Fools ask Questions to be Made Wise – Where are the Enquiring Minds of the Caribbean?

By Russell Williams

The title statement was a phrase I learned for the first time having moved to St. Kitts-Nevis. Without wanting to insult the person asking the question the saying makes complete sense as to the purpose of asking questions, yet after 11 years in the region I am left wondering if many people actually understand how crucial the statement is to learning and our development.

The reason I say that, is that there are several questions I have about various situations in the Federation and the region and I often wonder, “am I the only person with this question?” or “why is it no one is asking this or that question?”. However, my greatest concern is for the future our country and region if we do not accept that to question is natural and a means of learning and not necessarily a challenge of my authority or that someone is “being fast”. In fact, generally, people aren’t too shy of asking “newsy” type of questions to find out the latest scoop or get involved in mellé, however when it comes to asking questions like ‘why is it that when arranging a loan I have to write a cheque to pay the lender’s lawyer for writing a bill of sale for the lender’s benefit’?

Let’s face it, the lender is making money, why can’t they pay him from all the various fees or interest? Bottom line – I don’t have a relationship with their lawyer and my transaction isn’t with their lawyer, so I don’t see why I should be cutting a cheque for several hundred dollars for a high-school graduate to cut and paste or do a search and replace!

Sadly it would appear mine is the only voice in the wilderness asking these types of questions.

But more troubling was an experience I had while talking to my daughter this week. Most afternoons I would ask my daughter to bring her schoolwork and we will go through what she had done that day. Part of her work was on time and there was a statement which made me think and so I asked her, … well how was dripping water used to tell the time centuries ago? She said she didn’t know – “it was what Teacher had told us”. This led to more questions, “…so didn’t you wonder how you could tell the time with dripping water?” I asked “No.” she replied, “…so you mean not one student in the class was in the slightest bit curious to know how you could possibly tell the time with dripping water?” and yet again “no” was the response.

The situation reminded me of a recent conversation I had with a friend over coffee. She told me how her daughter asked a question of her teacher in class, I am still left bewildered by the teacher’s response – “read the books your mother spent her money buying!” Perhaps it’s a good thing my child is not in her class, better yet it’s a good thing neither I or my siblings were in her class otherwise, I’m sure our next question, would have been “so why are you here, teacher?” or “what is it you’re paid to do again?”

I have taught classes both in the UK and here in the region and I have always made it clear that participants should ask as many questions as they want, because it’s only through questioning that you can learn and test understanding of what has been delivered, but occasionally, you get a question that causes the teacher/instructor to learn something!

Questioning here in the Caribbean seems somehow to have become seen as a threat, a challenge or even a personal attack instead of an opportunity to learn or to teach!

This is not simply an issue for parents to be concerned with, but if the region is to develop, we know we are going to need critical and creative thinkers, but how can you think critically, if you are never encouraged to ask questions? Better yet how to receive and give criticism? The whole notion of innovation and development becomes moot if we do not create an atmosphere that encourages our people to ask, how does that work? And more importantly, how can I improve on this? If we don’t address these issues the region is destined to be the footstool of more developed nations, consuming whatever they are prepared to make available to us or that we can afford.

If the Caribbean is to move into the knowledge based economy as is the mantra of our leaders, we need to encourage our youths and children to ask question of us and themselves, we need to be prepared to answer their questions, even if it might mean doing our homework!

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