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What’s A Good Question?

Educational Solutions Worldwide Inc.

Caleb Gattegno


vol. XIV no. 3

February 1985

First published in 1985. Reprinted in 2009. Copyright Š 1985-2009 Educational Solutions Worldwide Inc. Author: Caleb Gattegno All rights reserved ISBN 978-0-87825-320-3 Educational Solutions Worldwide Inc. 2nd Floor 99 University Place, New York, N.Y. 10003-4555

Asking questions is “natural” for human beings. Very young, we ask everyone around, “Why?” However, not all questions we ask later on in life, lead us to awarenesses which help us go beyond the immediate needs that prompt them. Among legitimate questions, there are questions such as: “What’s your name?” or “What’s the time?” or “Is it raining?” Such questions, obviously, get canceled out by the answers. We shall call them “poor” questions. This, in order to set them apart from “good” questions which inquire into matters that affect our lives much more deeply, and thus, can be distinguished by the complexity of the answers to them. “What causes earthquakes?” or “What is the meaning of my life?” are, for example, the kind of questions which require serious investigation, study and reflection over a long period of time. In fact, even among the “good questions” there are hierarchies. In the following articles we shall attempt to find and describe the qualifications which determine the hierarchies. Is the title of this Newsletter itself a good question? It may be considered to be so, provided the readers are involved in thinking while reading the articles, and, having read, discover themselves in contact with an inner impulse to keep looking for some of the good questions they have put to themselves. At one stage we were content to say: “A good question is one that generates fifty new ones,” in contrast to a bad one which is canceled by the answer received. This numerical formula is compact and valid. We hope, the discussions presented in this issue will ensure some other criteria which are more explicit and which allow a deeper comprehension of what a good question is. News items appear, as usual, at the end.

Table of Contents

1 Some Of The Good Questions I Asked ................................ 1 1 What can a newly born or a very young baby, do by himself? ....... 2 2 We are equipped to maintain our health when the aggressors in our complex environment are biological and chemical. .............. 3 3 Can we construct the concept of time as it exists in the physical sciences, by starting with the concrete time of our experience? . 5 4 Since the minds of some of us manage to know part of what the brain is, and is for, and the brain, in all of us, does not know itself, is it not a clumsy move to give the brain the top function in living and knowing, as is suggested by so many writers and public speakers?............................................................................ 7 2 The Obvious And The Familiar .......................................... 9 3 What Prevents Us From Asking Good Questions? ............17 News Items ......................................................................... 25

1 Some Of The Good Questions I Asked

People have come to my seminars over the years wanting to find out: 1

what made me able to ask questions they recognized as worth asking, and

2 why such questions did not occur spontaneously to them. Rarely have I heard people say they found a clue to their search. As far back into my early years as I can remember, I recall myself asking questions of myself rather than of others, although there is no doubt that I asked many questions of others too. Had I not done so, I would not have gathered the information I carry in my mind in so many fields of human endeavor. In fact, I must say, I learned to ask questions in some fields by carefully studying the dynamics of the questions which the successful investigators in those fields had raised. But I must also say that in the process, I was often astonished to find that the questions which originated in me had not been entertained by earlier researchers in those fields. In the beginning, I doubted that my questions could be legitimate or valid. But feedback from reality made me gain confidence, and the right to my own insights.


What’s A Good Question?

Here are a few of my questions which have had or still have a future, in the sense that they spontaneously generate openings from which crops of new facts become perceptible. They are presented here unsystematically and as unrelated to each other.

1 What can a newlyborn or a very young baby, do by himself? When babies send signals that they need help, parents or older siblings go to be with them and attend to their needs. Parents also know that babies spend long stretches of time being on their own. Could babies be using this time — their time — to do something which they alone know about, and know they can handle on their own? The answer is: “obviously, yes.” We look at babies, we see them grow, and we conclude that they must have exchanged their time for some experiences of growth and development. However, in order to evolve a new way of working for the study of what babies do, and to have a new beginning of an epistemology akin to the challenge, it is essential that one reaches and grasps the very movement of the dynamics of the exchange itself. Is it possible? I put this question to myself and I found that babies — like all humans all the time — are energy systems engaged in processing energy. This led me to look at the spontaneous activities of babies in terms of energy processing energy. With the understanding that it is to this that babies give their time — unobserved by grownups and unconcerned with what the environment thinks of them and expects of them — it becomes possible to understand that one of their activities is to transform their time into inner criteria which guarantee that what they do is well done and serves their purpose. The lighting of energy opens early childhood to a new kind of scrutiny. Babies do not speak. Hence, they do not verbalize the questions they ask. Rather, they are in a state of inquiry with their total being. Didn’t all of us know, very early, how to go about looking for answers to the self-proposed inquiries? We did this in the manner a pendulum serves as a probe to determine the value of gravity at any definite spot; or a compass serves to determine the direction of a local magnetic field, etc. 2

1 Some Of The Good Questions I Asked

But since babies are aware beings, they do not respond mechanically or passively to energy impacts (though they can). They take steps to fathom the impacts received. Thus, they experiment with energy. They retain the lessons learned. From the aggregate of their experiences, they abstract the gist to constitute their Experience, a function of time. To reach the details of these exchanges of their time for Experience, made of their experiences, we had to deal with a large number of questions which stemmed from the initial question. Hence, the question we started with was a good question. So good, in fact, that after thirty years it still serves me well and allows me to gather new data and to publish findings where its relevance is clear (cf. The Universe of Babies, What We Owe Children, and chapters of the Science of Education etc.).

