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June 24th, 2020
What does the concept of an ellipsis have in common with a question?
The trailing 3 dots at the end of a statement or often half statement creates a space. . .
A question does the same thing structurally. A question creates a space where we imagine an answer might exist. Or we might see that creates space as a threshold through which we can pass in the hunt for an answer. Questions are after all calls to adventure to quest on toward a new place of comprehension.
Good teachers to the same thing in reverse. Say for example a student asks an insightful question that shows they are on the brink of realizing the answer. Should a teacher answer the question? Or would it rob the student of an important opportunity to make the cognitive leap on their own? The great teacher chooses to be deliberately insufficient, realizing that the best answer to some questions is no answer at all.
Great teachers who are sensitively attuned to the cognitive adventure which the student is on, will purposefully create gaps in their lessons, creating a kind of obstacle course to be navigated and surmounted on the part of the student. The professor who blindly professes at a student is no teacher at all. The process of learning, instead, is a sort of dance, a conversation, that is likely lead by the teacher but brought to full fruition by the student’s effort, not simply to follow along, but to complement. We might even wonder about a lose structure of questions and answers being volleyed in pairs, the way puzzle pieces are often composed of both keys and locks for other pieces. The teacher offers the student a question, which is returned by an answer and a further question to delve deeper into the topic. We can imagine the teacher following suit, potentially answering the question, but flavoring it, warping the perspective by asking another question for the student to ponder. We calibrate to one another in this way, approximating toward a common ground of similarly understood perspective. The role of the teacher, however, is marked by a mind that already knows where the ground is for the perspective to take place, and each question forms a small quest or redirection on a larger quest toward that landscape of perspective the teacher has in mind.
So why would a teacher seek to be deliberately insufficient? Why is it important to create gaps that require the student to take a leap, or form the next step or figure the direction on their own?
It would now be quite natural to expect this process of thought to answer it’s own question. But imagine if this last sentence and this current sentence, and this whole final paragraph didn’t exist. Imagine if the question stood and you were now in charge of finishing the writing of this episode. Where would you take it? How would you finish it? If the questions and the ideas here created some momentum in your thinking, where does that momentum continue onto as it passes from this sharp turn away from the topic? You might sit down and put words to paper, perhaps even typing out the question and some of the previous paragraph in order to regain that steam, or perhaps not. There’s only one way to find out. . .