XIV. Dame Snap's School
The more the children looked at the three questions on the blackboard, the more they felt certain they could never answer them. Moon-Face turned to Connie. 'Quick! Tell us the right answers. You said you were good at lessons.'
Connie read the first question. 'Three blackbirds sat on a cherry tree. They ate one hundred and twenty-three of the cherries. How many were left?' 'Well, how can we say, unless we know how many there were in the beginning?' said Connie, out loud. 'What a silly question!'
Joe read the next one out loud. 'If there are a hundred pages in a book, how many books would there be on the shelf?' 'The questions are just nonsense,' said Moon-Face, gloomily. The third question was very short. Joe read it out. 'Why is the blackboard?' 'Why is blackboard!' repeated Silky. 'There is no sense in that question either.' 'Well - the questions are nonsense, so we'll put down answers that are nonsense,' said Joe.
So, when Dame Snap came back, the only people who had answered all the questions were Joe, Silky, Moon-Face and Connie! Dame Snap smiled at them. 'Dear me, I have some clever children at last!' she said. 'You have written answers to all the questions.'
'Are they right then?' asked Silky, in surprise.
'I don't know,' said Dame Snap. 'But that doesn't matter. It's the answer I want. I don't care what's in them, so long as you have written answers. I don't know the answers myself, so it's no good me reading them.'
(Taken from a chapter of Enid Blyton's The Folk of the Faraway Tree.)
Dame Snap was right - she didn't have the answers. The children were right too that the questions were silly to have any logical answers to them. But what was the purpose of those questions in the first place? Dame Snap didn't care about the answers because the objective here is not to pass a standardised test. Rather, to try to have a go. It required the children to think through the questions and come out with a response for each. As much as a cognitive process, it also requires courage for they risked being wrong or being laughed at since no other student has ever given any answers before. How many times were we held back because afraid of being wrong?
There are questions in life that require answers that no one could tell us whether they are right or wrong. Answers to questions that matter to no one else but the individual asking them. In fact, many major questions in life are of this nature. I'm not talking about questions such as 1+1=2 or those concerning law and order. But a question like, "what am I going to do in my life?"
We've often heard of the saying "there are no right or wrong answers", attempting to assure ourselves or others to have a go. But after years of our rigid, outdated education system that majors in compliance and standardized exams, many young minds were brainwashed to believe that there is only one answer to any particular question. Worst, our worth is being reduced to the number of As. Are we still as open and inquisitive when we were young, asking some of the silliest questions because we are curious and eager to learn? If you are, then good. But some might be trapped in the loop of trying to find the right answers to life that prevents them from stepping out from their shell.
I think Dame Snap's questions were brilliant in that they challenge conventions and prompted me to think. I hope to be able to ask these kinds of questions to my daughter more. Not to confuse her, but hoping that they would prompt her to think, explore and take risks to carve her own path, helping her to see that the journey of discovery is as important as the destination. Life would definitely be more exciting.