Food for thought

Thinking is as much a part of life as is eating. Something to think about is often referred to as ‘food for thought’; and food for thought is just as important to wellbeing as is food for the body. When I’m not thinking about where I’ll partake of my next meal, or what I might eat, I’m often thinking about education.

I recently read an article on Selected Reads called Teacher’s Guide to Teaching Students to Ask Their Own Questions which included a review of a book by Rothstein and Santana entitled “Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions“.

I will be upfront and admit that I have not read the book and am commenting on the review alone which states that the book brings together “several years of research and experience into a methodology for applying their groundbreaking thought and technique.” It goes on to say that “The basic argument … is pretty basic: for our students to achieve excellence and equity, we need to teach them the skill of question formulation.” (my emphasis)

 

I really have no argument with the premise of the book. In fact, it sounds like a pretty good read to me. I have even previously blogged about the importance of asking questions in these posts: Child’s play – the science of asking questions  and What you don’t know …

 

What I wonder about is: If it is so important for students to learn to ask questions, why do we spend so much time in school teaching them to stop asking questions and to learn just what is presented to them, whether they like it or not?

 

Aren’t children born asking questions? Aren’t they pretty good at asking questions (verbal or otherwise) to figure out what they need to know about the world? Why then do we sit them in desks all day and force-feed them content for future on-demand regurgitation?

 

I consider it to be a bit like inviting someone to a feast but feeding them pap, which is the essence of my flash fiction piece written in response to the prompt suggested by Charli Mills this week at the Carrot Ranch: In 99 words (no more, no less) include food in your story.

 

 

Food?

His eyes widened, flitting across the table, scanning the feast, a smorgasbord of sensory delights. His mouth moistened and tummy growled.

Where to start? A bit of this. A little of that. A whole lot of that! Mmmm!

He rubbed his belly and licked his lips.

Suddenly he was marched away and slammed onto a hard wooden bench. A bowl of colourless pap was flung at him.  “Eat this!”

He recoiled.

“Eat it!”

The overfilled spoon was shoved between tightened teeth.

He gagged.

“It’s good for you!”

He spluttered.

Over time he learned. “Not so bad,” he thought.

 

 

Okay. Maybe I’m exaggerating. Maybe I’m painting the picture darker than reality. Maybe. But sometimes that is necessary for even partial recognition of the situation to occur. You know about the swinging pendulum.

 

The picture painted by Scott McLeod of dangerously ! irrelevant is no brighter. In his post The declining economic value of routine cognitive work  he says that while most employees (in the U.S.) are engaged in non-routine cognitive and interpersonal work; routine cognitive work is what students are mostly engaged and assessed in, and what traditionalist parents and politicians advocate. So while work tasks may require “problem-solving, intuition, persuasion, and creativity”, school tasks involve things such as automation and repetition.

 

My wish is that all parents, school administrators, education policy makers and teachers do as Rothstein and Santana suggest – let them ask questions!

 

Of course I couldn’t write a post about food and questions and not mention the blog of one of my very favourite questioners, Bec, who writes about “wholefoods, vegetarianism, slow living and their existential friends” at There’s no food. There’s much food for thought there!

And now for something a little bit different: The edible cookbook. It’s a cookbook you can read, cook and eat! I wonder what questions its designer was asking to come up with such an innovative and interesting design.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please join in the discussion or share your thoughts about any aspect of this post, including my flash fiction.

 

 

 

 

32 thoughts on “Food for thought

  1. Pingback: A sprinkling of semicolons | Norah Colvin

  2. Pingback: Visioning a better school, a better way of educating | Norah Colvin

  3. writersideup

    Trying to do a bit of catching up, Norah 🙂 You’re so right in this point, for sure. It’s become SUCH a problem, generally, I think, but mostly in education for the young. Sure, there are things they HAVE to learn and it’s not always all that interesting, and for sure, not everything will suit the likes/dislikes of each student. What can you do? BUT—there does need to be time to allow for this—to encourage children to be curious and creative in their thinking and jus, in general. It’s why I LOVE Dot Day (I did a post on it) and really love sites/organizations like http://www.wonderopolis.org Both of which inspire creativity and “wonder” 😀

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you so much for stopping by and joining in the conversation. I have been a bit slow to join in myself recently – have a few other distractions that are taking me away from the blogosphere for a while. Thanks for letting me know about Dot Day and wonderopolis, neither of which I had heard of before reading about them on your site. It is great that they both aim to inspire imagination and creativity. 🙂

