Question-To-Answer Approach To Critical Thinking In Schools

Critical Thinking; Photo Credit Monash University
Critical Thinking; Photo Credit Monash University

In a previous article, I discussed the question-to-question approach to fostering critical thinking skills in schools. I drew attention to the fact that questions are questionable; that no question is beyond question. That interrogations are interrogatable. Questions do not always yield answers. Questions are intriguing. While questions embody critical expressions, they are not immune to criticisms, errors, or mistakes. Questions constitute materials for further examination and exploration. They stimulate curiosity and whet the appetite to know and understand. Questions provoke more questions and more objections. As I argued, questions could be posed in response to questions for justification, information, and clarification purposes.

In everyday life, questions lead to answers and propositions. Children are taught using an answer-to-question approach in their classrooms. However, like questions, answers are also not beyond question. Answers do not mark an end to questioning and inquiry, even when designated as dogmas or unquestionable expressions. Answers or responses to questions are – and could be-objects of curiosity or further interrogation. Put differently, solutions engender new problems. The idea that no answer is perfect, that no solution is impeccable, and no declaration is infallible, or without error undergirds this approach.

Thus, when answers are posited, or responses given; when declarations are made, questions are asked or could be posed for many reasons. Questions could be asked to ascertain the source or authority. In this case, one queries and tries to dig deep into what makes an answer compelling; what makes a statement, or a proposition acceptable and believable. For instance, in response to the proposition that the last solar eclipse in Nigeria happened on March 29, 2006, the following questions could be posed: What is the source? Who informed you? Has it been published anywhere? Where was it reported? In which book or journal? Questioning the source of any report or claim is important because sometimes people spread falsehoods and incorrect answers, misinformation, propaganda, and fake news.

Questions could be posed regarding the veracity or validity of a claim. In this case, questions are generated about the truthfulness or falsehood, factuality, and accuracy of answers and propositions. An answer can be true or false, partially true or false. A claim can be a fact or some fiction. That a claim is said to be true does not shield it from interrogation or critical examination. Underlying the critical reasoning disposition is the notion that no answer or claim is seen or should be seen as eternally true, and certain. There is no absolute truth or certainty. Even if an answer or claim is said to be an absolute truth, fact, or certainty, such a claim is not beyond question and interrogation. For instance, regarding the statement on solar eclipse, the following questions could be asked, are you sure? Is that true? Did it happen? How did you know? Did you observe it? Do you know someone who witnessed it? Why should I believe you? Were you there when it happened?

Furthermore, questions could be generated based on real or imagined missing details. No answer or proposition is so comprehensive that details or aspects could not be found or imagined to be missing or mistaken. These details could be numerical, statistical, mathematical, historical, grammatical, geographical, scientific, medical, magical, physical, metaphysical, logical, or philosophical. These missing links and pieces of information drive inquiry and curiosity to know more. Regarding the solar eclipse, questions could be generated in the present, past, or future to highlight aspects of the episode such as: when will the next solar eclipse in Nigeria happen? In which parts of Nigeria did the eclipse take place? At what time did the eclipse happen in city A and in city B? Was the eclipse total or partial? Why did the eclipse happen in some parts and not in other parts? Which other countries in Africa (or the world) have experienced a solar eclipse? And in which year(s)? How does a solar eclipse take place? Why does a solar eclipse take place?

Questions could be generated about meanings of answers and propositions because sometimes answers are vague and ambiguous. The meanings of expressions are often unclear or confusing. The meaning may be unclear because of the choice or misuse of words. Some people do not say what they mean or mean what they say. An answer may not answer enough. A solution may not sufficiently solve. Something that is deemed legal, or moral in one place may be immoral or illegal at some other place or time.

Regarding the eclipse incident, the following questions could be asked, what does a solar eclipse mean? what eclipses the sun? what are other eclipses that take place? How is a solar eclipse different from a lunar eclipse? What is the origin of the word eclipse? What are other meanings and uses of the word, eclipse? When was the word eclipse first used?

In conclusion, critical thinking requires that answers be answered with questions. That no teaching or doctrine be treated as a sacred cow. Every proposition should be interrogated and thoroughly examined. Answers and teachings are informed by knowledge or lack thereof, by biases and dispositions of teachers, lecturers, proposers, preachers and answerers. A question-to-answer approach codifies the thirst and appetite for knowledge, and intellectual growth. Children should be taught to question whatever they are told or taught, to exercise their curiosity and be inquisitive. They should see all answers and propositions as materials for critical examination.

Thus a question-to-answer approach should be part of the facility to foster critical thinking skills in schools.

Leo Igwe campaigns to promote critical thinking skills in schools

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