Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Classroom inquisition of the third kind

Words carry with them various connotation; but the dictionary definition (as found at dictionary.com) of the word “inquisition” encompasses some of the serious flaws of education as well as what can be one of the most productive classroom practices. 

Here is what dictionary.com says for the word inquisition:
1. An official investigation, especially on of a political or religious nature, characterized by lack or regard for individual rights, prejudice on the part of the examiners and recklessly cruel punishments.
2. Any harsh, difficult, or prolonged questioning.
3. The act of inquiring; inquiry; research

American public school education is characterized by inquisition as defined in numbers one and two above. Students do not reach their full potential because classroom teachers are not allowed to treat their students as individuals, demonstrating a “lack or regard for individual rights.”  In his recent address to the Save Our Schools March & National Call to Action in Washington, D.C., when the actor Matt Damon spoke of his mother’s teaching career and his experience as a student in public schools he said, “My teachers were free to approach me and every other kid in that classroom like an individual puzzle. They took so much care in figuring out who we were and how to best make the lessons resonate with each of us. They were empowered to unlock our potential. They were allowed to be teachers.”

The standardized tests themselves that American public school students must take in order for schools to demonstrate Annual Yearly Progress could be considered harsh, difficult or prolonged questioning. Certainly the seat-time spent on preparation for these high-stakes tests could be considered prolonged.

Classroom inquisition of the third kind
However, the word inquisition has a positive connotation as well. Inquisition can mean “the act of inquiry; inquiry; research.” So while I may hope to avoid a classroom inquisition of the first and second type, I structure my student activities to promote classroom inquisition of the third type.  To foster a love for inquiry in students and the ability to do the research or thinking necessary to answer the questions that inquiry poses is a great gift that teachers can share with students. 

One of the most beautiful things students ask is, “Why?” What I love about the classroom inquisition is that the best answer I can give to that question is to answer back, “Why do you think?” and to encourage the act of inquiring, inquiry and research. Now that's classroom inquisition.


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