Blog Archive

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Statements vs. Questions: Pedagogical Musings

This post from Rory got me thinking.

What Rory calls the Lakein question ("What is the best use of my time right now?") is not terribly different from Musashi's dictum, "Do nothing which is of no use." Musashi's dictum is a bit broader, of course, but the concept is very similar.

Yet, despite knowing Musashi's dictum for years, I have to admit I never found it very useful. Mostly because it's phrased as a statement, not a question.

There's an old saw that you can't teach through a negative. I'm not talking about negative reinforcement...I'm talking about the impossibility of giving the mind a negative directive. Tell someone "don't punch the head" tends not to work as well as telling someone "punch the body". When you offer something as a negative, you close off options, but don't offer a course of action. When you offer something as a positive, you give the person something to do.

I think there's something similar going on here.

Musashi's advice, while...accurate, I suppose, isn't necessarily particularly useful. It doesn't lead anywhere. Or if it does, it's because the reader worked backwards from the dictum and began to form questions on their own. What does it mean for something to be useful? Are the things I am doing useful? Is what I'm doing right now useful?

Which leads the Lakein question, but it takes longer.

The question drives a process. A question requires an answer. A statement doesn't. You can respond to Musashi's advice with nothing more than "yeah, absolutely" or "good advice." But the only way to respond to the Lakein question is to figure out if what you're doing in the moment is the best use of your time or not. If it's not, you have to figure out what to do with that information.

There's a correlation between this and the way martial arts are, or can be taught.

One way is to teach through statements. If the person punches, block this way. If the person grabs you here, do this release.

The other way is to make the student ask questions. What do you do if the person punches? How can you get someone to release this grip?

Somehow I feel like Rory's Joint Locks DVD might tie into this, but that's speculation based on the previews.

In any case, it might be worth asking our students more questions.


Maija said...

Nice post.
I have found that it takes a little time for students who are told stuff to do to get used to having to answer questions .... Even if they themselves do ask them ....

I got 'deer in the headlights' looks for a while before everyone got in the groove and perhaps lost their performance anxiety.

Really useful step though, has all kinds of broader benefits I think.

Chris Cape said...

That Socrates was on to something.