Don’t be that student at seminary (or any other institution of higher learning).
Yes, I’m talking about that one.
Every class has that student who wants to teach the professor and the whole class something.
It goes like this: The student read this book. Or, maybe he’s read several books on a topic. Or, perhaps her pastor taught a series of sermons on a particular topic with a particular slant.
None of these qualifies this individual as an expert. Remember this, lest you become “that student.” The reason students are students is because they do not have the knowledge or expertise that the professor has.
This seems like a simple idea that would be clear to everyone, but educators themselves have allowed "that student" to continue to exist, in part, because they are too soft on ignorance.
Are there bad questions?
There is an adage among educators that “the only bad question is the question you don’t ask.”
This isn’t entirely true. First, there was the time when a student raised his hand to ask where we could get the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. I realize this was the first day of class, but that was an insanely stupid question. The professor did a remarkable job in responding graciously. Nevertheless the question was both asked and bad.
The second kind of bad question is the non-interrogative question. This can take two different forms. Sometimes these “questions” can be phrased as comments that are long and rambling, after which the speaker adds, “What do you think?” That is, if they bother to make it a true question at all. These are usually designed more to demonstrate the questioners brilliance or to teach the audience something.
Another form often taken by the non-interrogative question is the “bear trap question.” These are used when a student has a nugget of information––usually trivia––that they want to surprise everyone (particularly the professor) with. These questions are usually tossed out in ways that, whether intended or not, break up the flow of the lecture or discussion. More often than not, they end up making “that student” look foolish to everyone else, though wise in her own eyes. Fortunately for “that student” Scripture is silent on this topic. Or not.
The reality that seems to escape the understanding of “that student” and his inbred cousins is that no one in the room is paying to hear him speak.
No One Paid for Student Commentary
Everyone that has paid tuition to sit in a class is expecting to gain insight information from a highly qualified professional, usually a Doctor, who has invested countless hours reading, researching, discussing, teaching, are writing about the topic under consideration.
This means that the fact that “that student” has read a recent book is extremely unlikely to shatter the foundations of the professor’s worldview.
In reality, since I’ve been hanging around the academic community for a while, I’ve realized that most new books just rehash old books. Therefore, in the unlikely event that I’ve actually read some new book my professor has not read, he or she has likely encountered the thesis of that book in a dozen books previously.
The democratization of education has led to the feeling that everyone has an opinion that counts. Wikipedia, blogs (like this one!), and growing ease of self-publishing (particularly e-publishing) lend credibility to quackery and foolishness. They also increase the popular misconception that one can make a contribution to any field of interest nearly instantaneously merely once one has done a little research.
If you think this, you are wrong. Feel free to do your research, but please hold all comments and pseudo-questions until the end. This is part of stewardship of the education of you and those in the class with you.
Far from being a mere rant by a student about his peers. I am actually hopeful that this discussion might change lives. Perhaps even yours, dear reader. With that in mind, I’ve included this helpful flowchart for when and how to ask questions. This did not originate with me, but it is so important that it bears sharing across the world and among all generations.
The moral of the story is not, “Don’t talk in class.” Instead, we should demonstrate neighbor love through our class participation. Only ask questions that will contribute to everyone’s understanding. And NEVER ask questions to show how smart you are. Most likely if you do, you’ll only end up looking dumber anyway.
Link photo courtesy of Sean Dreilinger. Used under a creative commons license in an unmodified state. The source of the photo is: http://ow.ly/HzUro