Afraid to Ask

Afraid to Ask

I live on Cape Cod a summer tourists destination.  Recently I struck up a conversation with a fellow beach goer.  We chatted about many things.  At one point she asked if I was a local. She said she was afraid to ask as she did not want to offend.  First off what does she think of locals if she thinks I would be offended. But that said, why should any one be afraid to ask a question, are we so afraid we might offend or display ignorance that we would refrain from learning?

Isn’t the point of learning to remove ignorance, gain knowledge and understanding.  We can’t do that if we have fear.

During my walk on the beach I remembered a line from the movie 1776 (Musical)*.   Stephen Hopkins of Rhode Island states  “Well, in all my years I ain’t never heard, seen nor smelled an issue that was so dangerous it couldn’t be talked about. Hell yeah! I’m for debating anything.”

I initially thought to myself I am never afraid to ask a question and I will discuss anything.  But I distinctly remember a time when fear of offending or appearing to be the “ugly American” got in the way of my learning, as well as, delayed developing a good friendship.

I used to live in Jordan and became acquainted with a Jordanian-Palestinian woman.  For along time we talked about food, school, our children, and local historic sites.  But we never touched upon issues of faith, religion and politics among other topics.  She is a Muslim and I a Christian.  We both never broached these topics, we feared we would offend each other, we feared people would think we were trying to convert each other, we feared we would display our ignorance, we feared we would loose a friendship.  When we both decided we would not be offended and expressed our desire to learn about each other and the things that were important to each of us we became even better friends.  I learned so much.  My perspective on many things changed as did hers.  We cleared away many stereotypes and had a greater respect for each other.  Fear got in the way of our growth and learning.

How often has fear inhibited you from learning? How often has fear been a barrier to your students learning?

* I watch this movie among others as part of my July 4th celebrations.

3 thoughts on “Afraid to Ask

  1. Very well put Beth. I, like you, will always ask the question. When I teach graduate courses or give pd, I find many teachers do not want to ask the question or they start their question with, “This is a stupid question…” My response most of the time is — “I had that question when I was learning…” Anyone who stands in front of a room full of people knows how welcoming questions are. It shows you are interested, you want to learn more.

    Great post and so true!


  2. Very interesting posts. Many people have the fear of asking a question because they do not want to offend some one. I may have had that experience at some point. In light of that, I would like to look at the topic from the classroom perspective.
    That scary reality does exits in the classro0m. What explanation could be given for student sitting in class and do not ask a question even when he/she does not understand what the teacher is saying or the concept of what is being taught. Well, several things could be the cause. It could be that the students lack motivation. This is an important role a teacher plays in the classroom. To accomplish this task, teachers must know there students well enough to provide learning experiences that they will find interesting, valuable, intrinsically motivation and rewarding. (Kellough 2000). when students are motivated they will get more involved and open. on the other hand, a student could have a psychological problem. (Seifert and huffnung 2000); Vygotsky speaks of the zone of proximal development. This is the stage children will star being independent with a little help and this is when they learn to ask questions about why things are the way they are. Now some children may be barred from asking questions and this could have significant effects. Another explanation could be the way a child socialized. You know, I remember back in the days children were not allowed to ask certain questions and surprisingly there are still people who practice this. A child’s learning is dependent on how he or she interacts with society; of course this must be guided in order to protect the child from that which is harmful but socialization is very important. When a student is given the opportunity to ask questions, their whole perspective of things will change and they will view things much clearer. I hope that my contribution has shed a little more light on the topic and it was a pleasure reading your article.
    Thank You.

  3. I agree with you that we need to encourage our students to ask questions in our classes so that knowledge and understanding can be gained. From my research, “Asking questions is not easy for many students in most cases. Teachers should help students feel that there are no such things as silly questions. Asking questions is one of the most valuable skills a person can develop.” (Glasgow page 72). Here are some points I think can be used in helping to alleviate the fear of asking questions.
    1. Learn and use students’ names: students will be more engaged if they believe that you perceive them as individuals, rather than as anonymous members of a group. Encourage students to learn one another’s names, as well; this strategy will increase the possibility that they will address one another by name and direct their comments to one another, not just to you.
    2. Use verbal and non-verbal cues to encourage participation: do not rely on the same volunteers to answer every question. Respond to frequent volunteers in a way that indicates that you appreciate their responses, but want to hear from others as well. Move to a part of the room where quiet students are sitting; smile at and make eye contact with these students to encourage them to speak up. Student’s anxieties can be reduced by creating an atmosphere in which they feel comfortable “thinking out-loud,” taking intellectual risks, asking questions, and admitting when they do not know something; one of the best ways to do this is to model such behaviours.
    3. Redirect comments and questions to other students: encourage students to respond to one another, rather than merely to you. When a student is speaking, look around the room, not just at the student who is speaking; making eye contact with other students lets them know that you expect them to be listening and formulating responses. Provide students with a model of civil discourse by demonstrating respect for, and interest in, the views of others. Learn to limit your own comments. Particularly when facilitating a discussion, hold back from responding to every comment; otherwise, students will learn to wait for you to respond rather than formulating their own responses.
    Ideally, the goal of increasing participation is not to have every student participate in the same way or at the same rate. Instead, it is to create an environment in which all participants have the opportunity to learn and in which the class explores issues and ideas in depth, from a variety of viewpoints. Some students will raise their voices more than others; this variation is a result of differences in learning preferences as well as differences in personalities.
    Glasgow, N., & Hicks, C. (2003) What Successful Teachers Do: 91 Research-Based Classroom Strategies for New and Veteran Teachers. Retrieved from September 18, 2013.

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