“Terwiesch’s (the professor at Wharton who’s final was done well by ChatGPT) paper suggests schools should take a closer look at the interaction between AI tools and the educational experience, including exam policies and ‘curriculum design focusing on collaboration between human and AI‘.” I’d love to work on that.
One of the articles about ChatGPT doing well on a final exam at Wharton Business School is here.
A good essay on the chatbot from Brookings is here.“As Adam Stevens remarks, ChatGPT is only a threat if our education system continues to “pursue rubric points and not knowledge.” It is critical for all educators to follow their colleague’s example. As we note in our recent book, “Making Schools Work,” the old education model in which teachers deliver information to later be condensed and repeated will not prepare our students for success in the classroom—or the jobs of tomorrow. We should allow that model to die a peaceful death. Used in the right way, ChatGPT can be a friend to the classroom and an amazing tool for our students, not something to be feared.”
I will really really really try to stop now. 🙂 Other than to say I’m happy that educators are messing around with it, and the conclusion quoted above is just exactly what I have hoped for since NCLB hit the public schools and standardized testing became the way of the world.
Ironically, though it admits to having no feelings, it does say it would be happy to have contributed to… etc. 🙂 Silly bot. Somehow I’m reminded of some of the robots in the Hitchhiker’s Guide, though this is clearly not Marvin the Paranoid Android, the terminally depressed robot. Bizarrely ChatGPT has an attitude toward its work that I appreciate, and that’s very human of me. I intend to remain human in my interactions with this bot because it’s clearly been taught to have good manners, to be helpful, and to be honest about itself and its limitations. I respect that in people, so I’ll have to respect it in a bot.
The link below was shared by the people for whom I’m reading books. Based on my recent forays into AI, I’d say all of these prompts were written by an AI.
So I asked ChatGPT to give me 10 wintery prompts. They are better than the ones on the above site.
I’d have no hesitancy about giving these to a class, and a couple of them intrigue me. I wouldn’t probably give a class prompts that tell them what to feel — like “beauty and serenity of a winter evening” or “complete with snow-covered trees…etc.” And, personally, I hate the word “cozy.” Shudder… I’d want my students to do that kind of description on their own without me or something else prescribing a response. I like 3, 4, 5, 6, 8. Students would like 10.
But they all lead to happy stories. I don’t imagine Alferd Packer or the Donner Party coming out of them — so I asked for unhappy endings.
Still no cannibalism, but you can’t have everything… If you don’t know the story of Alferd Packer, the Colorado Cannibal, (that’s how he spelled his name), you can learn about him here. He was stranded in the mountains not all that far from where I live — up in the San Juans near Lake City which was on the stagecoach route I’ve written about here in the past. One of the restaurants at the University of Colorado in Boulder is named the Alferd Packer Grill. When I was a student there, my ex and I only ate there when (for some unknown reason) we happened to have money. Good burgers and onion rings.
I’m not even going to apologize anymore. Godnose when this will end. It makes me wish I were teaching again. Instead of fighting against some of the things I had to fight against when I retired, I’d probably be embracing some of them.
I finally got on ChatGPT, and I like it. I asked it to write a few things — a poem in the style of Goethe and another in the style of Du Fu. They were both on target but not great poetry. It also told me who Goethe and Du Fu were. I asked it ethical questions about how I could use it in my college English classes. It’s been well trained for that and, I think, difficult to abuse. I asked it (after it wrote a sappy love story with happy ending) if it were capable of writing a story with an equivocal ending. It proceeded to write one and then told me what an equivocal ending is and why it’s used and how it engages people. I told it I liked it and it thanked me for the positive remark and explained its mission. I asked it various questions related to teaching college English and got useful answers that I’d put on a syllabus.
If I were teaching today I would learn all I could about this interface and introduce it to my students as I did introduce Grammarly when it came out and I’d played with it.
It took 3 days for me to get on ChatGPT to try it out. When I suggested that people must have had fun making it, it explained to me that fun has nothing to do with it, which made me laugh because I was having a LOT of fun with it.
Here’s a slideshow based on the questions I asked it about its use in a college English class. I might actually (were I teaching) give this as an assignment, to help my students find out how to use it responsibly. I identified myself as an English teacher; I wouldn’t have my students do that, of course. I’d give them the statement to start with, “I’m in a college English class and my professor wants to know how I could use you to help me with my essays.” It’s a very cool tool, way too much fun, and it might actually suck students into writing… In my career one of the hardest things for students was the solitude of writing.
