Category Archives: Big Questions In Action

The Kavanaugh Hearings: Let Questions Turn Chaos into Opportunity

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The Kavanaugh hearings have rocked the country.  The Supreme Court, that one place where politics is supposed to be off limits, has succumbed to partisanship. We are a government flirting with chaos.

In these times it’s useful to take a step back and remember some age-old wisdom by the great Chinese philosopher and military strategist Sun Tzu:

“In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.”  Sun Tzu

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Ask more questions and put yourself out of work

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Organic farm serviced by students from local elementary and high schools.

Over the summer I learned about the power of questions in the most novel of places, Kenya.  I participated in an educational trip organized by Me to We, a path-breaking service organization based in Toronto, Ontario run by two social entrepreneurs, brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger.  Both have fascinating stories about how they seized on an idea for improving the world and wouldn’t stop until it became a reality. Their appreciation for questions is what I’ll remember most. Continue reading

Big Questions and the AP Government Redesign: A Match Made in Heaven

Last week I attended a fantastic AP government redesign workshop through Northwestern University led by Vanessa Lal ( @vlal ).  I was heartened to see that inquiry is a centerpiece of the new format.  In fact, the College Board has designed specific Big Questions to underpin each of the five broad content categories: Foundations, Interactions Among Branches of Government, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, American Political Ideologies and Beliefs and Political Participation.
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Harness the Immigration Debate with these Big Questions

immigrationWe’ve all seen the images, heard the audio and read the tweets. The immigration debate has everybody busting at the seams on both sides.

And August is just around the corner.

And we know what that means.

Students will be walking into our classrooms confused, tired, angry and needing answers. And we will be trying to figure out ways to teach a historical, psychological, sociological or political understanding of the immigration issue while at the same time resisting the impulse to impose our own opinions– a delicate and seemingly impossible burden.

This is exactly the kind of environment in which Big Questions  thrive. Continue reading

Beverly Gage asks: When Does a Moment Turn into a Movement?

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This big question comes from a New York Times article by Beverly Gage, which was shared via Twitter by Mary Ellen Daneels ( ), lead teacher mentor for the Robert R. McCormick Foundation and contributor to IllinoisCivics.org

The article does a fantastic job giving historical perspective on the various movements which have taken root, which include contemporary ones like MeToo, Parkland and Black Lives Matter as well as those dating back to the 60s and before that the temperance and anti-Catholic movements of the early 19th century. There are so many intriguing lines of inquiry and observations but one that I found most compelling was this observation about how movements of today lack staying power. Gage writes… Continue reading

Big Questions and the Power of Storytelling

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Two truths about teaching:

1. Questions don’t work too well unless students are in the mood for them.

2. Nothing sets a mood like a good story.

Two truths about stories: 

1. They captivate the imagination.

2. They create healthy soil on which to grow Big Questions. Continue reading

“I think, therefore I’m right,” says the Student.

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“I think, therefore I’m right.” Whether it’s defending a position on gun control, angling for a better grade in class or arguing about musical tastes in the lunchroom, many students tend to think that thinking about and believing in something are sufficient grounds for the truth of that something. Often, adults are no better. The whole idea of actually having strong reasons behind beliefs is noble in the abstract but requires mountains of patience and work to actually put into action. Thus, when faced with the agonizing choice, many of us stick to our hard and fast opinions rather than embrace the grueling work to justify those opinions with careful reasoning. Continue reading