education theory? Sure, you are a teacher (or so you claim), but are you really claiming that EVERYBODY else is an idiot?" I expect trolling on other forums, but I think I will answer here anyway. I have a master's degree in education and 28 years of experience in public school. I am National Board certified and trained and certified to teach AP Literature (which I have done for more than 20 years) and IB English (which I have done for all 10 years my school has had the program). I never claimed everybody else is an idiot nor would I ever do so.
      • Jan 9 2013: Cotton said: " it seems everything, religious or not, should be allowed for the student to question and seek a rational answer"

        As long as it doesn't disrupt the teaching of required subject matter, there is nothing wrong with asking questions, even of a religious nature if it is asked in private. But to that end, the student doesn't get to complain about the answer either. However, let's never forget that no one is stopping the student from asking their church about religious questions, and that may be a much better place for those questions.

        Just because someone's church says the earth is 6000 years old, this doesn't give any student the right to disrupt a legitimate discussion on radioactivity and radiometric dating in a physics class. What questions would they ask anyway? "The bible says..." questions? those would be completely inappropriate. Or what about the miss-information that religious organizations put out, all with the intent of preserving the church and to intentionally disrupt the teaching of science? We DO live in a world where that IS going on.
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        Jan 10 2013: I missed your question of yesterday.

        Of course students can question administrative and bureacratic procedures and have done so regularly for a very long time. In what context have you seen that this is not permitted?

        The question is only of time, place, and duration.
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          Jan 17 2013: To Fritzie- It is only in my own experience that I have seen this. And could you please elaborate further on this?
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        Jan 17 2013: Colton, I wrote that students can typically question bureaucratic procedures but that it becomes a question of time, place, and duration.

        Schools have learning goals for students just as different sorts of places of work have their missions. Medical providers see and treat patients, for example, seeing them through illnesses and doing preventative work.

        Any organization needs to balance how much time those involved spend discussing administrative and bureacratic procedures. It is wise to review procedures periodically in any organization, but if the organization devotes too many resources of time and staff to reviewing procedures, the most vital work of the organization will not get done.
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    Jan 7 2013: Not only should they have the right... They should be educated to make it their duty!
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    Jan 5 2013: Colton, When I went to school we were allowed to stray a little ... however, in todays system the federal and state government have preset many conditions that the teacher has no control over. To a already crowed syllabus they have inposed Common Core Curriculum. Textbook publishers and test writers who have the absolute power over what instruction you get are scrambling to get this added into their agendas. Because teachers have limited time to cover all of the test materials and have the added incentive of being evaluated on the students test results ... their time to entertain anything off of the ridgid path is extremely limited.

    I honestly do think that teachers would love to instill both the inquiring mind and independent thinking ... and I believe that this is being done in some Advanced Placement (AP) courses.

    I do not want to defend anyone either teacher or administration but they are not generally in charge of what requirements are ... those are set by federal and state governments. Remember that the school and the districts are also being rated. The federal government controls us by virtue of money allocations ... do it our way or we take away your funds. States do it by lowering your academic credentials ... schools are rated as failing, maintaining, progressing, or excelling. Each state has different criteria for applying these ratings.

    Never stop questioning or digging into subjects until your satisfied. Your teachers will encourage you but unfortunately may not be able to take class time to accomadate this. They are doing the best they can under conditions not of their choosing. The hoops they have to jump through are higher and smaller than the teachers of the past. Work with them ... they do care.

