Some say “Essential”
Some say “Compelling”
Others say “Open-Ended”
I say “Big Questions” recaptures the spirit of the Socrates way. Though Socrates made asking questions seem deceptively simple, it’s actually a complex process. Here are three essential criteria to creating Big Questions.
Criteria #1- Big Questions confuse
Big Questions cause confusion, throwing off comfortable ways of thinking. This is the critical first step in learning. Lack of clarity, though, becomes an asset that sets in motion the process of thinking through a complex problem. The inherent confusion of Big Questions motivates us to find an answer.
Criteria #2– Big Questions reveal multiple perspectives.
There is typically more than one way to answer Big Questions. Lack of certainty is again an asset, positioning us intellectually to develop logical arguments to convince others towards our perspective. Seeing multiple perspectives cultivates a spirit of empathy and tolerance for difference.
Criteria #3– Big Questions beg for clear definitions
Hiding inside many Big Questions are words with messy definitions that are often neglected. For example, “Does American history reflect the achievement or failure of the American Dream?” Notice the phrase “American Dream” requires immediate and extensive investigation. The American Dream for a union worker, business owner or farmer will be very different. Socrates demonstrated that the starting point for critical thinking is a precise definition of words.
In the next blog post I’ll showcase a creative Big Questions lesson from middle school history teacher Melissa Kinsey to demonstrate how all of these criteria work together.
Is America the Land of Opportunity?