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  4. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    You described my schooling perfectly with all creativity and questioning removed from the thought before moving from the infants section to the upper primary grades. It makes no sense what so ever to stop children asking questions but it isn’t something that I have given a lot of thought to except in saying the school system didn’t suit my style of learning. It probably suits few people except the very academically minded child and if they were allowed to evolve their questioning technique even further the mind boggles to think what we might have been able achieve.
    Talking of school projects a pHD student in conjunction with the Cooroy primary school and council gave the children a project of designing a huge tract of land into a public space. They had to work out what the community needed with research and interviews, they had to plan for the future and acknowledge the local history, they had to budget for it and play a part in the work involved in making it happen. The children flourished and learnt so much more than rote would ever have taught them and they now have an immense pride in a space (still a work in progress) that they can truly feel belongs to them and gives them not only what they want but what the community wants. It developed a cohesion that will be lasting.
    Your flash fiction was great. I enjoyed it when I read it on Charli’s compilation but I had visions of a Charles Dicken’s type of scene. Reading your preamble made an already good piece superb. Enjoyed the post and comments as always.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks Irene. I really appreciate the generosity of your comment. The Cooroy project sounds amazing. I’ll have to search out some more information on it. I wish projects such as these were more common. Imagine the difference it would make in each community as well as to the education of its young people.
      The effect of your education seems very similar to mine; and I probably had a Dickensian scene in mind as I wrote the flash, though I was thinking of a more modern application.
      I’m pleased you enjoyed it. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

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  5. Bec

    Hi Nor, sorry for coming to the comments so late in the piece! I read your post when you first published it, but was unable to comment at the time. I love the FF – it’s so telling. I don’t think it’s bleak, but perhaps that’s because I have a bleak outlook on many parts of society !! It is so right, though, that no matter how horrible something may seem, or how wrong, it can just take familiarity to make it seem normal and acceptable. A bit like that sentiment from Simone de Beauvoir you remarked on recently – that when a child becomes an adult, the child has all the possibilities to forge their own values and morals, but often will go back to those that were instilled on them in childhood. Now that I write it out, it seems a bit different from the point (or the point I interpreted, anyway!) in your FF. But I guess the similarities are that once we can often be complacent with mediocrity, or inequity, because it’s safe and familiar. But I should make a point of emphasising that I have no qualms about the values which were presented to me in my childhood! I appreciate them very much. But then… According to de Beauvoir I would say that, wouldn’t I?

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Bec, Thanks for your comment and sharing your thoughts. I’m disappointed to hear that you have a bleak outlook on many parts of society. It reminds me of another quote we were discussing about needing an optimistic outlook in order to make the effort to implement change. I’m pleased you don’t have any qualms about values learned in your childhood – must have regressed already!!!! 🙂

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  6. Pingback: Food for Fiction « Carrot Ranch Communications

  7. Charli Mills

    Not surprised to come to the table here and find it set with a lovely meal and lively discussion. You get us thinking, Norah, feeding our brains.

    If we want children to ask questions then we need to stop squelching their natural inclination to do so. I enjoy being a parent, and I we developed “adventures” to entertain us. We still do! The world around us is so full of fascinating things–fish in the creek, birds in the sky, history, art, nature. I had just as many questions as they did! We played a game, though. I’d say do you want the real answer or the fun one. Of course they always wanted the fun answer and I got to make up something imaginative on the spot (my first prompts!). They’d giggle over it then ask for the real answer. And many times I said, I don’t know but let’s find out, which usually meant looking to books or other people. They had good primary teachers–small-town schools where parents volunteered in the classroom or lunchroom and recess was outdoors and creativity flourished…

    …then the Midwest. They say Minnesota and California set the standards by which all US schools strive. If that’s the case, we are indeed in serious trouble. Regurgitation, rote learning, busy-work, unreal schedules that prepare children to be good little worker drones. Don’t ask questions. The one ray of light was the school I’ve mentioned before–School of Environmental Studies. It’s interesting how “poor” students often flourished there, and “good” students floundered. They were taught to question everything. Graduation meant asking a question that had meaning to them and investigating a possible answer. Each student presented their findings in a public forum. My children still call and ask me questions. I think I need to reinstate the fun answer version!

    Your flash reads like an allegory and the tone is fitting for the frustration of what you observe in the system. I think the exaggeration is what drives home the point. It’s definitely a food for thought piece! You are so creative in using the flash to support what you are discussing in your post. Thanks for the meal!

