The Falconer—Asking The Right Questions


While vacationing last week at the Jersey shore I finished reading The Falconer by Grant Lichtman.  As one of the books chosen for the Summer Reading Initiative between #SCHacademy and #TrinityLearns, this is a fantastic read focusing on the shift from a dated educational model consisting of canned questions and answers, to a more real word model where skills are focused on finding new questions—not on pre-determined answers already found by somebody else or with a simple Google search.

Lichtman was kind enough to make himself available to answer questions and elaborate on points that I wasn’t clear on.  Here is an excerpt from conversation between Lichtman, Will Richardson, and me:

A few key takeaways from The Falconer:

– Visionary educational leaders agree that we need to teach our students and employees to be more creative, to search for the unknown, to redouble their efforts in the face of failure, to bridge gaps between disciplines in order to invent (29).

– Great teachers are the key to learning. No technology, funding, or process will ever be as effective as an educational tool as a great teacher.  They make us want to ask the questions that they  (82).

– Questions are the waypoints to the path of wisdom—not answers. Answers can be dead ends, where questions often lead to more questions with the potential of discovery, understanding, or creation (107).

– We fail our students by providing canned materials, expecting them to solve by providing canned answers.  If we want to prepare our kids for the real world, we have to teach them to find and solve problems in their own ways (294-295).

– Creational thinking should be our goal in education, not just critical thinking. critical thinking allows us to steer a valuable course through a known problem but stops short of what is possible. Creational thinking on the other hand is the use of content, branching into the unknown, leading to truly elegant solutions. Critical thinking stop shorts of that (484-485).

Clearly, the art of questioning is a key theme of the book.  As teachers we should question ourselves first—being completely honest with our answers.  Are we doing our very best to help our students learn and progress, to create and innovate, to become the person they aspire to be? Individualized learning is a phrase that I hear over and over again—this doesn’t mean we should simply put a laptop or iPad in a student’s hand and expect to achieve a personalized culture of learning.  We have to create a personal stake in the learning by presenting problems that students want to solve—making challenges interesting to the students.

Last weekend I had the opportunity to watch Moneyball.  The movie provides the audience with an unique perspective on how Oakland A’s general manager, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) turned around the fortunes of a small market baseball team by thinking differently…by asking the right questions.  Beane was at an extreme disadvantage with the lowest budget in major league baseball, hoping to compete with the likes of the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees with payrolls of nearly five times of the A’s.  Beane realized he had to find some sort of competitive advantage to help the team succeed—and keep his job.  He teamed up with a young analytic genius Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), who helped identify the right questions, helping the team break a MLB record for most consecutive wins in a season along with several deep playoff runs.  The Boston Red Sox went on to win the world series the next year using Bean’s model.

There’s a scene in the movie where the young Peter Brand says to Beane, Baseball thinking is medieval.  They’re asking all the wrong questions. And if I say it to anybody, I’m—I’m ostracized. I’m-I’m-I’m a leper.  I immediately made a connection to The Falconer.  To succeed as teachers and leaders, to create change, to help our students become who they want to be, we have to learn how to ask the right questions.  Billy Beane changed the culture of an American pastime, Steve Jobs changed the world by not asking customers what they wanted, but by examining his internal desires—narcissistic…maybe…genius…definitely.  Are you the type of teacher that wants to have that type of impact on your students lives?  My guess is that most, if not all educators answer is yes.   Perhaps it’s time to start challenging our foundations of knowledge while creating a learning environment where students feel safe enough to ask any question that comes to their mind.  A the risk of sounding cliche—The only stupid question is the one left unasked

Photo Credit: Chris Baker

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