Questions vs Answers

question marks

The other day, somewhere on Facebook (in a conversation entirely unrelated to my work), some person I don’t know issued me a directive:  “Don’t answer my question with a question.” I have to admit, I laughed most of the rest of the day.  First of all, that person clearly has never met any Jews.  And more to the point, he has clearly never met me.

In my work with parents and teachers, I ask a LOT of questions. Lots and lots. People ask me for answers, for “what to say,” for instructions. They want them.  They feel like they need them.  Maybe it’s you I’m talking about.  Some people get really frustrated with me, because, well, they’re seeking answers, and it can almost seem (to some people) as if I am stubbornly refusing to provide them, even as I may have some of the “answers” they are looking for.  Maybe that’s you that I’m talking about, too.

Why do I do that? Well, first of all, it’s my way.  It’s a cultural thing, it’s a personal thing, it’s an inherited thing.  Secondly, it’s one of the things that distinguishes Visible Child from the rest of the respectful/positive/connection-based (pick a word, any word) parenting groups out there. But it’s the third reason that is most important, by a long shot.

First, and foremost, I see myself–as a parenting coach, as a blogger, as a child development consultant, as a developmental psychologist–as an educator. And it just so happens that I reject ALL hierarchical models of education (e.g. I have information, you don’t, I give it to you, you are a passive consumer, you “learn” it, you go and use it, you come back and get more.)

That’s not what I’m after.  And it’s not who I am.

I want you not to NEED parenting books. I want you not to need ME. I want to eventually put myself out of business. And as long as you “consume”, and look to me to “provide”, that will never happen.

It’s just like rewards or “sticker charts”…when we offer children rewards, the effect is that, over time, 1) their motivation decreases, 2) their effort decreases when the rewards lessen or are no longer available, and 3) in the long run, the rewards need to get bigger and bigger in order in order to keep working. In parenting-coach-speak, you become MORE dependent on “experts” over time, rather than less. That’s not what I’m after.

Quality education is not about learning WHAT we need to know it is about learning HOW to learn. So we always have the tools within us to figure out whatever we find we want or need to know.  All by ourselves, and in community.

Yes. I ask questions. Lots and lots of them. I do not ask questions as a challenge–EVER. I know some people receive it that way, even as I wish that were not true.

I ask questions as an invitation. An invitation to shift your mindset. An invitation to think differently than you currently do, to think through a whole new lens, one that is likely very different from the way you were raised. I ask questions as a way of “thinking it through” WITH you, not FOR you.

I realize it’s hard and frustrating for a lot of people. I have a suspicion (based on no empirical evidence at all) that it is hardest for people who were raised in traditional education settings or in heavily hierarchical homes (or religious traditions.) In those settings, the “norm” is to be told what to think, what to do, what you need to learn. The leaders are right, and we are recipients..our role is not to think critically, but to do and think and practice what we are told. And as we grow into adults, that becomes our internalized norm…that’s just the way it should be.

There’s nothign wrong or strange about that.  We are human.  We are most comfortable with what is familiar.  Visible Child is asking you to risk the unfamiliar.

I will and do understand if it’s too hard or frustrating, and if you decide that Visible Child is not the right place or model for you. It’s okay. Really. There are many other wonderful parent educators and coaches, many of whom promote spectacular respectful caregiving and parenting.  I like a lot of the work of others and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them.   If one of those places feels like a better fit for you, that’s perfectly okay. And if you want what Visible Child has to offer–a pretty intense critical thinking (and frankly, emotional growth) approach grounded in child development research, compassion, and respect–I’ll be here.

There’s no one right person or philosophy or approach or method. Don’t believe anyone who tells you there is. Do what is right for you. And remember that our needs always change as we grow.

In the groups that I run, the greatest compliment I have received (and I receive it frequently) is from parents who begin to ask a question about a problem they are having, and by the time they finish writing or asking it, they have “heard” all of my questions in their heads and they end up not asking the question, because they have found the answer they are seeking for themselves. It’s darned near perfect.

The only thing better will be when you stop hearing my voice in your head, and start hearing your own.

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