To Ask or Not To Ask: Why Asking Questions is a Priceless Skill For College and Beyond
Recently I sat in on a meeting for career counselors focused on providing support to First Generation college students and New American students. But before I say more about this meeting (it was incredibly informative and interesting) let me share a brief anecdote with you. It's the first day of the first semester of her first year in college. A student who commutes to school to save money comes fully prepared with all the necessary books and texts for the first week (even for classes that don't occur on that day -- just in case). She attends her first course and sits excitedly in the front of the lecture hall. Shortly after the class ends, she goes to eat lunch. But she's not sure where she can go to eat -- she doesn't have a meal plan and therefore can't swipe into the dining hall. And she's too nervous to ask any questions -- nervous she might be seen as an impostor. So she eats in her car and wonders if she really belongs on this campus. A first generation college student shared this reflection with the group and the reaction was a room of heads nodding in agreement. Over and over counselors in the room mentioned that it is absolutely essential for students to be willing and able to ask their own questions in order to successfully navigate college. One counselor made note of the ample resources available to students that students discover too late or never at all because of a fear of asking questions and being "called out" as not belonging. How do we change this? Simply encouraging students to ask questions may not be enough and preparing students academically so that they can ace an exam also may not be enough. Recently, Erik Shonstrom wrote in Education Weekly, "Curiosity, it can appear, is a luxury the poor can ill afford; better for them to buckle down and get the basic, requisite skills to bootstrap themselves out of poverty and into gainful employment." What's missing from Erik Shonstrom's statement is the focus on college. Many schools educating disadvantaged children are focused on students bootstrapping themselves out of poverty by way of college and gainful employment. Yet, we have not learned all we could from students who have gone onto college and faced challenges navigating campus life in and outside of the classroom. Sitting in that room with career counselors and first generation college students, I learned of many many obstacles and challenges that students faced because they were not asking questions. It is critical that we deliberately teach students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, how to ask their own questions and navigate systems. Let's not wait until college for students to have to develop these skills. In order to do that, we have to appreciate "not knowing" or the willingness to learn and grow, even if it means failing. The idea or perception that more privileged, intelligent, wise, successful individuals are in the know and therefore do not ask questions sets up a false dichotomy. In my personal experience navigating between Newark, NJ and Harvard University in Cambridge, MA, I've seen that those who are most successful, most respected, and learn the most are those who know when and how to ask the right questions. Those students who get the resources they need, who get the information they need, who most easily thrive in and outside of the classroom are those who are constantly asking questions and claim their ability to ask questions as an indication of their human and social capital. So, in reflecting on this meeting, I am excited about offering a professional development session on the Question Formulation Technique to the Boston area career counselors next year! But I'm even more excited about the students who will be building their question asking muscles and using those skills to navigate systems, familiar and unfamiliar. As you may have thought by now, these skills can benefit all students as well as you and I.
[caption id="attachment_3168" align="alignleft" width="150"] Lavada Berger, Deputy Director of RQI[/caption] Monthly I will be sharing reflections on RQI's partnerships or professional development sessions. If you have experiences to share or would like to hear more, leave a comment below.