In a discussion with Carrot from The Dihedral, about Artificial Intelligence (AI), I was inspired to think about my life as a teacher. For the first time since I left the profession, I cried. That wasn’t really surprising because I loved teaching — really LOVED it.
I taught writing, all kinds of writing at the college/university level from remedial grammar (yikes!) to advanced business communication. For thirty-four of my thirty-eight years I got up ready to go and happy to start the day, though, admittedly, in the final four years or so various external problems and changes in the way my students had been taught before university diminished the joy. I took that as a sign to get out of the classroom. At the end, I hated going to school, but by then I had retired and was a “short-timer.”
I loved MOST the moments when a student GOT it, and the times when a student became inspired by what we were reading and it showed up in his/her writing. There were many students who understood that freshman comp was going to help them be what they wanted to be, and took the skills and ran with them — one of those guys is a DA in Florida now, though his dream was Oakland, where he grew up. The Iraqi girl who challenged everything then, when I told her that Fahrenheit 451 changed the world, she lit up. She wanted to change the world, too, and here was a novel that had? The list of amazing experiences is too long to write — or is it? Is a teaching memoir at all appropriate? Naw… My LinkedIn is mostly former students.
Yeah; we’ve all had crappy teachers and for some students, undoubtedly, I was one. For most, not. For a few I was inspiring.
Carrot is a philosophy teacher, and some of what he’s written is about AI as a writing “tool.” The point — one point — is that AI can do only what it’s learned to do, but it can do that very well. Humans can go beyond what they’ve learned to do. This matters. Maybe it’s where lovers and creators of AI are hoping AI will go, to legit reasoning in a creative way, but I don’t know that for sure.
It made me think about the role our senses play in our thinking process. I think our senses play an immense role sometimes in our thinking process and sometimes in overriding our thinking process like, you know, “luv’.” Would AI have that danger or that power? What about imagination? The ability to be inspired or (more important in a classroom) to inspire? The root of that word is what the classical writers prayed to the muses for, the breath of the gods. The breath of life. Would that magic ever show up in a text written by AI, except as it might be derived from the work the AI has “grazed”?
Carrot and I were discussing how to keep students from turning in papers written by AI. I think, you know, an old-school copy book, pen and in-class writing, but there are limits to that. Ideally it would — applied soon enough — give kids the idea that writing is a wonderful activity and not something you worry about “getting right.” All AI can really do is “get it right.” Sadly, toward the end of my career more and more students had been taught toward that very end; getting it right. AI can get it right. In standardized tests and standardized writing texts is the robotization of humans — and teachers.
I can imagine a whole coterie of people who would like to make teachers disposable. Yeah, I’ve learned from a “computer,” but it wasn’t really the computer teaching me. It was a group of people who’d made a really good language program who were teaching me.
Writing is thinking. We discover so much when we sit down with our thoughts and allow them to happen.
I don’t want to write (or read) about grades or evil English teachers or any of that. We’ve all had to contend with both — I had an English teacher in university who mocked me in front of the class for an essay I’d written. There are assholes everywhere, and I’m the first to agree that what we write and submit for someone else’s scrutiny and evaluation makes us vulnerable. I know how much students hate English and hate to write. I know all about it. I taught it for more than half my life. Every bad teacher taught me how to teach. Every bad paper (my own) taught me how to write. Every bad paper I read (from a student) taught me to teach better. It is the nature of learning to live in the world that — in the “safe” environment of a classroom — we meet the same jerks we’ll meet in the world of work.
But writing itself should never be “safe” or something we “get right.” Maybe AI can write “like Mark Twain,” but one Mark Twain is enough. That won’t inspire anything and the “god” that “inspires” AI is no divine voice. It’s us.
It never changes, even after 8 years of retirement. I still dream about teaching, about being hired at a new school, about planning classes, collecting materials, going to meetings. Some of my earliest community college classes were in the town of San Ysidro which is on the border of Mexico. It’s hard to tell if it’s a suburb of Tijuana or San Diego. Late in the 19th century several immigrants from Switzerland settled there and built dairies, so who knows. Maybe it’s just a suburb of the world. San Ysidro back in the 90s was essentially a single street with minor streets leading off it.
Though over time I stopped teaching English as a Second Language, my first classes as a legit college teacher (as opposed to instructor at an international school) were ESL. My first class was an early evening class in San Ysidro, a 40 mile drive RT from my house and a little farther from San Diego State where I was still teaching at the language school.
