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Is there any such thing as a dumb question?

by kdeb on 20 March 2008

and did I just ask one?

We all remember little phrases like this one from school days.

Some of them are valuable (check out this song about Kindergarten):

http://www.folkmusic.com/record/r_water.htm#Wall

Some of them are misleading or silly, like:
“If you dream it, you can become it!” (A dangerous concept,
since I dreamed I was a frog once!)

But the most enduring phrase, I think, is that there is no such thing as a stupid question. It is usually offered as a response to someone saying “I know this is a stupid question, but…”

I think the intent is to show generous patience with folks who only seem to be trying to remedy their ignorance. But really, aren’t there any flat-out-stupid questions?

Otherwise, why do we keep insisting we just asked one?

-- 2008-03-20  »  kdeb

Talkback x 3

  1. admin Greg Krehbiel
    20 March 2008 @ 3:11 pm

    Of course there are stupid questions — i.e., a question that betrays ignorance on something the person really ought to know.

    But it’s good to encourage people to ask their questions because otherwise how will they learn? It’s also necesary to encourage other people not to make fun of the questioner.

    It’s also good not to lie, so rather than saying, “there are no stupid questions,” perhaps people should say “it’s important to ask questions, even stupid ones.”

  2. Nathan
    20 March 2008 @ 3:26 pm

    I think it does depend on the context. I’ve been in plenty of online discussion groups where someone comes in and says the equivalent of “what’s 2+2?” Basically, the sort of question that 30 seconds of research or even googling would have found a good answer.

    We need to encourage people to ask questions, sure. But, almost more importantly, we need to teach them that there’s plenty of resources and answers out there. If people routinely throw up their hands and ask a question, expecting to be spoonfed an answer, we’re in trouble.

    I think “this may be a stupid question, but …” is something of a verbal cover to say “I can’t go do research now, so … “. If you have the opportunity to go do research first, then by all means, do it.

  3. John Krehbiel jkrehbielp
    20 March 2008 @ 9:11 pm

    (spoken aloud)
    “Am I talking?”

    (of a handout with “On your own paper” printed across the top)
    “Can we write on this?”

    (in a hallway with consecutively numbered rooms)
    “Where is room 215?”

    One thing the kids do that drives me nuts is to interrupt as I am explaining something with a question I was just about to answer. It seems they don’t trust teachers to fully explain anything (possibly with some justification), but also that they really aren’t listening. Why should they when they can each and every one of them ask the same stupid question?