Saturday, January 18, 2014

Why Asking Questions Matters

In a May 27, 2008 interview with Charlie Rose, playwright Edward Albee said:
If you're going to spend a hundred bucks or more to go to the theater, something should happen to you. Maybe somebody should be asking some questions about your values or the way you think about things. And maybe you should come out of the theater (with) something having happened to you. Maybe you should be changing or thinking about changing. But if you just go there and the only thing you worry about is where you left the damn car, then you've wasted your hundred bucks.
Albee knows what he's talking about. Not only because at age 85, he is an American icon with plays that have earned three Pulitzer Prizestwo Tony awards, three New York Drama Critics Circle awards, a Drama Desk award, and numerous citations for lifetime achievement in the theater. He is clearly the sage because his observation applies to so many other facets of life. For instance, if we paraphrase the opening of his quote with "If you're going to spend a hundred minutes or more to watch television," we would never spend a minute on reality TV. Or "If you're going to spend a few thousand bucks or more to vacation somewhere," we would choose a national park or foreign city over Disney World. 

I strongly believe what Albee says relates to my writing classes. In the closing of this interview excerpt, he suggests that answers are often unreachable, but this reality should never prevent us from asking hard questions and exploring possible answers. Sometimes people in my classes will want the right answer for what they should include in a proposal, how they should organize a report, or how they should phrase a sentence. I can offer possibilities, but I'd be a fool to claim I have a definitive answer.

I meet a lot of course leaders who teach as though writing instruction were little more than a collection of rules in grammar, diction, and punctuation. Far from it. Even though these points do matter, they are less important than purposefulness, completeness, structure, and clarity.

My goal is to help people think through writing: to question their own assertions, to test commonly held beliefs, and to challenge their audience to see the value of alternative ideas. As a result, they will become not only more accomplished as writers but more masterful as residents of Earth. When I impart this mindset, my time was well spent; when my students achieve it, their time was too.