I loved it. A room full of Mexican adults who want to learn English is about as good as it gets. I never let on that I could speak any Spanish, but they figured it out. They were enthusiastic to practice, and they would try anything, even my method of getting my students to write a poem. We met for 3 hours twice a week, and while that gave me an exhausting schedule, it also gave me money and a good time.
The school was a satellite of Southwestern College — one of the first community colleges in America. In those days (mid nineties) the school was a couple of double-wides but over time they built fancy buildings. Kind of a loss in a way, a loss in atmosphere and lightness. A couple of blocks from the school was a tamale restaurant. THAT was, well, incredible. More kinds of tamales than I knew existed, and they were all delicious. Next door to the school was Yum-Yum (Jum-Jum) Donuts where the students would usually take their break.
At times the border checkpoint would be backed up, and students couldn’t make it to class. No one had cell phones so the secretary would call the border patrol to find out what was going on. No one was ever penalized for missing class.
The last day of that first class one of my students gave me a present — an 8 foot lemon tree in a pot. He was a gardener and that’s what he had.
I was teaching in San Ysidro at the end of my mom’s life. I missed class for a week or so to go to Montana to take care of her post-hospital living arrangements — a nightmare, really one of the nightmares of my life. When I returned to class everyone came up to me with hugs and kind words all of which I sorely needed.
My first teaching experiences were as a volunteer at a literacy program in Denver. My first student was a Hispanic man who wanted to learn to read so he could read bed time stories to his daughters. Within a year I’d moved from tutoring single students to classes. My first classes were made up of people from Mexico one way or another — a couple of women were born in California, but had not learned English. An old vaquero with an amazing sense of humor was deported twice while he was in an 8 week class — he always made it back. Somehow it was a joke. These classes were absolute beginners in English, and from them I learned that learning a new language can be scary. People are truly frightened of making mistakes and looking stupid.
Once my mother — in one of her moods — was giving me a rundown of my many faults. One of them was that I don’t have the cowboy personality. You have to remember, Montana, etc. I know what that is supposed to be and I DO have it to some extent. Essentially it’s rigidly stoical, looks reality square in the eye, and doesn’t show emotion. She said, “You’re no cowboy. You’re more like a Mexican.” My mom didn’t have an especially bad attitude toward Mexicans; she was afraid of emotion.
Pero, para mí, las palabras de mi madre fueron un cumplido.
Back in the day I wrote programs for my students using Apple BASIC. They were fun for me to write and for my students to use. They livened up the business of learning English. One of the programs I wrote was a Mad Libs program which was, of course, hilarious and (unbeknownst to my students) reinforced my students’ understanding of the parts of speech. It was basically this.
“Hi. I want to write a story, but I need your help. I don’t know many words. First, what’s your name?” Flashing green light
“Thank you. Can you give me five nouns?” Flashing light, flashing light, flashing light, etc.
“Wonderful. I couldn’t have done that without you! I think a story need something to happen. Can you give me five verbs?” Flashing light
“Great. I’ve heard of these things called adjectives. Can you give me seven?” Flashing light
“Wow. Do I need adverbs? Do you know any?” Flashing lights.
“Thanks. What is your best friend’s name?” Flashing light.
“OK. I can write it now. Would you please press Enter?”
And BAM — a story. The students would sit there for an hour or so writing story after story and then seeing what their classmates had and laughing. For some English had never before been in the least funny.
I came up with about a dozen of these. Their input went into an array so even with the same words (except the names) the stories wouldn’t always be the same.
I was reading more about AI story generators, and I’ve learned they are essentially a more sophisticated version of those Mad Libs.
The thing is, computers have a strange power over people, even now. I remember back in the 80s I had a class of bankers from Indonesia who were specifically at my school to learn to use computers. The program was paid for by Harvard Business School where they were all headed after a year at the language school. We had Apple II e computers in our lab, and these men had the idea that ONLY IBM computers were any good. The concept of a program in a language being the same program in any computer NEVER penetrated their warm and friendly but generally misogynistic brains.
Some of them were afraid of the computers and would only press Enter from arm’s length away. My job was also the get them over their fear. The first day they sat down each at a computer that was asking, “Hi, what’s your name?” They typed in their name and the computer answered, “Hi Lamont! Nice to meet you!” Or “Welcome Lamont. I look forward to working with you!” Some of them freaked out, seriously, “How does it know my name?”