2 We are equipped to maintain our health when the agressors in our complex environment are biological and chemical. What do we do when these are electromagnetic? In the documented history of medicine it is easy to come across the kind of questions which started a new era of research and of treatment. What are the causes of diseases and illnesses? is one of them. It led to the discoveries of germs, vaccines and antibiotics. Such a set of discoveries qualifies the question as a valid and good one. The question was necessary and the discoveries possible within a certain apprehension of the human reality, immersed as it is, in an environment in which chemicals were found to exist and to have effects. Other apprehensions of the environment required that the minds of scientists focused on realities now known to belong to the field of electricity. Only when Hertz produced oscillators, was it possible to be certain that the environment holds energy in the form of variable electromagnetic fields. Every radio or TV set placed anywhere can serve as a probe for them. Geiger-counters serve as a probe for particles emitted by radio-active substances.


What’s A Good Question?

The question arises: “if microbial aggressions or chemical imbalances in nature can be taken care of, how are electromagnetic impacts taken care of?” A beginning of an answer came to me in 1951, when I started the study of Chinese medicine and, in particular, of acupuncture as an effective set of cures for illnesses which were not well handled by Western medicine. The Chinese acupuncture points appeared, in all the presentations I had access to, as forming a network of skin dots. When approached through the instruments available in the West, they were recognizable by their low electrical resistivity: about 1/9 of that of the surrounding skin. The Faraday Cage suggested itself to me as a synthesizer of the points and meridians of the Chinese maps. Besides asking myself what the meridians were, I asked why they were where they were. My being with these questions led me to recall a theorem in electrostatics called the “shield theorem,” proposed by Coulomb, two hundred years ago. The theorem states that a closed conductor separates absolutely what happens electrically inside the conductor from what happens outside. This made sense in my study of the Chinese Points. With my understanding enhanced, instead of having continuous conductors, I now had Faraday’s Cage as the model, that is, a mesh of wire effectively shielding as well as separating the inside from the outside. Hence, a number of challenges posed by the acupuncture points could be met and made to serve as a bridge between Chinese and Western medicine. The original question about protection from environmental electromagnetic field variations, could now be answered by generating a number of precise new questions; indeed, by opening a universe of study that could be undertaken by anyone interested in it. Nature managed to provide each of us (and many other living creatures) with a cutaneous system which is not recognizable histologically. But it is recognizable with electric probes, for the probes effectively separate that which is inside the bag of our skin from that which is outside. This protective shield works by itself as part of the electromagnetic environment. To know how, remains to be found. But the Chinese for tens of centuries, have practiced inserting metal


1 Some Of The Good Questions I Asked

needles at the points of intersection of the mesh, and have known with precision the effects of this practice on the contents of the cage. “Why?” “Which constellations of needles produce results known already? Which might extend the millennial accumulation of information in China, creating new treatments and cures? Are some of the consequences of this Western insight, capable of affecting the practice of acupuncture in China itself? In which ways?” These are some of the additional questions I asked. The initial question we put, was good, mainly because it led us to discover that man is an electromagnetic being at par with his other widely known physico-chemical aspects. But also, because it opens a whole world of study which includes a fresh understanding of acupuncture as a phenomenon which has not only something to do with the maintenance of human health but also with the understanding of man’s close akinness to his electromagnetic environment.

3 Can we construct the concept of time as it exists in the physical sciences, by starting with the concrete time of our experience? This question — worked out in detail in 1978 at an 11-day seminar in France — proved to be a good question. First, because it permitted the development of a set of instruments of work which were akin to the challenge. Then, also because, once the question was put, it brought together fields of study which had been held separated and were studied by specialists who had little to do with one another. Thinkers (scientists or philosophers) concern themselves with the uniform linear time of mechanics. This is so because they are adults and, as such, their personal time has already generated the temporal structures which they conceive to be homeomorphic to the Euclidean line. This conceptual time is reversible whereas a lived duration is not. The question I asked is: “Is it possible to start with the actual time of our experience and move towards constructing the conceptual time?” My search for the answer started with the artefact of becoming aware of the actual durations of time lived. With that awareness, I observed that the durations lasted and then underwent change, thus generating 5

What’s A Good Question?

the various stages of life — from conception to birth and from birth to the successive absolutes. I understood that one’s awareness, in search of the meaning of the world and of oneself-in-the-world, at different stages, was nourished by a different inner climate at each stage. I called the different inner climates which nourished different stages: “the absolutes” — of perception, of action, of passion, of intellect, of social awareness, etc. The notions of stages and the absolutes became for me the instruments which made it possible to see how by retaining only a certain number of the attributes of lived-time, we generate the time of physics. Once it is clear that it is the lived-time that is at the root of the conceptual time, it is easy to understand that the latter be used for dealing with abstract problems, as it is much easier to use the concept of time for this purpose than to use the lived-time. So far it has not been possible to derive the concrete time of life from the hollow time of mechanics. This has not bothered the scientists of the exact sciences, although many of them have been troubled by the time of physics when they have not been able to tackle its reality on the basis of the axioms of their specialized branches (cf. Ilya Prigogine & Isabelle Stengers “Order out of Chaos” — Man’s New Dialogue with Nature). The reversal of the challenge requires that good questions be rigorously raised so that doors to new fields of study keep opening. Time is not only an intellectual challenge and only to scientists and philosophers. Time is, as is energy, the substance of life of every one of us. “All through our life we process energy all the time.” This intellectual statement may evoke in us imprecise meanings of the terms “energy” and “time.” But each of us as energy-in-time has a sufficiently precise feeling which polarizes the mind to maintain us in contact with the attributes of the reality with which we are, and which we want to examine further. Thus, as embryos we are deeply involved in the biological processes which utilize energies. The self at work knows them intimately and pursues them knowingly. Their durations and rhythms can, therefore, be experienced directly. They are part of livedtime. In contact with their reiterated appearance and presence, we can mold the awareness of embryonic time.


