"Miss, where does Pooh come from?" asks the little boy. The teacher raises her eyebrows, takes a deep breath and then proceeds to explain all about nutrition, eating food, the digestive system, and how waste products are eliminated from the body. The little boy nods, but looks unimpressed, and then asks a follow up question: "So where does Tigger come from?"
When I was in primary school I remember asking a question of my teacher. I asked her if the word 'desert' (noun: arid wilderness) was related to the word 'desert' (verb: to abandon). She looked at me with raised eyebrows, and then told me it was a stupid question. All my classmates laughed at me, and I was very embarrassed. I learnt the lesson - never, ever ask a question in class. You will be laughed at. It took me years to unlearn that lesson. Years later, I looked up the etymology of the word 'desert', and discovered that I was in fact correct. The words are related, as both have the same root Latin word dēserere - meaning to forsake. So I was correct in spotting that there is a link between the arid wilderness and being abandoned. I was merely seeking confirmation from an older, more knowledgeable other, and I didn't get that confirmation. All I received was a mild reprimand, and a lot of ridicule.
What I had asked wasn't a stupid question. It was my young mind, ever inquisitive, seeking answers and asking searching questions. I asked a creative question which the teacher could have capitalised on, and made a teaching point from. Instead, she misunderstood me, in all probability thinking that I meant dessert - which might very well have been looming large in her mind, so close to break time. Now I'm older, I know that there are no such things as stupid questions. But there are plenty of stupid answers.
So, the lesson today is: Always pay attention to what kids ask when they are learning. Listen to them. Never dismiss what they say. Every child has something to contribute and their ideas should never be devalued or their confidence undermined. Teachers who listen to children's questions, and consider all the possible meanings will tap into a huge reservoir of creative energy. The Pooh question could have been capitalised on in so many ways, to create teachable moments. In asking such questions, children are exploring their own reality, and assimilating a vast amount of knowledge, simply through the responses of their teachers and peers. Flexibility, creativity and the ability to question are some of the most important transferrable skills that children will need in the fluid, changeable and unpredictable world of work they will emerge into when they eventually leave school. So pay attention at the front!