While riding on a train a few years after the American Civil War, General Lew Wallace of the Union Army encountered a fellow officer, Colonel Robert Ingersoll. Ingersoll was one of the 19th century’s leading agnostics, and Wallace was a man of faith. As their conversation turned to their spiritual differences, Wallace realized that he wasn’t able to answer the questions and doubts raised by Ingersoll. Embarrassed by his lack of understanding about his own faith, Wallace began searching the Scriptures for answers. The result was his confident declaration of the person of the Savior in his classic historical novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ.
When I teach, I sometimes use the motto “Question Authority” to get the attention of my students. I am not inviting them to challenge my authority; I am encouraging them to ask me questions. Some education experts say that more learning takes place when teachers answer questions than when they impart information. By nature, we all place a higher value on what we want to know than on what someone wants to tell us.
When FBI agents train bank tellers to identify counterfeit bills, they show them both fake money and real money, and they study both. To detect a counterfeit problem, they must look for the differences in the genuine bill compared to the counterfeit—and not the similarities.
Dr. Jack Mezirow, professor emeri- tus at Columbia Teachers College, believes that an essential element in adult learning is to challenge our own ingrained perceptions and examine our insights critically. Dr. Mezirow says that adults learn best when faced with what he calls a “disorienting dilemma”—something that “helps you critically reflect on the assumptions you’ve acquired” (Barbara Strauch, The New York Times). This is the opposite of saying, “My mind is made up—don’t confuse me with the facts.”
On one of Christopher Columbus’ voyages, he found that his crew’s food supply was almost depleted. Anchored off the island of Jamaica, he was grateful to be given food by the islanders. But as time went on, the gifts of food decreased so that the crew began to starve.
Trust, but verify.” My husband loves that quote from Ronald Reagan. During his time in office, the former US President wanted to believe everything he was told in his political dealings with others. But since the security of his country depended on the truth being told—he strived to verify everything.