Friday, 17 July 2015

Asking questions is an

an acquired art. If you doubt me think of that irritating (to some) habit small children have of asking, "Why?"
In most instances it is entirely possible the child really wants to ask more than that or more specifically than that but doesn't have the vocabulary or the capacity to ask a different question. 
Most of my short teaching career was in two schools for profoundly physically and intellectually disabled children. Almost all of them had severe communication problems. Those who had speech had limited vocabularies and some of them had no speech at all. Every day was a constant challenge of trying to understand them and trying to make them understand. It was not unusual for a child to have a temper tantrum in sheer frustration at not being understood.
I asked questions. I asked hundreds of questions every day and thousands every week. Other staff would say, "Cat's asking questions - again." They would come and ask me to see if I could solve a problem with a child by asking questions. Of course they could ask questions themselves - and they often did - but perhaps they thought I had some magical power they did not have. I don't know. Certainly I failed to get answers some, perhaps even most, of the time.
When I left teaching and was back at university doing research I asked not just one question but many more questions. I proved, at least to myself, that the way you ask the question is just as important as the question you are asking. 
Being able to ask questions matters to all sorts of people. My present work often involves providing other people with the tools to ask questions, particularly people in the medical profession. Asking the right questions there can be vital for diagnosis and treatment. It also matters in the court system - and where the death penalty still exists the right questions could mean the difference between life and death. When people need to report even apparently simple things like weather observations there is a need to ask the right questions if the necessary information is to be obtained.
But we don't teach people to ask questions or how to ask questions. We assume that this is "something everyone knows". It isn't. 
Recently there have been articles critical of the way refugee claims are being viewed and reviewed, the way in which a government service which is there to protect children is operating, and the way in which some emergency services at a hospital have been operating. In all of them there has been a failure to ask questions in the way which will elicit the required information. Although they should not need to all those services work to a budget. Money gets wasted because of a lack of questioning skills. 
Isn't it time we taught the art of questioning again? 

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