That was my cue to explain that a computer only knows what we tell it. The long term goal for the summer was that they would write a simple spreadsheet.
I negotiated with San Diego State University (of which my school was a part) all summer to let us use an IBM Lab. At the time, they had 3. Imagine.. Finally, the last week of our term, we could. We were given an hour. The guys printed out their programs (BASIC) and we trooped over to the IBM lab. They had no idea how much they’d learned and when they typed their programs into the IBMs and they ran, the students didn’t understand that it WASN’T because the IBM computers were smarter than the APPLE IIe computers they’d been learning on all summer. They never understood it was because they — the students — had learned so much and had typed in (with their own hands) their de-bugged programs. I got nothing but shit for not “letting” them use IBM computers from the start.
I was angry, and I was hurt. I’d worked very hard to develop a curriculum for those guys that would bridge their skills from NOTHING to the minimum they needed to move forward. They HAD written a spreadsheet. It had been difficult for them to debug it, but that was the point. MOST of them persisted in believing that the computer was out to get them. Out of the 20, maybe ONE understood what had happened. They went to the program coordinator to complain that I’d made the course unnecessarily difficult, and if we had an IBM lab it would have been easier. Amazing. They — with my help — had achieved something significant, but had no awareness of it. The program director was dumbfounded. She could not have written a spreadsheet. She tried to explain but…
It wasn’t just them, though. My colleagues — many of them — refused to learn to use some of the language-learning software that would have improved their lives. Why? They were afraid the computers would be better teachers than they were. They NEVER saw the computers as tools. And they really thought something was wrong with me that I didn’t see the computers as enemies and even wrote programs. So weird. And frustrating for me since I had the task of helping my colleagues get the most out of that wonderful and expensive facility.
I’ve done a little research into writing an AI poetry generator. I’ve learned that they are simply a more sophisticated version of my Mad Libs with immense arrays. 🥸 The way things are now — with so much of the basic work done — it wouldn’t be all that difficult, and it might be fun, but I think there are already plenty out there.
I asked for haikus about dogs. Here they are plus 1….
Dogs are loyal friends, Tail-wagging companions they be, Fur-babies forever.
Pups with furry coats, Frolicking in sun-dappled grass; A blissful reverie.
Fur-clad canines, Loyal and ever loving; Eternal pupbuddies.
Dogs don’t live long Enough. Every moment builds A bank of sweet memories
And here are haikus about AI… I thought it deserved a chance to speak for itself (or its programers’ vision)
E’er advancing AI, A ceaseless march of progress – A mystery still.
Ai, so wise yet naive; Processing data with care, Colloquializing knowledge.
Ai advances, astound me; The perfect solutions found. Colloquial tongue used.
In 1981 I was in Law Firm Limbo looking at a map of the world on the wall of one of the law partners and dreaming of far away places. In 1982 I was in a “faraway” place — China — dreaming of home (it was Christmas time, after all, and I had the flu). In 1985 I was in San Diego teaching the world. Crazy cascade of events and adventures. I loved teaching international students. It was as if the whole world had come to meet me.
That year I decided to have a holiday party — a solstice party. I invited everyone I knew — students, colleagues, friends. It was a great party. But the highlight was at about 9 pm when a taxi rolled up and one of my students came to my door — Mohammed Ali Assyri. He was dressed in his Toub and said, “Come Mrs. Martha. We are going back to Saudi tonight, but we wanted to say goodbye. Majda is in the car.” He and his family — his wife and two little girls — had been sent over by Saudi Airlines as were many of my students at the time. The Good X and I were especially close to Mohammed and Majda. We had done a lot of things together during their year in San Diego. I was really going to miss them. I knew they couldn’t attend the party, so seeing Mohammed suddenly appear made me happy. We lived in a beautiful 1920s apartment near the San Diego Airport, so it was on their way.
I grabbed a dish of cookies — the ones like my Swedish grandmother made and are made in some variation all over the world — little spherical butter cookies with nuts. The only ingredients are butter, flour, a little sugar. Mine are almond. Some cultures use pecans. Mexican Wedding Cookies have spices. I had nothing to give them for the trip, so I grabbed that dish.
I went down the steps to the street. Majda was sitting on the backseat of the taxi with the smallest little girl asleep on her lap. “This is for you, Mrs. Martha.” She handed me a small, weightless package.”
