Questions and Answers

Carrol Cox cbcox at
Thu Jan 6 13:16:49 PST 2000

Doug Henwood wrote:

> And here, I often ask questions to
> provoke discussion;

Doug, my argument is that this does *not* provoke discussion, that in fact it tends to cut off discussion. And your claim that you don't know the answer often won't wash. You can't ask a question unless you have in mind a model of an answer. And your reader/listener can't understand your question without understanding your model of an answer, and, as said, that model will only show up in an answer of some sort.

The most consistently successful gimimick I invented in 40 years of teaching was the following. I would ask student to write a question which they did NOT know the anwer to and then answer it. (This of course was for discussion type questions.) If their answer was too satisfactory I would sometimes refuse to accept their card. (I ususally had them do it in class on 5x* cards.) That way topics got defined in the way they never got defined from mere questions. It usually took about a third of a semester to convince students that (a) I was serious on this and (b) it was possible to answer a question (and answer it intelligently) without knowing the answer.

I don't know how you learned to learn -- but I learned by sticking my neck out in conversations with grad school friends and getting it chopped off. So your point about retired assistant professors knowing more answers than questions is bullshit. I claim that someone who can't give some kind of answer (however faulty) to his/her questions doesn't really understand, even vaguely, his/her question. And if you don't understand the question, then how do you expect others to.

I am frequently quite unsure of my argument in posts on these maillists. I find out what I was really trying to say only when I began getting responses. In other words, I'm claiming that I ask far more questions than you do. Real questions are usually not interrogative sentences grammatically.

Why be safe all the time. No one (yet anyhow) gets shot for being wrong.


More information about the lbo-talk mailing list