What's More Important: Knowing the Right Answers — or Asking the Right Questions?

January 28, 2014

In a traditional school setting, children learn to measure their intelligence on their ability to call up the correct answers at precisely the right moment. But what would happen if we encourage them to value the questions they ask more than the answers they're expected to give?

This past November, Wired magazine ran a story with this premise: teachers (and parents) should reward students' questions, not (just) their answers. Their — or, more specifically, Hal Gregersen's — argument? That the "what if's," the "why's," and the "why not's" are more vital to shaping a child's lifelong creative intelligence than knowing the right answers at the right time.

Take, for example, Steve Jobs. According to Gregersen, Jobs grew up in an environment where asking questions — and developing the mental wherewithal to puzzle out the answers — was expected, championed, and rewarded.

"Although Steve Jobs was earmarked as a rebel in school for his curious nature," Gregersen writes, "he grew up with parents and neighbors who cared about his creative skills. His father gave him part of his workbench and access to tools so he could figure out how things worked. A neighbor who worked at Hewlett-Packard fueled his interest in electronics by teaching him not only how devices worked, but how to make them work."

If they're not listened to and encouraged to ask questions, children will lose curiosity, potentially stunting their intellectual growth and assuredly stunting their creative growth.

That support network, an essential component to carving out a creative, fruitful, and fulfilling life, began, for most luminaries, in the home environments where they took their first formative steps. In other words, for children, growing up in a home where inquisitiveness and creative thinking is highly valued is key. Not because every child who grows up in such an environment is guaranteed to become the next Steve Jobs (they don't need to be; just the best version of themselves). But because having "the creative confidence to ask the provocative questions" is essential to forging their own path in whichever field they choose to pursue.

"Pay close attention," Gregersen writes, "children around the age of four repeat a question because they don't believe adults are listening. If a pattern of not feeling understood develops, persistence in asking questions can shift into reluctance to challenge the status quo. If they're not listened to and encouraged to ask questions, children will lose curiosity, potentially stunting their intellectual growth and assuredly stunting their creative growth."

So how can you help cultivate your child's creative confidence? "Ask better questions," Gregersen says, and incorporate the asking of such questions into your and your child's daily lives.

Check out Hal Gregersen's piece: 'Teachers should reward questions, not just answers'

By Lisa Merlini

Tag: Exploring Education

Subscribe to Our
Exploring Education Newsletter