“These are for you,” I handed her the dish. She took one and bit into it, smiled at me, and said, “Like in my country. We have the same.”
We had a few moments together, and they had to leave. In the present were two beautiful glass Christmas tree ornaments.
Morass (today’s RDP prompt) is an SAT word from high school, not like it has no use in real life — I might have even used it myself in real life though at times I wonder if my life is real, but that’s another subject all together.
Morass was the kind of word teenage boys (aka my brother) liked to make jokes with. You can probably figure that out. Personally, I think it’s a good word, but obviously, it’s fallen into the gooey morass of words that just aren’t used that much, and maybe its joke potential is why. I certainly don’t know.
SAT words are interesting. My freshman college students liked to use them in their essays. This presented a trilemma (yeah, I just made that up) for me. First, they were not natural coming from most of my students. Second, they were often used wrong. Third, I KNEW the students were using them to impress me (“because English teachers like these words and godnose what else they like!”) not to communicate ideas. The great enemy was the Thesaurus, normally a gentle reptile, in the hands of unwary 18 year olds with dubious motives, the beast would turn positively sinister. At times I found myself drowning in a morass of plethoras, wishing someone would abolish the SAT.
Sometimes in conferences with a student I’d talk about this; usually not. By the time I’d taught a decade, I knew the likelihood of a student arguing with me over this with flaming arrows like, “But my AP (Advanced Placement) English teacher told me to use them.” I just listened, wondering how the kid got into AP English and trying to be helpful. Fuck it. It was more important that they try than that they got things right. That is a paradox of the classroom, ladies and gents.
It’s not that I didn’t want my students to expand their vocabulary, but as a tool of expression, not for the cheap glory of a high score on a multiple choice exam or to impress someone. The best way for them to build their vocabulary was through reading, but as the years progressed, that became less and less important in their lives. True, it was great when they used something wrong or spelled something wrong, and I got a good laugh (and they didn’t lose points). Contrary to the beliefs of many students, most English teachers are not sadists, but a good malapropism is a good malapropism.
We have Richard Sheridan to thank for THAT word and his hilarious character from The Rivals which I have read but have never seen. Mrs. Malaprop. I dunno’ what’s up with that,but 18th century comedy doesn’t get a lot of play anymore. In looking for examples this morning, I entered the Waybac Machine of the Internet and found this beautiful page from, I dunno, 1999?
I’m about to dive into more books for the contest, and who knows what I’ll find? There’s ONE more thing, though, in the morass of things teachers have to teach, I wish they would teach students that the dictionary and the thesaurus are and are NOT their friends and the language is NOT a precise science. All those jokes about morass were actually funny.
I’m above average. I am a solid B+. All the way through school. Now. Then. All the time. I could aspire higher, but in the end, something brought the average down. B+. When I woke up this morning this was on my mind for some reason. “You’re a B+, Martha. On a good day.” I will also always wonder what it takes to get A’s.
“She has so much potential. She just needs to apply herself.” What does that mean??? Same with my little brother. “He’s so bright, but he just doesn’t apply himself.”
And why would I be thinking about this NOW 3 weeks from my 71st birthday? Maybe because “someday” is either really really close or long gone. Don’t know.
Could be that, somewhere inside me, I would really like to be THE BEST at something and, maybe, even figure out what it means to “apply myself.”
Those school things echo throughout life, I think. We are indoctrinated into a certain — mild or fierce — competitiveness (in my case mild and confused). That spelling chart on the wall with names and stars?
Most of the things I do well are subjective things. Could I be a better painter? Not in the eyes of the people who have fallen in love with one of my paintings and look at it every day. I’m not even sure what it would mean to be a better painter.
Could I be a better writer? Yes, definitely, but I work on that all the time. I figured out when I was a very little kid (and couldn’t read) that writing wasn’t going to be easy. I wrote stories back then, but couldn’t read them (you see the difficulty) and, of course, they weren’t even written in letters. Only the mysterious script of childhood that — apparently — only my father could read. Still, I don’t think of writing as “labor” — not at all. To me it’s possibility. It’s one way to bring the world of imagination into THIS world, however you’d define that.
Do I still write in that language? Sometimes I wonder.
