There Are No Right Answers

So I clicked on a link on Twitter — the headline of “There are no wrong answers!” successfully grabbed my attention. In it, the author discusses how the refrain of “There are no wrong answers!” in education, particularly during the discussion of fiction works, is often quite unhelpful. Because there are wrong answers. It’s a good post that touches on preventing students from internalizing misconceptions, getting “too firm a hold on the wrong end of the stick;” the blogger discusses the importance of teaching the context for a work alongside the word itself.

But the headline really got my brain motor running. “There are no wrong answers!” is a pretty useless battle cry, unless the question is, “Which donut would you like?” In that case, every answer is a correct one, and the level of correction is a spectrum that I have helpfully charted here.

donut chart

But yeah, when the question isn’t concerned with the imminent consumption of donuts, there are usually wrong answers. You take a bubble test, yeah, only one of those choices should be the correct one. The rest are, at best, near misses. Interviewer throws you a curveball? Think quickly and clearly, because you probably won’t get hired if you tell them your greatest strength is “getting away with embezzlement.” Don’t even get me started with the possible minefield when the cop asks you, “Do you know why I pulled you over?” (In my case, they could probably smell the donuts on me — hey oh!)

But the reason the headline kept flipping over in my head was… sometimes, there are no right answers.

Once, students asked where they should hide or what they should do if an armed intruder entered the school, intent on hurting them.

I have witnessed adults put children into a double bind scenario, where the child was going to be wrong no matter how they answered (even if they abstained), simply so the adult could exert control over them.

Gosh, a student last month simply asked me who I was voting for to be the next president of the United States.

Sometimes there are no right answers. Sometimes all the multiple choice bubbles seem wrong; sometimes the question shouldn’t have to be asked in the first place. We are imperfect people and we operate within imperfect systems.

Sometimes the best we can do is to make do.

And sometimes the best we can to is to make donut jokes.

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