    All the best. Bob.
    • Jan 5 2013: a great comment and i'm glad you've brought it up. too often teachers are blamed for the results of the poor policies drawn up by people who aren't even teachers (education department bureaucrats, schools board members, psychologists etc).

      i agree with your last paragraph as well, but would add that it's important to be able to sometimes just accept that we (not just students, adults too!) don't have sufficient experience or knowledge to understand the full depth of why our doubts are unfounded, and defer to expert opinion.
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      Jan 5 2013: Exactly, I also agree with Robert. Its mostly the education bureaucracy that the issue arises with, and that is what my original question is about.
      • Jan 6 2013: as you might have observed yourself, everybody seems to think they know how to fix education, likely because they've "seen it done" when they were a student at school, and so they have all these 'brilliant' ideas on how to improve classes that they want to bring in to the world if they get the chance.

        the problem is though that so many wear rose-tinted glasses when remembering their school days. i've heard plenty of times people say that they would've done so much better at school if only the classes had been more interesting, completely forgetting the reality of their school days which was that hanging out with their friends was always going to be more interesting than the most fantastic lesson.

        the result is that some things can't be done in class because the time has already been prescribed for something else by someone who only thinks they know what they're doing.
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    Jan 3 2013: Question everything, without exception, except nothing your told at face value, discovery is the essence of life, we are an explorer species, this is your experience, find your own answers and in that you will find those who agree with you, but it is the ones you disagree with you will learn the most from...
  • Jan 20 2013: You wouldn't expect a sprinter to go out and run
    a race without limbering up first would you? Well,
    it's the same for the brain. Increasingly teachers are becoming aware of the
    benefits of mental warm ups in the lesson. Even
    the powers that be have latched on to it with
    "Lesson Starters" a vital part of the literacy and
    numeracy strategies. (Just make sure they don't
    last all lesson like some we have seen!) One secondary school that has introduced such
    activities across all areas of the curriculum
    reported back that the students who used to be
    late weren't late any more as they were the first
    ones to want to solve the lateral thinking
    challenge or the Dingbat put up at the beginning of the lesson as the students were coming in. It also works to reduce the 'down time' at the
    beginning of a lesson as the learners wait for
    something to happen, a time that research shows
    is a time particularly vulnerable to poor behaviour. Below are some starters that we use and
    recommend. Please feel free to use them and
    adapt them. In return, if you have some of your
    own let us know so we can add them to this page
    and help teachers by saving time and improving
    their lessons simultaneously.
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    Jan 17 2013: I would hope that is the major function of the teacher. To expect their students to question and think independently.
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    Jan 14 2013: I'm not certain this is even a question! Education is above all else about questioning and independent thinking.

    Yes, you may fill a child's head with facts, you can force them to memorize poetry and multiplication tables. But do they understand the poem? Do they understand the concept of multiplication?

    As many find out, the real learning in life often does wait until we are in a situation where we begin to explore new knowledge for ourselves. This is only possible if we have been taught how to properly learn.

    The true job of any real educator is to teach students to think; not to give them facts but to teach them how to learn, how to reason, and how to understand.

    Then again, perhaps these things cannot really be taught, perhaps they require that the individual have them as innate abilities. I do not know.
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    Jan 12 2013: I see some students have a problem with some teachers.

    I'm going to suggest a way to destabilized a teacher you think is wasting students time.

    1. Form a large study group. Make it official.
    2. Invite the teacher to a formal discussion in a none school location -- the library offers locations for this.
    3. Make sure some adults are there. Professionals in their field would be the best types.
    4. Have the list of question in hand and everyone should have a copy, Offer a copy to the teacher before the meeting.
    5. Rehearse the discussion before it actually takes place to prevent chaos.

    I assure you, the experience will create a heightened sense of value in the teachers mind of each of the students attending. Showing someone you have power and can assert it, makes them less offensive in your direction. You might even establish a rapport with the teacher and become friends.

    Action on a problem is always more productive than passively taking a brow beating, especially if that action if organized.
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    Jan 12 2013: And continue to ask questions and think independently. It will align/ally you with others who might prove useful in your quest for academic nourishment.
  • Jan 10 2013: I'm not saying I'm always right, or that every single question is valid. I too would find it unfair if people were asking questions just to be off-putting. The point of asking questions is to further our knowledge on what ever subject the lecturer is talking, and any question that falls outside this remit should be held until another time; same as with any questions that do not benefit at least the majority of the class. The right to ask questions and be thinking independently can be taken to areas outside of the classroom also. I see no reason why a student cannot look at probing material in their essays and ask probing questions, such as in the example raised by Carolyn.

