No Right Answers?I recently came across this quote by the poet Paul Valery:  "An analysis is never finished, it is only abandoned."  It reminds me of another quote (the origin of which...

No Right Answers?

I recently came across this quote by the poet Paul Valery:  "An analysis is never finished, it is only abandoned." 

It reminds me of another quote (the origin of which I cannot recall):   "People never agree to disagree; they just get tired of arguing." 

How do you teach students to accept these facts, when so many of them (esp my math/science majors) want an answer, preferrably the answer? 

Expert Answers
malibrarian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The face of one of my US History II students just popped into my mind as I read your post, Jamie.  He wants answers, answers, answers...very mathematical answers, if at all possible...and I had him for Brit Lit last year!  If I assigned a writing topic that was for them to express their opinions, he always wanted to make sure he was giving me the right answers - "Is there an answer key for this question?"  No, I just want to know what you think...dead silence...wait, can you hear the crickets chirping??? :)

I'm not sure that I have the answer to this one (how ironic), except that I have just had to encourage, encourage, encourage, and then encourage some more, that we're not always going to have all of the answers.  The more I make them write their opinions, the more they seem to become more comfortable with that idea.  But I think there will always be students (especially, as you said, those whose natural bent is toward math and science) who struggle with this.

Thank God for poetry and stories!  The world would be a bleak place without them!  That just reminded me of a line from "Dead Poets Society," where Robin Williams' character is telling his class that law, medicine, business are all "noble pursuits," but that poetry and literature is what makes us want to live (or something along those lines - it's been ages since I watched that movie)! :)

Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Wow, Linda, good points.  I teach at a university and know many here are at private institutions (I specualte for the reason you've pointed out here (among others)?) 

I hate, hate, hate the state "No Child Left Behind," ummm...may I say...CRAP.  It has my son in tears 2nd grade, we get notes home about proper nuitrition and rest the day before, the teachers are on edge.  And my own Fresh/Sophs tell me that the second the test is over, teaching STOPS.  Everyone is just too worn out. 

And don't get me started on my 10 year old austitic child who also has to take the TAKS test, no matter how much we know, her teacher knows, the principal knows that she cannot do abstract thinking.  She thinks in pictures, period.  No, no, so sorry.  Disctrict/State/National Law!  So she does poorly, as we all know she will, but brilliantly on visual tests with the same info but inadmissable.

Yep, Linda.  Fill in the bubble kid and make sure it's the right one.

No wonder, no wonder, by the time I get them all they care about is the "right answer"!  Many of them every year when I say "I'm here to teach you how to think, not what to think," look as if I've announced I'm from another galaxy (well, that and my almost purple hair!)  


malibrarian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Replying to #6 and #7:  You're both absolutely right. I am in a very blessed little bubble where the most frustrating thing is when someone gets on a dress code kick about shoelace colors.  Seriously, I've got it amazingly good and so do my kids.

What's going to happen to our schools?  Just because I'm in my private school bubble doesn't mean I don't care about public schools.  I care a great deal because the majority of our kids are being pushed through these education mills (I'm picturing the kids with blob faces in "The Wall" being shoved into the meat-grinder) and with what results?????  The stuff I read about on this discussion group makes my hair curl.

No, it's definitely not the "fault" of math and science.  Some kids are naturally math and science kids, for which I'm very grateful (I think, perhaps, I missed out on something when standing in line for abilities - I must have been too busy reading something and completely forgot about getting into line for math and science!).  I just think it's good to help them think outside the "fill-in-the-right-bubble" box when we can.

clane eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I'm with Ma on this one, I do a lot of practice on writing opinions, thought, feelings. We read Nightin one of my classes last year and instead of doing the same boring old study questions, students just kept a journal. The only rule was NO SUMMARY, other than that they could write anything they wanted in response to the literature. Some were so timid at first because they wanted to complicate things, but by the end of the book I had hard core gang bangers questioning whether or not they were like the Nazis and whether or not they truly believed in what they were on the streets trying to accomplish. It was a really fascinating experience. The buy in was that those credits were based solely on the book, nothing else- no tests, no other assignments, just literary response. It took the stress of the right answers out of the equation and really opened the hearts and minds of students. It was great because everything we read and did the rest of that year, it was a piece of cake to get students to respond with opinions and feelings because they had had so much practice.

mrerick eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Oh my - I taught junior high for the past six years...there's a group that very badly needs the "right" answer for everything.  They hated that just about every question they asked me prompted the reply, "What do you think?"  Or when we did writing and they would ask how long, and I could say, "How long does it need to be?"

I don't think the real problem is the English classroom teaching kids that it's ok to have a difference of opinion or thought.  It's those crazy math and science people insisting on just one answer!  Students will learn over time, if it's enforced repeatedly, that it's ok to have an opinion.  It's just a matter of getting everyone in your English department to buy into the fact that we're not the "answer people."  Just those individuals that prod youngsters a little closer to their own thoughts.

linda-allen eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Is it really the fault of math and science or is it the obsession with standardized testing? Those of you who teach in private or alternative schools may not realize what pressure is put on public school teachers to "teach the test." My state puts out a book called Blueprint for Learning each year in which they list all the standards for every core subject for every grade. They label the skills and developing, mastered, or assessed. My district is so obsessed with improving test scores that we've been told to teach only the assessed skills. Everything else can be  squeezed in after the state tests.

How can kids learn higher order thinking skills when the one skill the bureaucrats value most is the filling in of bubbles on an answer sheet?!?!

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I am reminded by this post of my experience with Pre-AP students who were on a medical career track.  They were great kids, but actually disagreed often with the AP College Board's answers for multiple choice.  They wanted to debate every answer and back it up with, "this is my interpretation backed up with examples from the text.  How can it be wrong?  It's opinion. What's wrong with my opinion?"

I still smile to think of them.  They were great fun and so witty and creative.  Sometimes, however, you have to just explain that even though I usually agree with their reasoning, for AP there is a BEST answer. 

kwoo1213 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It definitely can be hard to get some students to understand that English is very subjective.  I think this is one reason that students have so much difficulty with studying poetry. Poetry can be interpreted SO many different ways that many fear that their way of interpreting a poem might be wrong; this prevents many from freely expressing their opinions during discussions about a poem.  I have to remind them quite often that their interpretations are no more right than my own.  Their interpretations might be very different from my own, but they're all valid as long as they can back up their assertions.

linda-allen eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I hate to admit this, Jamie, but it is so true that teaching ends as soon as the test is done.

It's such a crock! Although I teach in a public high school, it is very small; only one elementary/middle school feeds us. For the past two years, our elementary school has gotten an A from the state in all subjects in all grades. So you'd think they'd be sending us geniuses. So why is it that one-third of our freshman class reads below grade level?????

Now, the state is going to write our high school final exams, so we'll know exactly what we're supposed to teach!

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Isn't this the joy of teaching English? When we approach novels, poems, plays and short stories we have to understand that in a real sense there are NO hard and fast answers - we can argue pretty much what we want to as long as we can back it up. I do find this incredibly liberating, but I have also taught students who are much better at science and math who find it hard to understand that 2 + 2 can actually equal 5. Or 6. Or even 3.