1 Some Of The Good Questions I Asked

The inner activity of entertaining such matters in the form of questions which yield insights never encountered earlier, carries with itself both an awareness of the fecundity of the questions (because of the yield) and some new understanding of what time is. Hence, the original question concerning the construction of actual connections between the time we live and the time of physics, is a good question. Just as we attempt to reach the concreteness of time in-utero and discover some of its properties, we can examine the duration of the act of being born, the duration of the adjustments to the new environment and the various properties of the durations of one’s experiences colored by the successive absolutes of later years. This leads inevitably to the frame of reference which the time of mechanics or the conceptual time represents. The thinker lives this aspect of time intellectually. Only for those human beings who can entertain, “the reality of thoughts� does such an intellectual time become a reality. This reality in itself supports and sustains mental activities, and, in fact, is a part of their form as it is being generated. Because of this complexity, it is understandable why time has been so late in becoming a major preoccupation of thinkers as a collective challenge.

4 Since the minds of some of us manage to know part of what the brain is, and is for, and the brain, in all of us, does not know itself, is it not a clumsy move to give the brain the top function in living and knowing, as is suggested by so many writers and public speakers? The part of this question which makes it a good question is the one which refers to self-knowledge. Brains are in the skulls of all people. This in no way guarantees that the owner of a brain knows it and its functionings. Only by specializing in these studies can one hope to make sense of such a complex and complicated organ, whereas, through simple, and even primitive introspections, most of us can reach states of our minds. The mind is ready to be known while the brain is not. Some of the secrets of the brain are becoming known only to some very gifted investigators as they learn to reach its substance and the ways energy is processed in it.


What’s A Good Question?

To try to reach the mind through questions about the brain is to take the course of putting poor questions, at least in the present state of our knowledge of the brain. While engaged in formulating good questions about the powers of the mind and their functioning, one must avoid being influenced by what one knows about the brain. For example, we can come to good questions about the acquisition of language, if we definitely do not attempt to formulate them in terms of brain activity. Physiologists for some time have known that “functions generate organs.” (“La fonction crée l’organe,” Claude Bernard.) Those of us who study the dynamics of the mind, cannot escape the fact that it is “the mind that teaches the brain.” Once we arrive at this awareness, there are sub-questions (which become major ones as soon as they are taken up seriously) to be asked about how perception affects the functionings of the brain, how we shift from actual action to virtual action, from that to thoughts, from these to inventions and understandings in all sorts of fields. One important good question to ponder over is: “By educating first our awareness, do we become able and capable of affecting our brains so that much of what we spent learning becomes automatic, using organized nervous structures for ends projected by our mind?” Any good question about the powers of the mind leads to the discovery of the criteria for good questions about learning. *** We took four examples of good questions, expanded them and commented on them. The intent has been to enable readers to develop their own criteria for recognizing a good question when they meet it and, with the help of these criteria, to pose their own good questions in the field of study or scrutiny in which they are interested.


2 The Obvious And The Familiar

Surely, question-asking is not the aim of asking questions. Most of us go on asking questions about all sorts of areas of our involvements without being really interested or involved. Asking questions casually and without serious involvement, obviously, is a futile activity which can lead to a futile search. One particularly useful question for me has been: “Why is it that so much of the obvious escapes us?” Why was it necessary for Archimedes to notice one day that he floated in a pool of water when this was commonplace for himself and all others? Why is it that although babies everywhere do not start speaking the language of their environment until they are almost a year old, yet nobody tried to find out the meaning of this postponement? Particularly, since most people believe that it is the environment which imposes its language onto children, and that they learn it by imitation? Why is it that — even though almost all children learned to speak their native language, yet, so many do not manage to learn to read or write it at school — no one noticed that it might be so because the teaching approaches interfere with the activity of learning? Moreover, why is it that instead of counting the attributes of permanence — which written languages have — as a help to learners, it is construed by teachers as one of the obstacles?


What’s A Good Question?

Why is it that, although it is part of our experience that we stay with the meanings intended, and forget most of the words we hear, most of us still believe that words have meanings of their own? Why is it that, in spite of the fact that we learn so young, we still believe that babies have no intellectual powers at their disposal and that learning in early childhood is only possible via the concrete? Why is it that we believe that the particular is more accessible than the general when existentially we use the latter to understand the former? For example, when we say, “pears are fruit” or “cars are vehicles.” Why is it that we believe that learning is remembering, and base all our instruction on memorization, even when it is our experience that knowing vocabulary and grammar rules does not help us in learning a new language? Why is it that the accumulated experience of teachers of math all over the world, namely, that so many students fear math and acquire little of it over the years, does not affect their teaching, and they keep doing the same things in their lessons? For example, teach multiplication tables as they themselves learned them. Why is it that we forget that any reform before it is accepted has to struggle to be acceptable? Or, why is it that what we know to be the rule around us appears to us to be permanent, and we resent changes when, in fact, change is the only permanent thing, and permanence is an illusion? Why is it that we let all sorts of things occupy our minds and do not pay any attention to the fact that we are a Will? that our soma is involved in our thinking, our perceptions, our actions, our feelings? that our psyche provides us with all the acquired experience and all our automatisms which free us all the time to meet the new and the unknown?