    Further to this, I have also taught for a number of years, albeit not in the same arena as a University. I have been asked questions about the sport I teach whilst lecturing and have also developed my own strategies for dealing with those that aren't relevant. But I would say that the majority of the time students are asking questions to further their understanding of what I have said, and I would argue that I would not be doing my job if I denied them this knowledge

    I feel like I should also clarify a point I made previously about lecturers facilitating our learning. I do not believe that they must give us a simple answer or present a simple argument to answer a question. For a lecturer to point us in the right direction of an author who has written on the subject we are asking about, or tell us the name of a book, or even tell us that they will be pleased to talk to us at the end of the lecture would suffice. All I would say it to be told that you are wrong and your question is baseless is wrong.
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      Jan 12 2013: Mind you - That is the attitude of the teachers in my country. I had one teacher who I respected despite his shortcomings because he genuinely was prepared to 'talk' through either his or my error and you discover something so much more beautiful at the end when you discover it this way.
  • Jan 10 2013: Simple, students should be able to question anything they want. Creativity and imaginative thinking allow for a more engaged way of intrepreting ideas.
  • Comment deleted

    • Jan 10 2013: It is an interesting example...but it is only a pretend example(at least it was in your original posting, nice edit to turn fiction into an outright lie). If it actually happened, that would be something to talk about. So far, no one has given any real examples of why this entire thread has any bearing on reality.

      Bottom line is this. Academia encourages free thought and questioning like no other place on earth. We have all been to school, and we all know this to be true.
      • Jan 10 2013: I'm currently an undergraduate student at University. I have encountered lecturers and tutors who are less than open to questions. Carolyn's example is not necessarily far from the truth -- I have recently challenged the views of a lecturer, supporting my argument with academic writers, and been told that I am categorically wrong, and I'm not the only student to have found this. I'm not saying that all lecturers are like this, but those that close down questioning are undoing the work done by those who encourage it. If students feel like they are being routinely closed down, and their opinions and arguments ignored, they'll soon stop asking.

        Whilst I agree that students must ask questions to progress, it is a shame when those entrusted with facilitating learning do not encourage questions. I would suggest that lectures and seminars with two way exchanges provide the best learning, as it is these that promote new and inspired thinking.

        Furthermore, might I suggest that we have all been to different schools, in different areas, some of us in different countries following different curriculums. We have all had different teachers and our experiences are unique to us. What is true for you may not be true for us all.

        In answer to the original question, I believe that students have an absolute right to question everything. Critical thinking is vital to improving our society. University students are paying for their education, and so I believe they have an absolute right to ask anything, as it is the Universities job to facilitate them by pointing them in the right direction to find the answers to their questions.
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          Jan 10 2013: OH I see now! You think it is the INSTRUCTOR that shuts down student questions! Of course you would think that because you do not see what goes on behind the scenes.

          If I have those one or two people that sit in the front row that continually ask questions, (you all know who I am talking about. They lurk in the literal front row of every college class.) And I continue to address their questions as if they are valid, the rest of the class is stopping me in the hall, emailing me, going to my boss, giving evaluation feedback that I cannot control my class and that I have two favorite people in the front row that I pay attention to and don't pay any attention to any one else.

          And in part the rest of the class is right.

          So we quickly learn how to either leverage the questions from the front row for humor purposes or just start to ignore them. If that does not work, we will resort to whatever measures it takes to get them to be on par with the rest of the class, eg. "Good question. I would like an answer in a three page paper by next class period and you can present your findings to the class so everyone can learn." That one works like a charm.

          After all, two bad evals are not gonna look as bad as 75 bad evals. It also makes them learn to ask the RIGHT QUESTION!
        • Jan 10 2013: Rohan, did it ever occur to you that maybe you ACTUALLY WERE categorically wrong?