    And Bec’s blog is fabulous! Talk about a smorgasbord!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Fun answers! How delightful!I love the way you used your first prompts for telling imaginative stories; and then developed research skills to find out together more accurate answers. Not unlike human history with early people making up stories to explain what was going on in the seas, on the land and in the skies around them. Later through more rigorous investigations and explorations, discoveries were made to enable the wealth of information we now have available.
      I love the way you have described your children’s primary school. I am very much in favour of small schools. They may lose out with physical resources but the personal resources are generally very rich.
      Thanks too for reminding me again about the School of Environmental Studies. I had intended to read about it when you mentioned it earlier, but somehow forgot. I’ve just tried Googling using that phrase, but couldn’t see what I thought might be it. Would you mind giving me a link, if you have one please. I am very interested to read about it. I love that the students were taught to question everything, and that to graduate they needed to investigate a question of their own. It sounds wonderful! How great that your children still ask you questions. Must have passed through the stage of knowing everything, eh?
      Thanks for your kind words about my flash. I still feel a bit of a fiction ring-in! 🙂

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    2. Charli Mills

      I’d love to hear your thoughts on SES. This is the “bland” district connection, but gives you the details of the school so you know where it is: http://www.district196.org/ses/. Here’s a link to a student project that two of my eldest daughter’s classmates developed: http://www.district196.org/ses/energy/index.html. And this is a video by edutopia, aptly describing what makes this a learner-based school: http://www.district196.org/ses/energy/index.html. This video explains the school and is produced by students: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ashtU-vqp1I. My eldest, the Radio Geek, is now a scientist and environmental journalist who does radio podcasts. She got her start at SES by collecting sound and stories on an expedition to Baffin Island through the school: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ksbuHaQaOq0.

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      1. Norah Post author

        Thanks for all those links Charlie. You certainly provided me with enough information. I was very interested to read (and hear) about the school. It certainly sounds to have a lot of positive aspects about it. I love how they state on the welcome page that it “encourages learning through conversation and knowledge created through experience and adventure:. The students and teachers in the video sound very happy, and what you have said about the experiences of your own children as students there is wonderful. I think my children, especially Bec, would have really loved it there; as would I. It is amazing to think that two school students got the energy project going. How wonderful to be contributing to real life purposes when at school – almost unheard of! The link you provided to edutopia (one of my favourite educational sites) seems to link back to the energy article. Would you mind checking that link please. It all sounds so amazing. It would be wonderful if other schools followed their lead. I also like the fact that it is a small school, more personal, and favour the idea of home groups and pods. Thanks so much for sharing so much about it. 🙂

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        1. Bec

          Hi Charli, thanks for your very generous comment about my blog!! Nor mentioned to me over the weekend about the SES – it sounds fantastic. I had a read through your daughter’s project and it too sounds just amazing. What a wonderful way to harness the questioning and open minds of young people for the betterment of the world, and for their own sake. I also love the idea that a final activity was to ask an important question, and explore the responses to it. The power of conversation is just incredible.

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          1. Charli Mills

            Hi Bec! I will get caught up on your blog–really enjoy it! SES is an amazing school. Since I knew about the senior projects, I would go and see several presentations each year. It was powerful! Thanks for looking into the school, too!

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          1. Norah Post author

            Thanks Charli. What a wonderful article about an amazing school. How fortunate were your young ones to attend there. How marvellous that you chose it for them. I can see the richness offered in the programs. Sometimes I read similar articles and wonder if they are full of hype and exaggeration. Your praise and recommendation convinces me otherwise. Thanks for the link.

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            1. Charli Mills

              SES is the read deal. I served on the school’s foundation board for two terms and got to see first-hand the passion and intelligence that goes into managing the school. We even considered closing it if budget cuts were too stark because it would be better to close down than to take away its essence. Sad thought and it never came to that. My understanding is that the school is a working model of how modern middle schools are supposed to function but don’t. I’m thrilled that you are interested in this school! They do field excursions and I thought one of them was to Australia. That would be enlightening to meet students and teachers from SES down under!

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  8. TanGental

    Now that post had me all over the place, Norah. First the flash – reading that makes you the imagined love child of Franz Kafka and George Orwell (I realise the biology is a bit dodgy but blame the teacher I had – wouldn’t let me ask why!?) Which takes you onto the kernel of the post and its huge truism. Just recounting from personal experience of my two, it was the Lawyer who asked the questions, who still probes and wants to understand more around and about how the world works. He struggled somewhat with undiagnosed dyslexia (which they decided explained a few rather obvious issues when he reached the college of law aged 23!) but part of asking was to avoid reading for himself! Indeed there is an acronym in the family, text speak style, following along from LOL and OMG and BTW and JK and that’s RTM or if I’m utterly exasperated RTFM – read the manual or… well you get the picture! By contrast the Vet sailed along academically, absorbing and regurgitating. But come year 11 or so when self starting and researching answers came to the fore at her school (bless them!) she hated it. She wanted spoon feeding and parroting because she could do it better than most. The gear shift through her final school years and now at Uni has been hard and emotional, whereas the Lawyer came into his own. If the school had been more focused (and we as parents, let’s be fair) on pressing her to inquire more, to see it as part of the joy of education rather than something to fear (because you don’t know if something’s the ‘right’ answer if you’ve not been told the ‘right’ answer up front) then it wouldn’t have been so tough and she might enjoy the brilliant uncertainty of finding the answer for herself and making mistakes on the way.
    https://fbcdn-sphotos-d-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-xap1/v/t1.0-9/1512484_711744922252403_5903123848107342441_n.jpg?oh=fb7b855ab74eedbb233d49aae2658eea&oe=548FB6A5&__gda__=1419423980_f71d9be7c9decbedba22de3a72b726f4 And I don’t know if what I’ve attached comes out but its on the subject of food and why the Scot’s are the greatest culinary experts in the world! If it fails here, I’ll try on twitter