2 The Obvious And The Familiar

Why is it that the self which directs our lives and integrates all we have been from the moment of conception on, is the last thing we discover of ourselves in life? and more rarely still, consciously be true to our self? Why is it that, when we hear someone talk of awareness, we do not relate to our own awareness, and believe it is a new entity we have to learn about as we do of other subject matters? Why is it that we prefer to look from outside at everything which is actually part of our inner life and hence, taken by our own preference, we miss so much which could be of help? Also, why is it that we think that other people can know us better than we can know ourselves? Why is it that we do not understand that we can reach objectivity by ourselves in so many instances and thus gain validity beyond our person? Why is it that we accept instead, that only subjectivity is our lot while believing that subjectivity is weaker than objectivity? Why is it that we do not notice the number of ways of knowing we use even over short periods (say, a day), and go on believing there is mainly one reliable way, which we glorify by calling it “the scientific method?” Why is it that we do not encounter our own sense of truth — the only source for us to know that we dwell in reality — and, that we are ready to subject ourselves to the authority of others by believing in their statements? Why is it that we do not know how to make a gift of the presence of our self in all our activities? And, why is it that we remain oblivious to the fact that by being present in our being, we can be disciplined in learning, we can radically transform our grasp of life and our ways of relating? Why is it that we do not manage to be guided by our self? *** Each “why is it” in the string of “why is its” that I have presented, is indeed, a good question. This, because the questions lead to self11

What’s A Good Question?

examination, which in turn, generates further questions, all of which have the potential to help us recognize our insensitivity to the reality around us, as well as our inner capacity to notice much more of it. We have all heard the saying: “Familiarity breeds contempt.” Could it be that the matters we are familiar with or which are obvious to us require a special discipline on our part for us to receive their impact and respond by paying attention to them? In my seminars, workshops and writings, I often refer to “forcing awareness.” It simply means that that which is obvious and hence may escape us, has to be made striking. Some good questions about early childhood learning in the previous article are examples of forcing awareness. Forcing awareness serves a twofold purpose: it loosens and removes the grip of familiarity on our perception of the realities we are involved with, and it puts us in an attentive and alert state. An example could be the following conversation: “Would you go to a baby in his crib if you are not called by him and you are very busy doing something else?” The answer usually is, “No.” “When would you go?” The answer is either, “When my baby cries,” or “When I have time to play with him and enjoy him.” “Will you know how your baby uses his time when he is by himself, happy and awake?” The answer is “I wouldn’t.” “So, who will know?” The answer is a shrug of a shoulder and a bewildered silence. Forcing awareness can go on: “So, how shall we know, in what ways does one use one’s time in early childhood?” The answer may be, “A specialist may . . .” “But how long can a specialist spend studying your child? and why?” The answer generally is: “I cannot give full time attention to my baby. Only professionally interested people can conduct such studies, and do so only because of their interest in the study and not in the babies. They will have to decide how to make their observations so that a few observations per baby can still lead to knowledge of the many.” “Can you imagine what might interest a very young child so that he might want to spend his time studying it? Or, “Do you think there could be certain activities which intrigue and engage babies so that they keep busy when they are not sleeping, or 12

2 The Obvious And The Familiar

feeding, or evacuating, or crying? Don’t they have to keep busy?” The answer may be, “I do not know” or “they may want to enjoy the impact of a meal, or the cleanliness of a diaper just changed, or the mild temperature in the room, or in the open air in summer etc.” “Is there not for a baby the need to know how to follow a moving thing? or to catch something he surmises to be reachable? or to know from which direction a noise comes?” etc. . . . The answer comes as “No doubt, but does he know as I do?” “Does it mean that you suspect that a baby can be an active learner, a learner who can become aware of some things and develop his own ways of learning and learn that which is there for him to learn?” “Does it mean that my baby spends his quiet time learning?” “Does it seem possible to you? if not, you must find out how he would ever learn what no one knows how to teach him, such as: sitting, standing and walking.” “So, we could ask ourselves a few questions related to his learning which we can observe from outside like holding his head up; like turning his head; like folding his legs, his arms, bringing his thumb to his mouth and others of this kind. And we can do this without any specialized training, simply by being present and watching.” “Indeed, this is the sole training, therefore, the best for you and anybody.” “Can I learn to ask fruitful questions, those for which I can find an answer?” “Try these: who can do this for my child: swallow, digest, evacuate, open his eyes and move his eyeballs, know the possibilities of the muscle tone of muscles like those of the lips the tongue, the vocal cords, the various fingers, the wrists, the forearms and arms; the coordination of breathing and eating, of looking and listening or and grasping etc. . etc. .” “I see how much I have to do to be able to understand my child and therefore other children.” Awareness may have been forced. It is still up to the individual to will to act in its light. *** It would have been an interesting and, perhaps, a useful exercise to produce a set of questions forcing awareness on each of the fields related to each of the “why is it . . . ?” but it is impractical to do so in a Newsletter. However, a number of questions, including some of the above, have been taken up in seminars, with the specific intent to


What’s A Good Question?

