Classrooms in need of more thought-provoking questions

There’s no such thing as a stupid question, right? Well, if you sit in almost any class at the University of Miami for long enough, you might come away with a very different opinion. Everyone has been in the situation: you are in your favorite class, on the verge of a great discussion, ideas are flying around the room, everyone is uncharacteristically focused, and then that one person inevitably raises his or her hand and asks something like, “Could the Great Depression have been clinically treated?”

The professor tries to respond amidst a roomful of hands smacking against foreheads, but that student is never quite satisfied. A few minutes pass, the discussion gets back on track, and the student raises his or her hand again, and asks in all seriousness, “I don’t think you understood my question,” followed by a reiteration of the same question.

Perhaps because we live in such a careful, politically correct age, professors very rarely refuse to answer a question on the grounds that it has no relevance to the course. This inability to ignore the inane leaves many students dissatisfied or even angry at the shape that their courses take. After all, classes don’t come cheap at this university, and there is nothing worse than putting yourself in debt to take a potentially interesting class and having it rendered tedious by unintelligent discussion.

In all fairness, it is certainly not always the professor’s fault. While they could be a bit less gentle with their students in order to keep their classes at the college level, most of the blame lies on the students. Most students, it seems, turn off their brains once they see a discussion turn into a competition of dull-witted questions. Many simply give up on a class, sighing the occasional, “here we go again.” However, it is precisely these students that allow their classes to be ruined. Instead of engaging in silent protest, students must actively work to shape their classes, and ask better questions if they are disappointed with the level of discussion. The professor cannot control the content of the questions that are asked, but if there are enough good ones, they will balance out the bad and keep the discussion on track.

The fact remains that even the most diligent student cannot always sway the tide of a bad class. Sometimes that student will find him or herself in the middle of 40 other people wanting to know if Julius Caesar really invented the salad bearing his name, or why Shakespeare dressed so funny, and there is just nothing that can be done. In these instances, the impetus is on the professor to force the class into a deeper level of thought. Granted, the professor’s job is not an enviable one. Some feelings may be hurt, complaints may be made, and students may be put off. But in the end, most students will appreciate the fact that they were treated with honesty and that their class was a memorable one. At the very least, maybe President Shalala can add a course into the curriculum called, “The Great Depression and Prozac: a modern cure.”