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks Geoff, We’ve just been talking about literary chasms on Twitter, and mine is gaping here! I thought I had read a Kafka, but without much understanding (back years ago in my college days) but I can’t even see what I had thought I may have read in his list of novels so am not sure! I possibly ‘read’ Animal Farm back then too but have no memory of it. I know more about 1984 but haven’t read it. The thought of being a love child of them both sounds very highbrow. I wonder who the surrogate mum would have been? I guess what I’m saying is, your wonderful literary point has gone over my head and I apologise for that, but appreciate the sentiment. 🙂
      Needless to say, I was very interested to hear the recounting of your children’s educational experiences, especially with regard to questioning. What you have stated seems to support the suggestion that children do need to be asking questions all along or they erase the how from their memories. It’s difficult to relearn then, something that was instinctual in the first place.
      I definitely recall being a very inquisitive three year old (naughty I was told, and had it beaten out of me). My ability to wonder was erased for many years but reignited through the questioning of my children. I feel that I have suffered a great loss over the years as a result, and it is a good part of why I feel so strongly about, and keep coming back to, this issue. Thank you for engaging in the discussion and giving strength to my position. 🙂
      I love the description you have given of a preferred way your daughter may have been educated. But you’ll need to help me with my education: I’m not sure of JK?
      Ferrero Rocher in batter? What were they thinking? LOL!!!!

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      1. TanGental

        Ah right I only learned recently myself. Just Kidding classic facebook bullying – say something snide and then add JK so the recipient of whatever passive aggressive comment can’t take offence without being accused of having no sense if humour. This is such fertile ground – part of the Ken Robinson discussion that have caused much controversy over here about dance being as important as maths in the school curriculum -which some have taken so literally as to miss the the point about the importance of creativity – self expression if you like within a discipline- that you have been making so well.

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        1. Norah Post author

          Thanks for the clarification. Should have been able to work it out, I suppose. As you know I am a great fan of Ken Robinson. I am also aware that his ideas are very controversial and that many disagree with him – particularly those entrenched in the system who expend more energy on maintaining the status quo than on making changes which would improve children’s learning. It would be too bad if someone was actually given an opportunity to think, wouldn’t it? I appreciate your support in promoting creativity. I always enjoy reading the perspective that you bring by sharing your own experiences, both personal and as a Dad. 🙂

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  9. Annecdotist

    Food for thought indeed here, as ever, Norah, and I’m enjoying the edge of anger in his post – Had you not pointed it out I really wouldn’t have recognised the absurdity of teaching children to ask questions when your basic three-year-old has far more than any adults can cope with! Your flash blends beautifully with this theme – how tragic it is that we teach kids to settle for the mediocre. So hurrah for Bec and her determination to source and cook food sustainably. Wonder where she gets that drive from?
    The edible cookbook made me smile. I bet it’s great fun to construct that lasagna. Doesn’t strike me as an everyday thing but would make for an interesting present.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for your comment, Anne. You’re right I do get a little annoyed with the ludicrous suggestion that children need to be taught to ask questions. I’m not saying that the quality of questioning cannot be improved, but I’m sure many adults could learn a bit about asking questions from young children. The fact that they ask questions about things that adults are unable to answer, proves how valuable their questions are. If ‘we’ helped them investigate or tried to find answers to their questions, imagine how much more would be known. I love the story Michael Rosen told about David Attenborough finding a bone and his Dad pretending he didn’t know what kind of bone it was and them both looking it up and identifying it together! What a fantastic way of encouraging questioning and investigation. (that was in the interview about Michael’s new book that you gave me the link to). Double thanks. 🙂
      I must admit that I am very proud of Bec for the strength of her convictions, for her ability to question and to seek out responsible and ethical solutions to whatever she engages with. She is much better at it than I.
      I have to admit I find preparing lasagna a lot of work at the best of times. But I thought this idea was quite innovative! It is a nice idea for a present. It would be a case of having to eat your words! 🙂

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        1. Norah Post author

          Thanks for that Bec. It’s a great cartoon with strong messages – reminds me of two posts I have in mind for the future; one of which is about the amount of time spent in study, and the other is in reference to playing ‘the game’ of school. I’ll have to get cracking!!

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