remove the cobwebs of familiarity and evoke alertness. Occasionally people here or there have acknowledged that as a result, their relation to the field of their study has improved and they could conduct a fruitful research. If the obvious can be missed, how can we call it obvious? Precisely because when awareness is forced, that which was being missed, becomes obvious. It is awareness which makes things obvious. If we were to re-examine the questions of the first article in the light of awareness, we would ask ourselves: “Of what must I be aware in order to enter the study presented?� If we manage to find an entry into it, we would test ourselves immediately and see if we obtained something new we can call an insight or a finding, or a new formulation, or an equivalent problem, or anything else qualifying as progress, in our individual case, in the grasp of the matter concerned. The turning point is in making oneself vulnerable to the familiar, that is, letting it affect one. For example, I go shopping almost every day. To get the supplies is the purpose of the errand, I know how to do that. But when I stand in the line for paying, I can watch what happens, in particular, what the cashier does, how she takes care of everything and what kind of assistance she gets from the machines supplied to her by the store. Do they serve several purposes, among them security, ease of handling, display of information, accountancy? Shopping serves me then to gain some insight into that job, about the training needed for such a job; an entry into some aspects of commerce, store management, etc. But does it tell me something about my contribution to the general economy as a customer? does it give me an opportunity to reach in me that molecule of economics without whose set there can be no economics? Do I know in me the Homo Economicus? In fact, the familiar, the routine, can give me, every day, opportunity for coming closer to myself and ask all sorts of possible questions about my environment and my relations to it.


2 The Obvious And The Familiar

Do I use a toothbrush and dental cream one or more times a day? Do I see in this activity the additive effects of chemical cleaning (cream) and physical cleaning (the brushing)? Do I try to separate the two to find out their separate effects? and, do I think of my ancestors who had no access to chemical cleaning but knew the physical side (the removal of particles through the energy of water, or through friction with say, sand)? Do I mix hot and cold water in my daily shower? does it give me the opportunity to discover “feedback,” when I look for the temperature of the mixture which my skin finds comfortable? or, only that proportions of the tap waters determine the final temperatures? Do I see there an experiment in elementary physics for beginner students of heat? Do I watch myself getting ready to go out and notice the way in which I get into my clothes or shoes; comb my hair, etc.? Do I recognize that my actions are structured by my being right dominant? Do I ask myself what sort of handicap would I experience if I were to do all these routine things as a left-handed person? Do I learn something about the biased education I gave myself, and think of what might happen if I were forced to use my less practiced skills. Do I feel appreciative of an education by which all learn to be ambidexrous, and handicapping biases are eliminated? Does this transfer to the ways of relating with the environment through mental biases such as: political leanings, social prejudices, etc.? Because the “familiar” is with us everywhere, to learn to be alert and attentive to it may have much greater consequences than a few words can convey. Learning to transform the “familiar” into “fascinating” by the acts of alertness and attention, is essential, particularly, in selfeducation, directed towards being more human every day, less lived by and more present in what we do, think, feel; thus, more attentive to the ways we are in relation to ourselves as well as to others.


3 What Prevents Us From Asking Good Questions?

At once we can think of two reasons: 1

we are rarely disciplined enough to let a challenge we are working on, or intrigued by, educate us to the point that it guides us in our investigation;

2 we still believe there are people out there who can teach us how to work and how to obtain results considered valuable by those who hold the reins of social reward. There are other reasons, as we shall find below. *** Of course, a field in which we ask questions is one which we acknowledge to exist, which we see placed somewhere in the world inside or outside ourselves, and with which we can have a dialogue. Our part is to ask questions and to reflect and comment on the answers it — the field — gives us. Its part is supposed to be to respond to our enquiries. When the right enquiries are made, one usually gets the right responses. This kind of subtle dialogue is already at work before we master or even enter language. We are equipped to have dialogues with reality on a non-verbal level. Other instruments are at work in us too, for example,


What’s A Good Question?

we add focus to our sight and hearing in order to look and listen. The focusing is done through our being present in our sense organs and thus energizing them. If we do not mobilize ourselves from the start in a manner which ensures our presence in the challenge, and do not stay alertly with it for as long as it requires our watchfulness, then, we ignore to fulfill a necessary condition for a true dialogue, and deprive ourselves of meeting the challenge. Presence is necessary but is not sufficient. Surrender is also required. Unfortunately, most of us find it difficult to surrender, for we resist being aware of the reality of the challenge existing independently of us. The spirit of surrender resides in the awareness that the dialogue involves an entity, a reality, which is other than ourselves and needs to be taken in and into account for what it is. Both presence and surrender are obviously necessary. Both are essentially non-verbal. Since challenges are what they are, in addition, we need the discipline of learning. This enables us to correspond to the idiosyncrasies of the particular challenge we are working on, and, to receive feed-back that we are indeed, in contact with the specific challenge which mobilizes us. Self-discipline helps us know that we are with the challenge and not merely with our ideas about it. With these lengthy intellectual explanations and abstract formulations we have tried to state the simple fact that it is within the capacity of young babies to meet new challenges in these ways. They exercise their capacity any time they enter any one of the activities which occupy their time, such as, discovering what to do in order to put their thumb in their mouth, or bend their leg at the hip to place it perpendicular to their trunk and then to fold it completely so as to attempt to put one of their toes into their mouth. These two most ordinary activities clearly require both presence and surrender, and since they are different, the self must place itself in the limb which is involved in the challenge. The muscles and the articulations of the bones in each case mobilize the self differently, and the disciplined self is there to learn the difference.


