Famous novelist Thomas Berger once said, “The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge.”

When we are young, we always ask questions; questions that sometimes make our parents uncomfortable because of the answers. As children, we are curious about everything, why the sky is blue and how we came to enter this world. Before we can talk, we use our senses to investigate something we are confused upon. As we grow up, we express these thoughts through questions. This is basic human nature.

Why is it then as we grow up we are conditioned to not be as curious as we once were; we are shut down by authority figures, parents and peers, who tell us to “stop being so annoying” and say things like “why did you ask that? The answer was obvious.”

The stigma around asking questions in a classroom is negative. From my experience of being a student, asking a question indicates a lack of intellectual ability. Fear of asking questions in large classroom settings discourages students from gaining help when they need it. This fear comes from embarrassment students may feel by making themselves vulnerable about not being perfect. The types and number of students in a class build an environment that has a direct correlation to how comfortable students feel asking questions.

If someone is not interested in the information they seek, they will not ask questions and cannot expand upon their knowledge. Furthermore, they cannot attain any knowledge if they do not first inquire about it. It is part of human nature to ask questions when confused. Then why is it that we shame this way of thinking in many classrooms?

I observed a student in my class last semester who was told by the teacher he was only allowed to speak twice a class period, because he had asked too many questions. Asking questions is a symbol for knowledge, but our own professors are putting down people because of their ability to speak their mind and ask thought-provoking questions about which their fellow classmates might also wonder.

It could be argued that teachers or persons of authority feel the most challenged by these questions, which then speaks to the depth of their knowledge of the subject. If a teacher cannot answer a question provided to them by the student, then how do they expect their student to learn a topic so the message resonates with them personally? Understanding something on a personal level will give a student the tools to delve into the topic and grasp a relationship with the material in a way that resonates.

Each student is different. The way individuals learn is unique to their own individual intellectual makeup and how they digest these large concepts in their brains.

However, teachers and other students may see asking questions as a weakness. Other students who see an individual asking a question they do not have find the asker slow, out of place and a disruption to their own learning. Empathy about what learning looks like for others on the part of students who are frustrated by it would benefit classroom culture and the students themselves. There is no harm in being curious; when curiosity ceases is when all learning ends.

In a world that is growing to be more accepting of others and acknowledges diversity, one would think teachers would encourage an environment of being curious and accepting so that the class as a whole could benefit.

Every student who attends this university is seeking to learn information beyond rote memorization. So why then do we as students discourage asking questions and speaking out when confused? The lessons we learn from our university experience help us to provoke our interests and apply these deep lessons we learn to our everyday life beyond schooling.

University-level learning is supposed to be enriching and fulfilling in whatever subject one chooses to learn. The negative stigma surrounding the ability to ask questions diminishes the confidence of students. It is kind of ironic, that at a learning institution, other students are not encouraging students to ask questions and therefore does not promote learning as it should.

I too have a question for this university: why?

Michelle Phillips can be reached at mphi@umich.edu.

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