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The Excitement of Teachers Asking a Question They Don't Know the Answer to.

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Updated: Thursday, October 17, 2013

June 15th, 2011

Tom Friedman in the New York Times this morning reports on a Harvard political philosopher, Michael J. Sandel, who has become a rock-star speaker in southeast Asia. His "justice class" at Harvard is "legendary" according to Friedman. "What makes the class so compelling is the way Sandel uses real-life examples to illustrate the philosophies of the likes of Aristotle, Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill."

The article is at

Examples of the kinds of questions he uses: "Is it fair that David Letterman makes 700 times more than a schoolteacher?” or "Are we morally responsible for righting the wrongs of our grandparents’ generation?”

These are not "teacher questions" when teachers ask questions they know the answer to, or questions that will reveal whether the student read the assignment or not, but instead are genuine questions we all wrestle with and to which there is no simple answer.

When students are presented with complex questions to which there is no simple answer, that is, authentic questions, good things happen. Such questions remove students from the "try to guess what's on my mind" kind of teacher question that is so common and take them instead in the direction of "let's both think about this issue and see what we come up with."

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