3 What Prevents Us From Asking Good Questions?

A return to early childhood does help us to discover that we have had all that which was required to enter in numerous dialogues with ourselves and with the environment. As young children we know how to learn a number of valuable skills and acquire lasting experiences which could make us more competent to meet the demands of the future, and alert us to our own equipment in our search for what is, what we can link with, what we can understand and know. Once assured that our gifts exist, can be used, and have already served us well, we can inquire into why we develop our inhibitions in a further use (or uses) of those gifts. We can look for the elements in our inner climate which prevent us from entering into dialogues, and meeting challenges in life through asking good questions. The most common prohibitive factor is that we accept to be too dependent on pre-existing methods of work developed by people we do not know, never meet, and who are introduced to us as the highest authorities in the area in which we are interested. For example, at graduate schools in American universities, it is assumed that one has to read as much as possible of the literature on the subject and determine the state of the question — or rather its formulations — before one studies anything directly or one even contemplates entering into an examination of the matter on one’s own. Such studies of the literature take a great deal of time. Students often find — mainly in human & social studies — conflicting, partial and unsystematic viewpoints, which reduce their confidence that they could make a valid contribution. Hence, students resort to tackling a small fragment of the challenge and to contribute very little, thus confirming the belief that in these sciences progress is slow or insignificant. The confused and confusing conditions in the field discourage originality, the most needed element in research, and the researchers explore insignificant themes. Asking important questions is forbidden. Researches and investigations involve poor questions — as can easily be ascertained in even a cursory scrutiny of doctoral dissertations in the fields of education, educational psychology, teaching and learning, etc. Students spend their energies and their time to gain degrees: nothing else.


What’s A Good Question?

When places of higher learning ignore to offer criteria for good questions and let grownups acquire higher educational qualifications (i.e. degrees) through working on poor questions, the social component of the science gets crowded with experts who themselves lack criteria for knowing what is significant in their field. Thus, the belief prevails that there are not really any good questions to ask, for them or anybody else. The field of reading for example, in which literally thousands of people are involved, is, at present, almost completely sterilized when there are any number of good questions not tackled by academics. There are two well-ingrained beliefs behind the distinctly poor state of research in the field of human education: •

behaviorism is the psychology which is most beneficial for educators to adopt, and

human learning follows the patterns of animal learning.

From this, it follows: 1

that educational practices equal conditioning, and

2 that the dynamics of human awareness are allowed no place in the learning processes of students in the millions of classrooms of nations. In experiments with animals it has been found that conditioning works with them. This is so because animals function within species, and instincts color their physiology. But humans have no instincts, and to condition them means taking away from them their humanness which goes with awareness of themselves as aware beings. Only by totally giving up the practices of conditioning human beings, and by adopting the ways which enhance their awareness of their awareness, do we reenter the stream of evolution and make education its instrument. In my research in the field of education, I have found and maintained that human learning is equivalent to spontaneous functioning of awareness — of which, posing good questions is one vital aspect.


3 What Prevents Us From Asking Good Questions?

With this equivalence in mind, it is possible to incorporate the available technological advances into the work of maintaining human attributes functioning, (cf. Dec. ‘84 Newsletter). A number of years ago, I started asking questions such as: “Is not algebra more fundamental than arithmetic?” and “Should we not start the teaching of mathematics in primary schools by offering algebra first?” Such questions kept leading to new insights, and, as a result, we now have been able to produce a microcomputer courseware which objectifies the insights and does it well. We find, therefore, that we asked some good questions in this field and, as a consequence, have succeeded in passing on to young students the means by which they can keep asking good questions, too. Now, instead of having students of 7 or 8 answer questions like, “What is 6+9?” with a voice betraying doubt: “15?” we can see them integrate what they know with a new thought suggested to them and invent new challenges because they are steeped in a dialogue at their level with true mathematics. Working with our computer courseware, they are free to investigate how much more effective the net, they have produced is, compared to what it has already yielded for them. For instance, they can, on their own, extend the algebraic rule which gives the square of numbers ending in 5, to the products of two numbers whose unit digits add up to 10 and whose ten digits are equal. This means, they can increase the number of two-digit numbers whose products they can now find without using the algorithm of multiplication, which was created in order to go beyond the one-digit numbers. Within the question, “Should not algebra come before arithmetic?” we find a much greater freedom to recast the whole elementary math curriculum. This undertaking entails asking questions at each step. Anyone involved in changing the curriculum must have the criteria to know that the questions are good ones. Thus equipped, he or she may enter upon adopting them and working out the details.


What’s A Good Question?

Those who saw our microcomputer courseware Visible & Tangible Math I, and those who are following its extension into II, know that the new look elementary mathematics is taking, will make the newcomers to this subject much happier, much more effective in that field and looking forward to their own growth in that subject. This, of course, provided those who decide on adopting the new curricula can appreciate the fact that built-in in the changes are the answers to vital questions about the mental powers of primary and elementary age children. For instance, “what level of abstraction can primary school children actually attain?” and “how much of the mental powers — displayed in the cracking of the code of the mother tongue by very young children — are transferable to the assimilation of elementary mathematics?” The answer to the first is “much higher than it is commonly believed,” and to the second, “a great deal.” Our courseware makes these facts evident as soon as children relate to it. What prevents most of us from asking good questions, as a matter of course is our psychic attachment to what we believe we know, and, our indifference to what is there to know. If we become aware of our tendency to hang on to our ignorance, we are able to examine our attachment in relation to that ignorance. Unhooked from our belief, we move swiftly to a new inner climate and mental attitude which urges and enables us to become posers of better questions than we were before. All of us can learn to put questions which meet the criteria discussed in the preceding articles. Due to my insight into how one’s attachment to one’s belief in one’s ignorance can cripple one, I exercise in a pinpointed manner my critical powers, and question the authorities behind each statement I hear or read. For instance, when I prepare the Silent Way materials for a language new to me, rather than be awed by the task, I work on every proposal I find in my source materials, to discover how helpful it is to newcomers. If I find it wanting on that, I do not hesitate to suggest some modification. Generally, my suggestions are acceptable to users, whether teachers or students, as well as to open-minded administrators.


