This story starts with me in the shower …
Dripping wet, drops of water on my relatively impervious skin, I grab a towel and begin to dry off. That’s when it happens.
“Why am I using a towel to dry off?” I wondered.
I looked at the towel. Little pieces of towel sticking up everywhere. “Little towelettes” I thought.
So why, I wondered does this work? Then I realized … transference. The little towelettes were grabbing the drops of water from my skin and moving them to the towel. Now I knew what the ratings for towels meant. The more little towelettes, the better the transfer. I had just learned the simple answer to why I was using a towel.
Real Learning Starts with “Why?”
In the second half of the 5th century BC, Socrates developed a new method of searching for answers. Sounds silly now but it was codified by Plato as The Socratic Method and involved one question – Why? At some point it developed into the “The 20 Why Questions” and is a very simple to game to play. If you dare to ask the first question, and continue with another “Why?” for every answer, you will find yourself going to Google and Beyond. By the way, the answer is never “Because I said so.” and playing dumb or lazy equals “I have no idea why.”
Simple knowledge goes to about Question Number Two on the Socratic – Plato Scale. If you get to Question Number Four you must be scientist. Einstein, who seemingly spoke to The Creator during what has become known as Einstein’s “Miracle Year”, asked “Why do things have mass?”
The answer was probably the most famous physics formula ever written in white chalk on a dusty blackboard.
The answer to that why was probably somewhere up near Question Number 20 on the Socratic – Plato Scale. Yet if you study the origins of the theory you start to realize that there were many “Why?” questions and answers that led up to what is still an amazing leap of human imagination.
Learning is Not Educating
And that’s what this is all about – learning results from asking “Why?”. Learning is not education where the answers are already known and are graded as correct or incorrect. Learning is as simple as asking “Why?” every time you think you have the answer. It’s hard brain work.
And that’s why the question “Why?” is hardly ever heard in classrooms in schools, corporations, congress or almost anywhere else. Asking the “Why?” question is not displaying how smart you are with the correct answer; it makes most people feel stupid to ask “Why?”; In some situations it’s even consider impolite or impolitic. Yet that “Why?” is at the root of all critical thinking, and drives innovation, invention, scientific inquiry, and the answers we currently have today to everything we think we know today. It is the real meaning behind the often used quotation by William Butler Yeats “Education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire.”
If you think it’s a dumb game to play, try it once. Try the most basic “Why is the sky blue?” and see how high you can climb on the Socratic -Plato Scale. Just keep asking and answering “Why?”.
If you hit Question Number 20 with a good answer, please let me know since I’ve been wondering “Why are we here?” since I was old enough to formulate abstract questions. Maybe The Creator will whisper that secret to you the same way Einstein heard E=MC2.