Boundless Questions, Perpetual Questions
Updated: Jul 5
I often think about the importance of asking good, quality questions in class. Teachers know better than anyone how a good question lights a fire and a bad question builds a wall. After a bad question, hands fidget. Eyes move down or around. They don’t look at you. After a good question, many hands fly in the air (I love it when the hand comes right at you instead of straight up in the air). Eyes twinkle. There's no feeling like knowing a good answer to a question. Good questions sometimes happen spontaneously. They are simple and address the most important idea. They demand that students interpret and explain the internal reasons for the behavior of the character. Sometimes they come before the conversation and sometimes they come out of the conversation. Sometimes they’re right in the text itself.
Today, my students tackled a symbolic question in Hamlet, the first line, “Who’s there?” This is a line, on the surface, about not knowing who’s standing in front of you. What’s their name? Where do they live? What do they like to do? How old are they? What do they look like? But it’s also about questioning their true conscience, as opposed to their façade, or the way they want to appear. It’s not about a physical presence, but a mental one. What do they really feel? What do they want? What do they know? What are they hiding? We want to know the private thoughts and true feelings of the people in front of us, like our family and friends. But it’s also a question we ask ourselves. “Who’s there?” It’s a powerful question because once we figure out who we are, we can stand up for what we believe in.
In To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, Lily asks the biggest question of all: “What is the meaning of life?” I’m not sure how many hands would shoot in the air to answer that one. Fortunately, Woolf answers it for us:
What is the meaning of life? That was all--a simple question; one that tended to
close in on one with years. The great revelation had never come. The great
revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles,
illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one.
Every answer leads to another question. Every time we discover something about the people we love or ourselves, we long to discover more.
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