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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?


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  • 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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