What types of questions were you not allowed to ask?

Earlier today I read an interesting article and tweeted:

4yos ask questions, 6yo have learned that teachers value right answers more than provocative questions
Then I shared that I was once banned from asking questions in a physics class because the teacher didn’t know the answers and thought I was trying to disrupt the class. (My question asking status was reinstated after the teacher talked to my awesome math teacher and got confirmation from her college professor that the questions really were hard questions without answers.)

I’ve been amazed at the number of really smart people who have shared similar stories!


Do you have a similar story to share? How do we help today’s kids not run into this?

For my part, I think I kept asking the “hard” questions because my parents and my other teachers were so supportive.


16 Replies to “What types of questions were you not allowed to ask?”

  1. I generally made other students and teachers both angry. Once finished a test before the teacher had finished passing out the papers. Refused to carbon-copy notes from an overhead projector in one class, because he gave a grade for copying notes. Most kids and teachers hated me for being the smart kid.

  2. Anything to do with:
    * Questioning the existence of a god/virgin birth/inconsistencies between the gospels
    * Trying to do a report on how the Catholic Church repressed science for the better part of a millennium
    * Supporting any pro-choice, pro-gay, or reproductive health platforms
    * Wanting to found a “young democrats” club as a counter-point to the “young republicans” club

  3. Bad teachers, like bad students, don’t have a clue how to react when they don’t know the answer to something. In both cases, a common reaction involves blaming the question for introducing confusion, rather than recognizing limits of understanding.
    *Good* teachers say “I don’t know”, along with either “let’s figure it out” (for questions possible to figure out in class) or “talk to me later and I’ll/we’ll look into it” (for questions requiring further research).
    Every professor I’ve had in college falls in the latter category. Every teacher I encountered in grades 1-3, before I stopped attending public school and started homeschooling, fell in the former category; fortunately, I did not stay in public school long enough to learn not to ask questions. Most importantly, my parents fell in the latter category, and I could ask all the questions I wanted to ask, and get help finding out the answers; furthermore, they taught me the very important lesson that adults didn’t know everything.

  4. Funny, I’m not alone on this one. My most angry reaction was when I had to explain the law of gravitation to my physic teacher (I was 16). She nearly took me out of the class but I was so upset by what she was saying, I was mad.
    I then explained the whole class, after she left, what was the reality. Two weeks later, she asked me to come and told me very quietly, without anyone listenning, that I was right about that gravity stuff.
    I completely loose faith in that specific teacher. And thus, I was not specially brilliant because non-motivated and non-willing to accept anything she was saying.
    What was even more frustrating is that neither of my parents are scientists and they were unable to understand me (it started when I was 12 and wanted to understand the relativity).
    What my parents did to help me was to send me to some scientific youth, to subscribe me to scientific magazine and also to motive me to do some scientific competiton. I remember a big competition accross the country where classes would compete to create a space-related project. As nobody in my class was motivated and I hated my teacher, I did my whole project alone. I asked another teacher of the school to put his name on my form saying I was “a class” and I won the 3rd prize of the whole country. That teacher later chatted with me a lot and helped me subtly to express myself.
    But I had the solution to not be hated by other student : when we had a physic examination, I would finish it in 5 minutes then give my copy to the guy next me who will gave it to others and so one. That year, the mean was very high 😉

  5. The only bad teacher I’ve had were this bible-hugging old lady during my first years in school, but luckily she was sacked. School is one of the better things about Sweden 😀

  6. Most of my “comment bans” came about because the instructor was teaching outdated information and trying to pass his or her opinion off as fact. There was also the C++ programming class where I failed the first two assignments because I used techniques that hadn’t been taught yet. That was fun!

  7. I only ran into this in a couple classes in high school; most of my teachers were awesome and supportive, but a couple of them really seemed to be ticking down the years to retirement and resented the disruption of order brought by kids actually trying to interact…
    Worst case was my econ class — the teacher actually taught us something incorrectly, then when *everyone* got the question wrong on a test *blamed us* for being disruptive by “always asking questions and not taking things for granted”. Huh? If she’d answered our questions, we would have gotten it right!
    Needless to say this left a bad taste in all our mouths when it came to economics. 🙂

  8. I can’t think of anything specifically I wasn’t allowed to ask. Before I figured out that I was “the smart kid” I used to ask and answer questions all the time, and correct the teachers. One of my early teachers finally told me to go read on my own, and give the other kids a chance. I spent pretty much the entirety of my elementary school in the back of a classroom, doing different work on my own or reading books I chose, either instead of or after immediately finishing the regular class work.
    Junior high was a shock, where I wasn’t allowed to do that anymore and had to follow the classroom assignments…
    I don’t remember any subjects I was forbidden to ask about, but I do remember it would make me very upset when I knew the teacher was wrong but wouldn’t accept my explanation! Now I know how to argue, but then I think I would just cry.
    I also remember having a geometry book in my first-grade class (that a relative had given me) and decided I would use it. I didn’t know a word that wasn’t in the lame children’s dictionary, so I asked the teacher “what does ‘congruent’ mean?” and was told “you aren’t ready for that yet.” I believed her and put the book away to do something else. I was upset when I learned some time later what a simple idea it was–now I think she just didn’t know what the word meant herself!

  9. I was lucky – I had *good* teachers. Teachers that taught that they are not perfect, that they don’t know it all. Teachers that taught to question them, question them always, keep asking questions. Even in primary school.
    The best way to help today’s kids is the same: teach them that nobody is perfect, that nobody knows it all, that knowledge changes all the time, that what we think we know now may be wrong tomorrow, that there are no absolute truths.
    Teach them to question everything, teach them to question what they are taught. Teach them that the way to knowledge is to ask questions. Teach them to keep asking questions. Award them for asking questions, especially for asking questions that have no answer (yet).

  10. I found Spanish schools particularly frustrating. In math class they would hand out one problem at a time, the whole class would work it and then someone would do it on the board. If you finished early, you were supposed to just sit there.
    Luckily I had a really cool teacher. When she discovered me doing homework for a different class, she just asked if I was done. When I said yes, the next day she brought in a programming problem for me to work on.
    She also told the substitutes … so I never got in trouble for helping others or reading or working programming problems in her math class.

  11. Teachers who discouraged my questions were almost less frustrating to me than the ones who accused me of plagiarizing my written assignments on the grounds that they were too good. I also tussled with some parent volunteers in our elementary school library who didn’t approve of my book choices: if you don’t want children to read Gulliver’s Travels, don’t put it out in the stacks!

  12. I was a big question asker in school, and often got on the wrong side of teachers for it.
    Flip the situation around, as a teacher, how do you avoid “early and often” student question askers from dominating the class? Banning from question asking is certainly a radical approach, but the problem is a legitimate one.
    This article is still useful on the subject: http://www.danspalding.com/articles/stfu.html
    Teachers have a hard time managing classes. Students like us don’t make it easy. Teachers who make students like us realise that, without resorting to arbitrary punishment, are good teachers.

  13. The approaches I’ve seen work are:
    1) Give them something harder to do on their own – like maybe even answering their own question.
    2) Pair them up with students that aren’t doing so well and make them responsible for how well those students do.
    3) Let them teach the thing. My math teacher once got stumped, so one of the kids in my class went home and asked his dad. He came back the next day and explained it to us all. We all learned from it.

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