Monday, May 08, 2006

lots of questions

Today a handful of us went to the National Gallery, where we got to see:

Pretty awesome. One of the last paintings we saw was this one:

It's a picture of Jane Grey's execution. She was Queen for nine days, and then she had her head lopped off. According to tradition, she stumbled at her beheading because she was blindfolded. She had a hard time finding the chopping block. You try it sometime! Not so easy.

Gathered around this painting, which is probably 20 feet tall and just as wide, were a bunch of British schoolchildren in their public school uniforms. They were sitting in a semicircle while their teacher was asking them interminable questions. It went something like this:

Teacher: Right, so what does Lady Jane's dress tell you about her?

Student: It looks like a nightgown.

Teacher: Could you raise your hand, please, Simon?

Student: OK.

Teacher: Yes, Simon?

Student: It looks like a nightgown.

Teacher: Why would she be wearing a nightgown? Ellie?

Student: Because they pulled her out of bed.

Teacher: But what tells you it's a nightgown?

Student: The fabric.

Teacher: What about the fabric indicates that this might be a nightgown?

Student: It just looks like nightgown fabric.

Teacher: But the other ladies in the picture don't seem to be wearing nightgowns, do they?

Students: NO.

Teacher: How do their dresses seem different than Lady Jane's? Look at the fabric? Yeah? Does the fabric look a bit different than hers?

students: YES.

Teacher: In what ways do their fabrics look different than Lady Jane's?

students: WE DON'T KNOW.

Teacher: Could it be the velvet? Yeah? Could it be that?

Students: YES.

Teacher: Now why would the other women be wearing velvet, but Lady Jane has to wear this silk shrift?

Student: Because they were cutting her head off.

Teacher: And why were they cutting her head off, again?

I think it was at this point that I realized that none of these students were learning things so much as they were playing 20 questions, and that clearly there was no end in sight.

Teacher: What sort of emotions do the other women in the picture seem to have? Marcus?

Student: They seem sad.

Teacher: And what would indicate that?

Student: Well, they're crying.

Teacher: Are you sure that they're crying?

Student: Yes.

Teacher: Now, why would they be crying?

You get the idea. We left the room before I could hear the culmination of Quizzy Lizzie and her Lotta Q's. But I did have a thought about education reform: maybe we should propose a ban on endless leading questions, or at least restrict them to three before the teacher just gives the answer. Because three questions seems like teaching, but four feels like torture.