3 What Prevents Us From Asking Good Questions?

I have encountered in my lifetime, several challenges in different fields: intellectual, social, interpersonal and personal. I have met a number of them by asking good questions. My dialogue with the challenges has allowed me to make headway in reaching right solutions, some of which have been acknowledged valuable by others. However, there have been times when I have been stuck. On such occasions I have revised the questions that I have been posing, I have re-viewed the challenge afresh, and I have looked within myself to detect the extent of my attachment to my beliefs at work in me. Thus, I have learned to alter poor questions into good questions, that is, whenever I have been able to. The main lessons I have learned from my failures, are: 1

only if one relates to a challenge with the whole of one’s being, does the whole of the challenge reveal itself to one. A fragmented, half-hearted, casual interest on one’s part invariably results in one asking superficial questions about a mere fragment of the challenge;

2 only if there is present in one the awareness that the reality of the challenge may be very different from one’s perception of it, does one avoid posing poor questions. Otherwise, without even knowing it, one could go on asking questions not about the reality of the challenge but about one’s projections of one’s own perception of it; 3 only if one has unlimited patience to let the challenge take its time to reveal itself to one, that one is able to stay with the good questions that one poses. One’s impatience usually makes one give up questioning, and conclude that the challenge is “bad” and worth ignoring; 4 only when one relates to challenges with a sense of commitment, does one learn to put good questions and to receive the responses the challenges offer; 5 only by being alert and attentive to oneself as well as to the reality of the challenges, can one improve one’s ability to pose good questions. These could be the immediately usable suggestions to people interested in learning to ask good questions.


What’s A Good Question?

We hope, the questions posed, discussed and commented on in this issue, provide our readers with a basis for systematic attempts at learning to pose questions and receive responses.


News Items

1 An unsolicited gift from an anonymous philanthropist has provided us with the opportunity we had looked for, for the last 15 years. With it, we have revived Schools for the Future, the nonprofit, tax-exempt parent-organization to Educational Solutions. The address of Schools for the Future is the same for now as of Educational Solutions. The first project to be undertaken will be an expansion of Visible and Tangible Math. Already started, it is unfolding well. Other projects and their progress will be announced in the Newsletter which will become their vehicle as it is for those of Educational Solutions. 2 Anishnabe Spiritual Center asked Educational Solutions to invite Dr. Gattegno to prepare the Silent Way materials for the teaching of the American Indian language: OJIBWAY, spoken in a vast region of Ontario, Manitoba and south of the border, in the United States. The work was started in mid-December and will be finished in June, when it is presented at a 3-day teacher course, held on the Reservation. The April Newsletter will include a description of the work done on this project. Since Ojibway is a language which offers a number of new and interesting challenges, some of our readers may like to read about how the challenges were met and solutions found.


What’s A Good Question?

3 It looks probable that the next language to be added to the Infused Reading project is German. As usual, the hardest part in creating the microcomputer literacy courseware is to produce the texts which guarantee newcomers that in the course of learning to read those texts, they will reach the level of mastery required for them to function as, and to be called literates. Three programs are needed for German, as was the case for French, in contrast to Iñupiaq and Spanish, where only one was sufficient. Each program contains four texts, one for the introduction of phonemes and graphemes to ensure their mastery and three which serve as tests of that mastery. To ensure fluency in reading, an original test follows text 1 In the test, phrases from text 1 are presented in random order and at three speeds. The second presentation is faster than the first one, and the final one corresponds to the speed of reading, done by a literate native. The coding for German will be done for the IBM/PC as requested. The other languages have been done on the Apple II family of computers. 4 We have also coded French Infused Reading for the IBM/PC at the request of IBM/UK. 5

A Spanish 20-hour class in Los Angeles

Southern California is the fertile ground for many new ideas and a fashion trend-setter in various fields. One of these recent challenges has become known as the acquisition-learning controversy heralded by Stephen Krashen, a professor of linguistics at USC. Although thousands of copies of Dr. Gattegno’s book, “Teaching Foreign Languages in Schools,” first published in England in 1963 and reprinted in the United States in 1972 and 1978, have been available in that area, its content on the matter of acquisition has been ignored. To remind “scholars” that the matter has been ventilated already over a quarter of a century ago, a course in Spanish was offered in Los


