Letter to the Editor – In response to “An open letter to professors about dumb questions”

In Letters to the Editor, Opinion

Dear Editor,

Zack Johnston’s Feb. 21 opinion piece, “An open letter to professors about dumb questions” had some relevant points. What’s missing, though, is a sense of student ownership of the learning experience. Professors don’t own the learning experience. Students do.

I am not writing to defend “dumb questions.” Anyone who’s ever sat in a college classroom has faced them. I won’t apologize for the faculty. Perhaps one or more of Johnston’s professors didn’t prepare fully for class or doesn’t have the best level of comfort with the subject matter. It happens.

I write, instead, to offer suggestions for Johnston and other students. You have the power to turn “dumb questions” into enriching experiences to prepare you for workplace challenges.

Don’t sit passively, irked about a professor’s question. Turn the question around. Answer, but then respectfully ask or demonstrate how the question relates to the learning outcomes of the class. Every CSUF course has student learning outcomes; they’re supposed to be in the syllabus. How does the question link with those outcomes? If you don’t see the connection, ask the professor.

The point of students coming to class is not to sit passively while their heads get filled with knowledge. The point of being in class (in person or online) is to take initiative, uncover the learning, find the relationships between seemingly disconnected phenomena, take the subject matter beyond what the professor dishes out and link concepts to real-world experiences.

Johnston wrote that a professor should be “someone who can relate to students and meet their sense of curiosity with educated answers.” I agree! At the same time, I would add that a student should be someone who takes even the most unimaginative, absurd information or situation and uses it to bolster learning and career preparation.

Johnston’s frustration won’t end after he crosses the stage at commencement. The workplace is filled with clueless people, aggressively asking ridiculous questions about poorly-orchestrated, unworkable projects. Prepare for that reality now. Take ownership of “dumb” classroom questions. Respond to them with respectful, appropriate, smart answers and win the admiration of your professor and fellow students.


Doug Swanson
Accredited Public Relations Practitioner (APR)
(Interim) Associate Dean, College of Communications

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