Why I Love a Dumb Question

Transitions can be difficult.   I see it every day as my freshman students adjust to the new responsibilities of college.  I see it as the seasoned professors I work with try to keep up with technology (myself included).  I have seen it as brilliant medical doctors fumbled in my genetics lab, and I have seen it as my teen students matured into young adults.  There is a familiar fear involved: a fear of failure, a fear of exposure, a fear that all will see our vulnerability.  Successful teaching of people in transition requires many things, the most critical—having the courage to be vulnerable.

Now that's courage!
My dad, the bravest man I know!

By listening to the needs of learners we can share similar experiences, show them their strengths, and put them at ease, letting them know that it’s okay to not know.  Especially with adults, the courage to be vulnerable allows for what Jack Mezirow (1997) refers to as transformative learning; it is not until a learner can change their frame of reference, let down their guard perhaps, that they can have a meaningful learning experience.  What every teacher wants to hear is the simplest question, the dumb question, the question that indicates the learner feels safe, and is ready to learn.

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