          Rohan said: "Carolyn's example is not necessarily far from the truth "

          Carolyn's 'example' was fiction. It was not an example at all.
        • Jan 10 2013: @Linda... I really love your stories. They are practical examples of actually teaching. They illustrate the time management constraints very well. I've often been that student up front, mostly because I love to talk!! lol but I do love it when others chime up and participate.

          I had one professor tell me later on that he loved my participation, but wanted to make sure I understood that he couldn't always call on me.. I completely understood.
        • Jan 11 2013: Much of the answer lies in the ground rules set at the beginning of a session. This way even the two at the front that wont give it a rest know where they stand. It also promotes a safe as well as comfortable environment to learn in. It protects the folks who are worried their ideas will be attacked or mocked whilst allowing the big talkers to still feel good about their participation. Remembering that we are all only human also helps.
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          Jan 12 2013: It is ...is it ironic that here of all places we meet the attitude that we are protesting against? the kind that makes one defensive rather than open to discussion? An ugly attitude that seems to belittle a true topic of concern into some muddy triviality?

          The world is changing. I believe that Teachers and employers once had a relationship that made us students desperate to learn - to secure a future. But Students are more and more becoming their own employers. We make the new world.

          I promise you Carolyn Statistics mean very little and I appreciate the courage it took to relate your truth.
  • Jan 8 2013: "How much of a right do students have to questioning and independent thinking?"

    From my own school experience I can say the vast majority of students are not in any position to ask critical questions. When they do ask something it's either some stupid conspiracy theory or it's so advanced that the answer doesn't fall within the scope of the class (and the student wouldn't understand it), in those cases a teacher should point the student to teaching material outside of class hours.

    "In addition: I understand teachers try to allow students to question, but sometimes are limited by the administration (and/or bureaucracy). Why is this?"

    Because otherwise you can get bogged down on some insignificant detail (sometimes the student has to have seen more of the course to understand why that detail was insignificant and you just have to force him to shut up), taking time away from other topics that have to be covered, and this impacts everyone in the class, not just the student asking the question.
    • Jan 9 2013: Very well said, John.

      Often times it isn't an issue of not wanting to create an environment that encourages the free exchange of ideas, It is more an issue of time management. There are only so many hours in the semester available to teach the materials that need to be taught.
      • Jan 9 2013: I just read your replies to others' contributions and I feel that you're forgetting something about knowledge, or really the character of knowledge. You seem to be arguing under the assumption that the professionals of our society are infallible, and therefor cannot be wrong, should never be challenged, and that students should simply accept what they are told because the adults know best. At least, that's how it sounds.

        But what of those people who pioneered those subjects that we study so devotedly? I understand that to learn "the basics" can help a student grasp established higher concepts, but a part of the deeper essence of this discussion is, arguably, questioning notions that surround the word "established". Just because a person is young does not mean that their ideas about a thing should be discounted. In my own opinion, those who seek knowledge benefit from that adventurous and naive spirit that children, who you seem to be focusing your arguments on, embody while they explore the world.

        Knowledge is not an absolute. There are different approaches to it and different answers can be found for same question. It is important to question what the adults have told us to be true for so long because if we don't, then we will come to a standstill, much the same as I wrote about earlier. If the younger generations just believe what they are told, then why bother even continuing this entire discussion? Since you're so absolutely refuting what most of the people here seem to believe, that a student should question (though we seem to disagree on the degree of questioning), then there must absolutely be merit and necessity simply within the act of questioning.
        • Jan 9 2013: I DO know what knowledge is, and it damn well isn't children that haven't learned it yet. I am all for people challenging understanding, but not from non experts....
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          Jan 9 2013: there are different types of students; degree for learning and degree for better job types.

          I remember having to field questions from students during and after class because students didn't want to ask the teacher; or how about sitting down with students and counselling or convincing them that THEY ARE good enough...

          I hate teachers but I have to deal with them for now. If I had more foresight I'd have gotten to PhD already and done my independent research. To me the only purpose teachers serve is to break the spirit of creatives and make them 'fit' for [social reality].

