It's The Question That Drives Us
Like many sci-fi fans, one of my favorite movies of all time is, "The Matrix." There's a scene where Trinity, the beautiful hacker female, approaches Neo in a nightclub. This is the moment of invitation, an event that forces him to wake up to the world around him--a world where something just doesn't feel right. In many ways, stories are our real teachers, and the dialogue in this scene calls for us to wake up to the true purpose of learning in our modern age.
Trinity: It's the question that drives us, Neo. It's the question that brought you here. You know the question, just as I did.
Neo: What is the Matrix?
Trinity: The answer is out there, Neo, and it's looking for you, and it will find you if you want it to.
The writers of "The Matrix" advise us to ask the questions that are burning within our hearts. In Neo's case, the question will lead him to the answer--which is something he cannot know until he voices the question. The two are intertwined, one leading to the other. Asking the question sets him off on the journey to finding the answer.
It's finals time here in my house, and that means spending hours studying with my children, memorizing, not the questions, but the answers. To tell the truth, I love this time, recalling facts I once learned long ago, being near my kids, and hearing the stories they have to tell about the historical figures, scientific theories and algebraic equations they've been learning. I'm always amazed at how deep the teachers go with their curriculum, and how little I would know about what went on in the classroom if I didn't take this time to study with my children. When we go over their study guides, they reveal details about discussions in the classroom and share with me their wonder and awe.
But if I only looked at their tests and homework, and never spent time discussing it with them, I'd assume that all they were learning was how to memorize facts--which seems pretty dry. Not only that, it seems fairly useless. In the days of the Smartphone and Google Search, why would my children need to memorize any date in history? Of course, knowing an approximate timeline or order of events is important--woe to the child who has no clue that Rome fell long before the advent of the computer. But is it necessary to spend brain power memorizing the exact date that the Vandals first sacked Rome?
Some may say yes, but I'd disagree. We don't have to wait for a future singularity event to realize that the days of knowing the "answer" are over. Tablets, Smartphones and the system of information that links them together, are changing the way we live in our world. In our house, if someone disagrees with another about a historical date, we let Google solve it. If my son wants to learn how to set up a "Let's Play" YouTube channel, he can Google it and find all sorts of people and information to aid him in his quest.
The fact is, knowing the "answer" isn't enough anymore. The intelligence we now need to cultivate is to know what questions need to be asked. And to develop the courage to ask them.
What is the question needed in any given situation? How do I ask the question in order to get the most accurate answer? How do I begin to understand the world as information all around me that is seeking to be known? How do I parse through the propaganda, to find the truth? For nothing is truly known on the Internet until the question is asked. Information is simply data stored on the Cloud, which has no meaning unless someone wants to use it. Asking the question puts the information in play.
How can we educate our children to ask questions? In reality, the educational system of the United States for the past fifty years has encouraged the exact opposite--Don't ask questions. Instead, listen to the teacher lecture, take notes, and memorize them. Questions slow things down. Questions get in the way. The authority already knows everything, you just need to receive the information. And then you'll be tested to make sure you got it all.
In today's age, to be spoon fed information isn't going to get our children very far. They need to be encouraged to ask for what they want to know. They must have a desire to understand and learn about the world around them. They need a fire lit inside of them, a passion, for asking questions. It's a vulnerable place to be, for to ask a question might make you seem ignorant. But the truth is, this is the direction our learning systems are going. As the Internet grows to mimic our own learning patterns, so will we begin to change in order to navigate this informational landscape.
Someday learning just may be a simple download. Like Trinity from the Matrix, we'll learn to fly a helicopter in moments. And yet, even in that extreme case, such learning cannot happen--unless we're confident enough ask the right question.