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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Words to Live By 2: On Questions

by Seattle Jon (bio)

Words to Live By is a series featuring short selections by eminent men and women from the mid-twentieth century. Originally published in This Week magazine, the selections represent a mosaic of what people were thinking and feeling in challenging times. Read previous entries here.

On Questions
by Bergen Evans (teacher and TV quiz expert)

"He that nothing questionith, nothing learneth" - Thomas Fuller

I think one of the most fruitful moments in my life came when my old zoology professor, Dr. Stephen Williams of Miami University, in Ohio, whom I greatly respected, told me that he would give any student an A in his course who asked one intelligent question.

Up to that time I had assumed that intelligence consisted of giving answers. Now I began to see that the question is as much a part of knowledge as the answer - often the more important part. Because it's the question that shows us what we don't know.

Men had assumed from the beginning of time that a heavier object fell faster than a lighter one - until Galileo said, "Does it?" Men had marveled at the giraffe's neck for thousands of years before Darwin asked, "Why?"

But it isn't just scientists who should ask questions. No one knows all the answers and if he thinks he does he has stopped thinking and growing. Part of being alive and in touch with the world around and within you lies in searching for your own answers, in asking your own questions.

It has been thirty-six years since my old teaching startled me with his pronouncement. For thirty of those years I have myself been a teacher. Most of the facts he taught me - most of the answers he gave me - have long been forgotten. But I have not forgotten that a questioning student is more important than an answering teacher.

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