An excerpt from an important book:

“We have framed some questions which, in our judgment, are responsive to the actual and immediate as against the fancied and future needs of learners in the world as it is (not as it was):

What do you worry about most? What are the causes of your worries? Can any of your worries be eliminated? How? Which of them might you deal with first? How do you decide? Are there other people with the same problems? How do you know? How can you find out? If you had an important idea that you wanted to let everyone (in the world) know about, how might you go about letting them know?

What bothers you most about adults? Why? How do you want to be similar to or different from adults you know when you become an adult?

What, if anything, seems to you to be worth dying for? How did you come to believe this? What seems worth living for? How did you come to believe this? At the present moment, what would you most like to be—or be able to do? Why? What would you have to know in order to be able to do it? What would you have to do in order to get to know it?

How can you tell “good guys” from “bad guys”? How can “good” be distinguished from “evil”?

What kind of a person would you most like to be? How might you get to be this kind of person? At the present moment, what would you most rather be doing? Five years from now? Ten years from now? Why? What might you have to do to realize these hopes? What might you have to give up in order to do some or all of these things?

When you hear or read or observe something, how do you know what it means? Where do words come from? Where do symbols come from? Why do symbols change? Where does knowledge come from? What do you think are some of man’s most important ideas? Where did they come from? Why? How? Now what? What’s a “good idea”? How do you know when a good or live idea becomes a bad or dead idea? Which of man’s ideas would we be better off forgetting? How do you decide?

What is “progress”? What is “change”? What are the most obvious causes of change? What are the least apparent? What conditions are necessary in order for change to occur? What kinds of changes are going on right now? Which are important? How are they similar to or different from other changes that have occurred? What are the relationships between new ideas and change? Where do new ideas come from? How come? So what?

If you wanted to stop one of the changes going on now (pick one), how would you go about it? What consequences would you have to consider? Of the important changes going on in our society, which should be encouraged and which resisted? Why? How? What are the most important changes that have occurred in the past ten years? twenty years? fifty years? In the last year? In the last six months? Last month? What will be the most important changes next month? Next year? Next decade? How can you tell? So what? What would you change if you could? How might you go about it? Of those changes which are going to occur, which would you stop if you could? Why? How? So what?

Who do you think has the most important things to say today? To whom? How? Why? What are the dumbest and most dangerous ideas that are popular today? Why do you think so? Where did these ideas come from?

What are the conditions necessary for life to survive? Plants? Animals? Humans? Which of these conditions are necessary for all life? Which ones for plants? Which ones for animals? Which ones for humans? What are the greatest threats to all forms of life? To plants? To animals? To humans? What are some of the “strategies” living things use to survive? Which unique to plants? Which unique to animals? Which unique to humans? What kinds of human survival strategies are (1) similar to those of animals and plants; (2) different from animals and plants? What does man’s language permit him to develop as survival strategies that animals cannot develop? How might man’s survival activities be different from what they are if he did not have language?

What other “languages” does man have besides those consisting of words? What functions do these “languages” serve? Why and how do they originate? Can you invent a new one? How might you start?

What would happen, what difference would it make, what would man not be able to do if he had no number (mathematical) languages? How many symbol systems does man have? How come? So what? What are some good symbols? Some bad? What good symbols could we use that we do not have? What bad symbols do we have that we’d be better off without?

What’s worth knowing? How do you decide? What are some ways to go about getting to know what’s worth knowing?

“It is necessary for us to say at once that these questions are not intended to present a catechism for the new education. These are samples and illustrations of the kinds of questions we think worth answering. Our set of questions is best regarded as a metaphor of our sense of relevance. If you took the trouble to list your own questions, it is quite possible that you prefer many of them to ours. Good enough. The new education is a process and will not suffer from the applied imaginations of all who wish to be a part of it. But in evaluating your own questions, as well as ours, bear in mind that there are certain standards that must be used. These standards may also be stated in the form of questions:

  • Will your questions increase the learner’s will as well as his capacity to learn?
  • Will they help to give him a sense of joy in learning?
  • Will they help to provide the learner with confidence in his ability to learn? In order to get answers, will the learner be required to make inquiries? (Ask further questions, clarify terms, make observations, classify data, etc.?)
  • Does each question allow for alternative answers (which implies alternative modes of inquiry)?
  • Will the process of answering the questions tend to stress the uniqueness of the learner?
  • Would the questions produce different answers if asked at different stages of the learner’s development?
  • Will the answers help the learner to sense and understand the universals in the human condition and so enhance his ability to draw closer to other people?


This important book? Teaching as a Subversive Activity.

Published in 1969 – and worth reading in 2015. Especially in 2015.