• One of the things that I am most thankful for is that I am surrounded by friends and family who are willing to participate in nearly continuous conversations about our students, our programs, and our curriculum. My wife is a part of at least half of these discussions, and, despite her lack of technical expertise, cares just as deeply about the outcomes of our students as I do. Rather than letting her background stand in her way, Mrs. Foland uses her perspective as an advantage, often providing me with insight that I may have missed while getting ‘lost in the weeds’ of technical details (as engineers sometimes do).

    This insight frequently comes in the form of a gentle reminder of how something may sound through untrained ears. By asking questions, Mrs. Foland reminds me what I can expect non-scientists to know and not know. It is not uncommon for her questions to be the very same ones asked by my students, should one be bold enough to raise her hand during class. Unfortunately, students are sometimes too afraid of asking ‘stupid questions’ to do so – an apprehension my wife lost at some point during our first few weeks of dating (but I’ll save that story for another time!).

    Recently, during one of these conversations, my wife reminded me of an old Chinese proverb she has carried with her for many years:

    “A man who asks is a fool for five minutes. A man who never asks is a fool for life.”

    One of an educator’s greatest fears is having a student fall into this latter category! In an effort to encourage their students to speak up, some teachers are guilty of proclaiming: “there’s no such thing as a stupid question”… but anyone who’s been around enough questions can see through that bald-faced lie. A statement that is much closer to the truth might be: “No good educator will begrudge a stupid question if it’s asked with sincerity.” At any rate, I can promise you that the only one that cares whether your question is stupid or not is you, so ask away! More often than not, you won’t be the only confused person in the room, and your colleagues will thank you for being the one to break the silence. This might not be my #1 piece of advice for students, but it’s probably in the top 5.

    All this talk of ancient Chinese wisdom brings another proverb to mind:

    “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”

    As an educator, I do my best to teach all my students how to fish. But sometimes – every so often – I leave out an important detail and end up just giving them a fish instead. If you ever find yourself on the receiving end of one of these moments, please raise your hand and proudly inquire: “HEY DR. FOLAND! WHERE THE HECK DID YOU GET THAT FISH, AND HOW ARE WE SUPPOSED TO CATCH OUR OWN?”

    Your fellow fishermen will thank you for it!

    - Dr. F


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