I have a dumb question . . .

It’s amazing to me how often people I am teaching start off with that phrase.  I suppose it covers a nervousness – a fear of looking stupid in front of an “expert”.  We used to say that you were an expert if you had a tray of slides and pointer!  Of course the knee jerk response is, “There are no dumb questions.”  The fact is that if you are trying to learn something new, there truly are no dumb questions.  I work with building science every single day (much to my wife’s chagrin).  I speak in building science gibberish most of the time, and sometimes I can forget when I am introducing the subject to someone not familiar with it, that what I am saying makes no sense to the normal human.  That normal human is probably an “expert” in some other subject of which I know little or nothing!

I love working with old-time heating contractors.  These guys take furnaces and boilers apart in their sleep.  And here I am trying to teach them building science.  Now if they said, tongue in cheek, “Uh, I have a dumb question.  Didn’t you just put that together backwards?”  I would tend to believe them, turn red, and try to dance my way around it, “I was just checking to see if you noticed.”

I actually wish I was clever enough to do that sort of thing regularly.  Like putting the hoses on the digital manometer wrong and having the students catch me at it.  There is no better way to learn than to learn from your mistakes (as long as they’re not deadly).   It has taken me a lifetime to realize that if I am trying to learn something new and I don’t get what the teacher is saying, there are probably a lot of other people in the room who don’t get it either.  And as I teacher, I have to realize that if one student thinks it is a dumb question, then there are other students in the class who also don’t get it, and I need to do a better job of explaining it.  So if a student says, “I have a dumb question”, he or she is doing me a major favor as a teacher.  I need to figure out where I went wrong and learn how to explain it better.

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One Response to “I have a dumb question . . .”

  1. 80meters Says:

    “I work with building science every single day (much to my wife’s chagrin).”

    Much to my family, friends and boyfriends chagrin.

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