Thursday, May 18, 2017

Today I'm thankful for: the way Mr. Bruemmer asked questions

Today (and every day) I'm thankful for the way Mr. Bruemmer asked questions.

My high school had assembly every day.  (Well, some days we had something else in that timeslot, like advising or class meetings, but the entire high school convened a few times a week.)  During assembly, we often had a guest speaker, and Q&A aftwerwards.  Mr. Bruemmer, my ninth grade Non-Western world history teacher, twelfth grade War and Peace in the 19th and 20th Centuries teacher, and twelfth grade advisor (after Mr. Horlivy left), took detailed notes during every assembly.  (Something else for which I am thankful: one day I overheard someone ask him why he took such detailed notes, and he said it was to help him pay attention.  I started doing that, too.)  At the end of every assembly, he asked a question.  It's not that he didn't give students a chance to ask questions.  At the beginning of almost every Q&A, there's an awkward silence as people are formulating their questions.  Mr. Bruemmer filled that silence by asking good questions.  By the time the speaker was done with the question, someone else usually had thought of something to say.

I always wondered how he did it, asking a good question at every single assembly.

In eleventh grade, I went to Close Up (  There was a group from my school and a number of other schools, for a total of perhaps a couple hundred tenth- and eleventh-graders.  We went to all different parts of DC, and met with all kinds of different people, learning about the inner workings inside the Beltway.  Every time we met someone, there was an opportunity for Q&A.  At every single Q&A (and we had perhaps a half-dozen each day we were there), there were exactly two people who asked questions: Colleston, and some kid from one of the other high schools.

By the end of the first day, I thought, this is ridiculous.  There are perhaps a couple hundred of us, and I'm painfully shy, but what is everyone else's excuse?  Here we are on the educational opportunity of a lifetime: why aren't people making the most of it and asking questions?

And then I decided I would start asking questions.  If Mr. Bruemmer could ask a question at every assembly, I can ask a question at every Q&A at CloseUp.

And that is how I became That Kid at Close Up.  You know That Kid: every class has one.  I had hoped that by asking questions I would inspire other students into also raising their hands and questions, but it didn't work out that way.  For the rest of Close Up, it was Colleston, me, and that other kid from that other school raising our hands and asking a question each, at each Q&A.

What amazed me is that it worked.  Merely deciding that I was going to ask a question was enough to make me come up with one.  The power was within me the whole time.

Isidor Rabi, the Nobel prize winning physicist, famously attributed his success to the fact that instead of asking him what he learned at school that day, his mother always asked him whether he asked a good question today (  Today I firmly believe in the importance of asking good questions.  The way you get good at asking questions is the same way you get good at anything else: you practice by asking questions.  It's a terrifying prospect for introverts like me, but it can be done.  Mr. Bruemmer showed me I could, and I am thankful.

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