A few years ago, I was listening to one of our high-quality top-notch administrators at UNC-Wilmington as he addressed a group of freshman students. After nearly putting me to sleep for 30 minutes, I finally heard him make an observation I considered to be somewhat interesting. He said that “There are no stupid questions, except for the ones that don’t get asked.”
I’ve heard that old saying dozens of times since then but, lately, I’ve been having my doubts about its validity. Some reasons for those doubts follow:
Nearly three years ago, a feminist student asked me why she should support the First Amendment rights of the “religious right” since “those people” prevented her mother and grandmother from exercising the right to choose an abortion. That was the kind of brilliant question that only an honor student could ask. Surely, she would be less resentful had her mother or grandmother decided to have an abortion.
Another student asked me why the prosecution couldn’t use a past rape conviction to impeach the character of a murder defendant who was exercising his Fifth Amendment right to refrain from testifying. I explained to the student (as best I could) that you can’t impeach a witness who isn’t testifying. I reminded him that people who don’t testify aren’t really witnesses. His follow-up question was equally brilliant: “Could the prosecution bring it up on re-direct?”
And then there was the student who asked me why all the crime victimization surveys seemed to lack good data on murder victimization experiences. As delicately as I could, I reminded the student that murder victims can’t fill out surveys. At least they cannot fill them out as well as they could when they were actually living.
Once, a student asked why he could not bring his cell phone to class on a test day and leave it on. It seems it was his grandmother’s 79th birthday and he needed to hear from her. “But she lives in Kenya” he explained for emphasis. My rebuttal took the form of another question, “Does your cell phone have a text messaging function?” I think we both know the answer to that pointed question. No student would use text messaging to cheat on an exam. What would grandma think of that?
And, of course, there was the student who complained to me that his roommate stole a bag of marijuana from his closet. “Should I report it to the police?” he asked innocently.
Once I asked the following question on an exam: “Are index crimes primarily inter-racial or intra-racial?” This prompted one student to ask two questions in response: 1) “What is an “index crime’” and, 2) “What does intra-racial mean?” He was really mad when I asked whether he knew the meaning of the word “or.”
A student once asked me whether indemnification statutes apply to people who have been wrongfully executed. In others words, does the state give money to repay innocent people who went to the gas chamber. “Sure,” I replied. “And most of them spend the money at Grateful Dead concerts.” These students just kill me sometimes.
I cannot remember the names of the scores of students who have asked this classic question: “Are you going to talk about anything important next class period?” “Why do you ask” I always ask them in return. That’s when they confess that they were considering skipping class. Of course, I always assure them that there’s nothing important next period — or any other class period – except for a forthcoming lecture on premeditation.
One of my favorites is this one: “I have a learning disability. Can I use my laptop during the exam?” Sure, the laptop will really help you finish that pesky multiple-choice exam. And no one would ever use one to cheat. What would all the grandmothers in Kenya think about that?
But, honestly, the best ever was when a student directly challenged me for using the term “probative value” in my “Law of Evidence” class. This was his question: “Are you sure the term “probative value’ really exists? I was talking to a student who has a really high grade point average and she swears that there is no such thing.” I reminded him that the term “probative value” was presented in the text of Federal Rule of Evidence 403 on the first page of a 76-page handout that I began covering in August (his question was presented in October). Instead of getting mad, I thanked the student for admitted that – although it was the third month of class – he had not yet started studying. Then I promptly kicked him out of the class.
But let’s not pick on college students exclusively. People who actually have college degrees have asked me some equally brilliant questions, like the following: “Why do you consider homosexuality to be abnormal simply because most people don’t do it?
Or how about this one: “Why do you talk about us trans-sexuals as if we are somehow different from other people?”
Perhaps my favorite is the following: “What makes you think that all illegal aliens have broken the law.”
On second thought, maybe it’s this one: “Can’t you understand that people who stereotype gays are always secretly gay themselves.” I’m glad that guy never makes sweeping generalizations. In fact, he’s always avoided generalizations!
Of course, we all know that people ask a lot of stupid questions. And we all know they ask them because those silly educators taught them that “the only stupid question is the one that didn’t get asked.” Indeed, the self-esteem movement in education has done little more than to keep the jackass from knowing he is a jackass. That is why the jackass seldom keeps his thoughts to himself.
So join with me today as I do something about the growing number of stupid questions, which seem to be flooding our national discourse. The next time you hear someone ask a stupid question just say “Man, that was a stupid question.” Remind the person that the First Amendment gives him a right to show us he is stupid. But, also remind him that the Fifth Amendment can help him keep it a secret.
Mike S. Adams (www.DrAdams.org) is in an especially snippy mood in the wake of hurricane Ophelia. Nonetheless, he and his wife survived the storm along with their flying squirrel “Rocky” and their two pet monkeys “Marty” and “Maddie.”