          My dad is trying to get me out of University for example - SO THAT I CAN GET A JOB! for chrissakes! Apparently I have everything a man could ever want... O_O - say that to say, there is hardly any room in the world for dreamers. And students who question, they are the ones who dream loudest.
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        Jan 9 2013: To Brock- What exactly is knowledge then? How are we to define it? How are we to say that one person is more knowledgeable than another? How does one acquire higher levels of knowledge to become an "expert?" How are we to prove that the knowledge one has is, in fact, unquestionable truth?

        I am not sure about your second comment above. It doesn't make sense to me why questioning should only be allowed from experts in their respective fields. The student that could be questioning may just have a misunderstanding of the subject or procedure, and so the teacher, or "expert," should then clarify the students perception logically. Then if the student does not accept the logical answer, it is the student's fault. Do you agree with this? But, is the "expert" always correct? What happens if the student asks a logical and reasonable question the "expert" cannot logically answer, or if the student is able to provide a statement or suggestion that proves to be more logical than the "expert's"? Are they still an "expert?" And if the "expert" disregards the student's statement, purely because they are a student, is logic, reasoning, and the pursuit of understanding, or what you may have called "knowledge," being upheld to be the highest purpose and end result of education? What is your opinion on these questions?

        My perception is limited, and I am aware that I could be wrong in any of the statements I have said here because of that. I have found that to be logical for me, and for everyone. That we all could always have the possibility of being wrong, even "experts." This is why one must always question one's self and have self-awareness. Therefore, I pursue understanding and logic, and am always willing to admit I am wrong when someone can show to me the fallacy I have logically, and I try to help others become aware of that fact as well. But, in this sense, I am inclined to agree with Mitchell.

        Do you think my perception is wrong? Why is this?
        • Jan 9 2013: "What exactly is knowledge then? How are we to define it?"

          It is already defined. Look it up in a dictionary.

          'How does one acquire higher levels of knowledge to become an "expert?"'

          Study what has already been learned, perhaps do additional research beyond that, take the time to comprehend the collection of facts and understand how they may relate to each other and to the rest of existence

          ."How are we to prove that the knowledge one has is, in fact, unquestionable truth?"

          Objective facts and data stand on their own. Explanations and understanding can almost never be proved, but they can be pretty obvious. Competing explanations and theories may or may not be easily proven false.

          As interesting as these questions are, they are "red herrings" to the topic at hand. There is no conspiracy to teach incorrect information. Put five PHDs in a room and they might argue amongst themselves which one is the true expert, but nobody would argue that a student that hasn't learned the objective facts and data is the expert.

          "The student that could be questioning may just have a misunderstanding of..."

          That is a perfectly valid reason for a student to ask questions. There is nothing wrong with a student trying to understand and learn the material that is being presented to them.

          "...or if the student is able to provide a statement or suggestion that proves to be more logical than the "expert's"? "

          This can happen, but it doesn't relieve the student's responsibility to learn the material. A student still must know and understand the opposing, or possibly wrong view point before they can effectively debate it. Having learned it in full, if they still think it is wrong, they should do research on it, and have that research published in a peer reviewed publication where it can be properly debated and defended by the student with people that have more than just a cursory knowledge of the subject.
      • Jan 10 2013: An expert knows all the answers if they are asked the right questions.
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          Jan 10 2013: An expert can get you an answer. It does not mean it is a correct answer. But that is why it is called expert opinion.
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        Jan 16 2013: To Brock- You did not fully answer my question. Yes, knowledge has been defined in the dictionary, but it does not explain the entire idea of what knowledge is (just as the word "justice" is defined, but the idea of what it truly is still eludes us). That is what the first question is addressing. You claimed in one of your comments to know what knowledge is. Does that mean you also understand every context of it and the idea, as a whole, of what knowledge is? If so, explain. And, if the first question was not worded right for you, I apologize.

        Also, I do not see how these questions are "red herrings" to the original question. I asked these questions as an inquiry to your comment about the idea of knowledge, which this is a highly relatable topic to the original question, and so that you could further explain your claim. I do not say there is a conspiracy to teach incorrect information either.