News Items

Angeles to students and observers, for the last weekend of January, 1985. What this course was set to proving was that a random group of adults who only desired to learn some Spanish would in fact learn a great deal in spite of their idiosyncrasies and inhibitions, their preconceptions and resistances, and that from a teacher who would not utter a single Spanish word himself, but which students must learn (in Krashen’s sense) and use. The Silent Way is the trademark of an approach which endeavors to make students use their voluntary vocal system to produce more and more of the language they want to learn and to concentrate on an artificial process of acquisition produced by the teacher using artefacts which have the power to make students speak, and speak fluently, from the start. Hearing is limited to the unavoidable use of one’s ears in a chatting environment and is not called for as a means of learning. The first 90 minutes of the course consisted in the going through the microcomputer literacy program Infused Reading in Spanish (mentioned a number of times in this Newsletter). In less than one hour everyone was reading fluently half a dozen texts in Spanish, met then and there for the first time, and capable of forcing awareness of sounds, stresses, phrasings and the melody of Spanish reached through one’s spontaneous utterances and based as a know-how generated by the courseware. In this computer program, the learners go first, through the vowels, during 14 minutes, practicing the 5 sounds and their 11 spellings and then for the same duration, through the consonants ending with the utterance of the words of the text containing the vowels and the various consonants. Each word needs to be uttered and with the proper stress asked of the students. This seems sufficient to decode correctly each word, to form phrases and sentences displaying the melody of Spanish. Without knowing how, the students find themselves uttering strings of Spanish words whether they understand them or not. After testing that the phrasing is secured as well, the acquired skill is transferred to three texts which again force awareness of phrasing and of melody. Observers are convinced they hear Spanish being uttered and cannot believe those who say they


What’s A Good Question?

understood nothing of what they read. Students do not believe either that they read fluently Spanish texts, without being instructed on the sounds of that language. But the fact remains: reading Spanish, has been acquired by all in less than one hour and is transferable, as will be confirmed during the test of the weekend course. The Spanish Fidel (in color, but in lower case, while the courseware was in capitals) will now serve to provide another set of mastered skills and this for another hour. Spelling can be studied, as it was this time (a non-necessary second lesson but which was used in this course). Spelling in Spanish is much easier to learn than say in English or French — although the placing of the accent required some intellectual understanding. This was learned through exercises in which students found the criteria which help deciding whether to put them or not and where. These are considered ordinarily as difficult matters better postponed to periods when students have a lot of experience of the language i.e. vocabulary. The course made it clear that it is in fact better to lump all this in the beginning if one knows how to involve the students as was the case this time. Students recognized that the intellectual games they played with sounds and words, had a meaning besides the meaning ordinarily associated with Spanish words. It took just one more hour to provide everyone with a mastery of the names of numerals in Spanish. This meant that billions and billions of strings of words could be produced spontaneously by each student who wished to sound in Spanish a string of digits (say, up to 15) whose meaning is clear because of the knowledge of that string in English. The value of this exercise is that it left to each student the choice of the string to utter and showed that the process covers any number of such Spanish strings on which to practice conscious sound production without a native witness present. In passing, students acquired in no time a chunk of the language they will need very often in their future utterances of Spanish statements.


News Items

What followed in the next fifteen hours of the course was a succession of attacks on matters considered difficult by teachers of Spanish because they do not appear in English. The three demonstrative adjectives and pronouns; the three adverbs of location; the two verbs “to be” of Spanish; the word orders and other matters such as genders and the dominance of the masculine over the feminine in adjectives and personal pronouns. Of particular value to the group was the simultaneous encounter of future, continuous present and past perfect, in statements concerned with action verbs and their conjugation. The observers wanted to have something on which to get a hold and it was possible to show that grammar can be taught without ever mentioning a rule. This is easily made explicit if wanted, from the clear understanding one had of how this language behaves. Students spoke all the time and knew what they had to say and became sensitive to the errors their inattention caused. A remarkable discipline of learning developed and it yielded a lot of Spanish as if everyone had become sensitive to the language and had a true feeling for it. The demands of the teacher for fluency, accuracy, adequacy, did not seem a burden and at the end everyone was less tired than when the course started because everyone was charged and joyful to have been able to achieve so much in such a short duration. The observers who were teachers of Spanish were struck both by the quality of the students’ productions and all that learning — and of such quality — taking place in circumstances never foreseen by language teachers who have always been told that drill and repetition is a must for language learning. There was no drill at all and repetition was replaced by practice of statements in which at least one item was different from those in the previous ones. What this 20-hour course also brought to light was that the Silent Way has made possible a rational attack on acquisition and learning of L2, leading intelligent adults to take care of themselves in the manner they did when acquiring L1 and achieving no less spectacular results from the start and all the time. And this with no stress on modeling (since the teacher did not utter a word of Spanish) and on hearing and


imitation. On the contrary, the will, listening, intelligence and sensitivity were mobilized constantly to the benefit of everyone and all.                            


About Caleb Gattegno Caleb Gattegno is the teacher every student dreams of; he doesn’t require his students to memorize anything, he doesn’t shout or at times even say a word, and his students learn at an accelerated rate because they are truly interested. In a world where memorization, recitation, and standardized tests are still the norm, Gattegno was truly ahead of his time. Born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1911, Gattegno was a scholar of many fields. He held a doctorate of mathematics, a doctorate of arts in psychology, a master of arts in education, and a bachelor of science in physics and chemistry. He held a scientific view of education, and believed illiteracy was a problem that could be solved. He questioned the role of time and algebra in the process of learning to read, and, most importantly, questioned the role of the teacher. The focus in all subjects, he insisted, should always be placed on learning, not on teaching. He called this principle the Subordination of Teaching to Learning. Gattegno travelled around the world 10 times conducting seminars on his teaching methods, and had himself learned about 40 languages. He wrote more than 120 books during his career, and from 1971 until his death in 1988 he published the Educational Solutions newsletter five times a year. He was survived by his second wife Shakti Gattegno and his four children.

Whats a Good Question  
Whats a Good Question  

Whats a Good Question