Sunday, 8 November 2009

The questioning student

Once in India I thought I would like to meet a major guru or teacher face to face. So I went to see a celebrated teacher named Sri Krishna Menon, and the first thing he said to me was, "Do you have a question?"
The teacher in this tradition always answers questions. He doesn't tell you anything you are not ready to hear.

That's Joseph Campbell talking, in an interview by Bill Moyers, from their book The Power of Myth, 1988, Doubleday, New York. Page 67.

It's a pretty good model, I think. But often it means that you are faced with that dreaded silence when you ask a classroom -- 'Any questions?' Guess I'm not a major guru or teacher of the Sri sort... too anxious to wait for long enough for questions to form, I move quickly along to the input I want to share. But... isn't their just being there a kind of question? If students sign up for a course with a given title, it means they want to know something about it, yes?

The question gambit can turn tables. This week a student asked in class, 'What is the point of this course? What will we get at the end of it?' 'Fraid I blanked slightly, so she want on, 'Will we write a short story, or what?'

She'd arrived a bit late to this first class, or perhaps wasn't listening, when I read out the 2-line course description honed by me and printed in the course outline. At that moment the course outline was not in front of me, so I asked 'Do you want to write a short story? If that's what you want to write, you will.'

Not good enough. She went on with a no-but query-demand. This course draws and is designed for people who may be thousands of words into a novel or memoir, and for people who have never taken a writing course before and have only the flicker of desire to write something, and all variations in between. On the hoof, I came up with 'It will help you create involving characters and a narrative with dramatic tension.'

So there's where a question from a student can be good for the teacher -- I'd never put it quite that way before. Maybe that guru was learning from his followers.

P.S. Despite her question, it was an answer she did not want to hear, because at the end of the class the student told me she wouldn't continue on the course...

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