Younger people…I have a lot of dealings with the generation who would be my kids if I’d had them. It seems my generation raised their kids differently, something I remember from the classroom when I was teaching. I started out teaching my OWN generation and over time the waves of generations came through my classrooms. My favorite generation to teach was Generation X, then the generation that would be my kids showed up. I think of them as the “self-steam” generation, “self-steam” being a phrase one of my Mexican students used instead of self-esteem. It was a mistake but a great one. I remember one of my students telling me (and the class) how she’d lose races on track day, but she always got a ribbon anyway. “It was brown. So embarrassing. I knew I’d lost. It was obvious.”
I nodded, I remember that, and said, “Losing has its own dignity. Seems to me the ribbon took that away.”
The girl agreed and said, “We’re not all good at everything.” Sweet sanity.
I’ve lost a LOT. I also learned that second place is losing. I got second place most of the time.
The last generation to pass through my classroom? They would cry if they got a B. Seriously. Or tell me to fuck off. NCLB etc. had reduced their school lives to tests and artificial measures of knowledge and achievement. Terrible. Ignorance is noble when it motivates curiosity. “OK, Sweet Cheeks, you don’t know this. What are you going to do about it? How can you do better?” It’s not failure; it’s possibility.
How did this get to be about school, teaching, generations, and self-steam? All I can say is it takes a while for the coffee to kick in.
In holiday news — St. Lucia’s day. My paternal grandmother was Swedish, the first child in her family to be born in America. I guess to honor that, we always put up our tree on St. Lucia’s day. Sometimes my mom (who wasn’t Swedish) would have a party and cook lutefisk which is a Christmas Eve dish traditionally but my mom had to navigate the labyrinth of traditions and that was the compromise. Usually I do SOMETHING for Christmas but this year I don’t feel it at all. I pretty much just want it to go away. My past life has taught me that is EXACTLY the moment to put up a tree, when you don’t want to, but I think, this year, it’s going to be lights in the window and a candle in the stained glass candle holder my Aunt Jo gave me. I’m not a “Scrooge” or a “Grinch” — just not feeling it. It’s been a really strange year. The last year I remember that was this strange was 1979. I remember New Years Eve that year, toasting the end of 1979 and waking up the next morning with strep throat… The featured photo is my Christmas tree from 2013, my last Christmas in California. That little tree won a prize in the town Christmas decorating contest and got a beautiful story of its own. I’ll share it later on…
I used to have a lot more answers than I have now. It’s like that Bob Dylan song, “I was so much older than I’m younger than that now.” Or maybe it’s because NOW I know there is so much more to know than I will ever know even to ask questions about.
Today is the open house for the little art show at the museum, and I’m not going. I don’t want Covid again. That was — and continues to be — a real drag. I mean, just now, I put a rawhide stir stick into my coffee for Bear and then I put in another one as if only seconds before I hadn’t already done that. Every day I do what I can as therapy and healing for that and we’re getting somewhere, but if I’m tired, preoccupied, or emotional, all bets are off.
I remind me of my stepson when he was a little guy getting ready for school. It took him forever to put on two socks. He’d put on a sock, get distracted by something, study whatever had captured his attention then look for the sock he’d already put on. It drove his stepdad crazy, especially when Ben put the second sock on the same foot as the first sock.
We ask “Why?” a lot of times when it doesn’t really matter. I do and then I have to step back and think, “What do I really need to know here? Is it ‘why?’ or something else?” We look for motives often when we need to look for solutions, especially when something seems completely irrational.
A question can be very interesting but the answer totally anti-climactic. When I was in my 40s I looked much, much younger. It’s a genetic blessing from someone — I think my paternal grandma. My students would get very curious about how old I was, but thought it was rude to ask. The question would burn with some of them and I always said, “I’ll tell you, but the answer won’t be that interesting to you. Are you sure you want to know?”
“Yes! Yes! Yes!”
I was right about that. The answer WASN’T very interesting, maybe, even, disappointing. “41.” “Oh.”
Other questions? Most recently the question someone didn’t even know to ask turned out to have a fascinating answer and that was Ultramarine Blue from Lapis Lazuli. A friend bought a painting for her mom and now her boyfriend doesn’t think they should give it away because of the ultramarine blue. I know he would get VERY interested in the history of that color, but so far no one has asked and while I CAN pontificate with the best of them especially about paint, I’m waiting until I’m asked.
I really loved teaching Critical Thinking, which I did for more than 20 years. I learned a LOT from that and maybe my students did, too (don’t know). Critical Thinking is basically “how to ask questions” and “what questions to ask.” One of the benefits of that was learning that there are just some questions that will always evade a clear answer. Human behavior falls — for me — in that category. Why? You might well ask. 😉