“Questions are the antechambers of knowledge”

by Carl Bossard

Questions are the antechamber of understanding. Today, however, schoolchildren are often barely no longer allowed to ask their teacher. So, according a new paradigm – an interjection.
The unexpected hears, who listens to paediatricians1 or talks to school psychologists or social pedagogues: In their practice, they treat more and more children with psychosomatic problems such as abdominal pain and chronic headaches. Pupils increasingly suffer from school anxiety, and some show extraordinary behaviour. The young patients are increasingly suffering from complaints for which there is no somatic interpretation.2

The children become lone warriors

Experts diagnose three causes: In addition to societal and social pressure and family emergencies, there are also school reasons. A female doctor reports: “I witnessed how children in the third grade should work independently on the arithmetical subject material. On Monday, the teacher presented a short introduction to the new arithmetic topic; then the children had to work on their dossier alone during the remaining week in arithmetic lessons and homework.” As a learning coach, the teacher distributes individual learning content. And it looks exactly the same in the subjects German and Science. Weekly schedules and worksheets have to get it straight.

For questions up to twenty minutes queuing up

Everything should happen independently – and alone. Learning mutates from the collaborative process to individual activity. A class community hardly arises. Above all, middle-class and weaker students are overtaxed. They get under pressure and psychological pressure.
In addition, there is something else: In case problems or questions emerge during the planning work (“Planarbeit”) primarily classmates are to be consulted, the “experts”, as they are called. With them, the child in question should discuss the topic. If it wants to ask the teacher for advice, it must queue – if that is possible. It can take up to twenty minutes to reach your turn, says the doctor. Who will be surprised about the exclamation: “I’ll just ask my parents at home!”

Powerful educational narrative

Children have to learn independently today; they are their own learning managers. Self-oriented, self-organised learning (SOL) is the the motto of the reforms. Behind this is the educational goal of self-regulation. The term has a high pedagogical acceptance and is currently the dominant form of instruction in many places. SOL became a kind of methodological redemption formula; a true belief in salvation has developed to the power of this practice. Could it be possible that in future one will speak of a pedagogical malpractice? It would not be the first time that later it will become suspect what primarily seemed like a magic word.
Until today there is no empirical evidence that this method would lead to a better quality of instruction. On the contrary, without high student activity by means of intensive teacher control, regular learning controls, and feedback, high learning effectiveness cannot be achieved. Therein, the renowned education researchers agree.

Autonomy is a goal, not a requirement

Learning only works over the self; we only learn if we want to learn by ourselves. Also in this principle, the scientists agree. However, this whish is not always available at the beginning. Autonomy is not the prerequisite of instruction and education, autonomy is the goal.3 Why? Emotional control and self-discipline are not fully developed in young people, as Zurich neuropsychologist Lutz Jäncke has repeatedly emphasised.
“The frontal cortex is still in the process of maturing”4 – and with it the ability to concentrate. This has consequences. Children and teenagers are easily distracted. That is why, says Jäncke, the self-learning euphoria is problematic.

To be a vital and humane vis-à-vis to the ego

Teaching and learning is an intersubjective event. It is a process between people. And what happens between people does not happen first from brain to brain, but from eye to eye, from ear to ear, from sense to meaning, physically and mentally. Children and adolescents need the stimulation; they have to be touched emotionally. Then the famous spark leaps over; they let themselves be ignited by the subject matter.
Teachers therefore have to lead in personal contact. Like a choirmaster, like a conductor. “Pedagogic” springs from the Greek paid-agogein, “lead children”. Lead, not just look after and accompany – and be a role model for them. And this pedagogical role model of the adults emphasises the university teacher Lutz Jäncke.

Create “obliging conditions”

Jäncke adds: “Children must be able to turn to the teacher if they have a problem.” As a sequence in the German textbook from the series “Die Sprachstarken” demands: “Ask until you understand everything!” Understanding takes place in dialogue. Leading children to knowledge, ability and attitudes and making them to understanding – that is the aim of the school.
Education is therefore an interactive event – with the goal of autonomy of the person, maturity of the individual, and sovereignty of the individual. This autonomy is not given from the beginning, it develops gradually. Getting self-determinate is a demanding process. Autonomy is and remains the goal of good teaching – in an “atmosphere of trust and confidence, security, care, and benevolence”, as John Hattie sees it as fundamental and (learning) effective.
For this reason, teachers in their class have to create “obliging conditions” for all children, to quote the German sociologist Jürgen Habermas. And that includes questions to the teacher. They relieve and clarify – and are the antechamber of knowledge.     •

1     see. lecture series “Schule & Pädiatrie” (“School & Pediatrics”) of the Association of Pediatricians of Eastern Switzerland, www.kispisg.ch
2    Burri, Anja. Kranke Kinderseelen (Sick Children’s Souls), in: NZZ, 29 October 2017, pp. 20.
3    Reichenbach, Roland. Philosophie der Bildung und Erziehung (Philosophy of Education). Stuttgart 2007, Edition W. Kohlhammer, p. 107
4    Jäncke, Lutz. “Vom Hirn zum Lernen” (“From brain to learning”). Lecture at the University of Zurich in the context of “50 Jahre Klett und Balmer Verlag (50 years Klett and Balmer edition)” on 8 November 2017; also see ibid: Ist das Gehirn vernünftig? Erkenntnisse eines Neuropsychologen (Is our brain reasonable? Findings of a neuro-psychologist). Berne 2015, Edition Hans Huber, p. 239

Source: https://www.journal21.ch/dann-frage-ich-halt-die-eltern from 2 July 2018

(Translation Current Concerns)