CC photograph of mangoes, courtesy of "joyosity" on Flick.

There Is Such a Thing as a Stupid Question | By Andrew Douglas

As some of you enter the halls of academia this September you will undoubtedly be filled with pride to be entering an institution of higher learning and leaving the constant douche-baggery of secondary education behind. You look forward to discussing Sartre over lattes, or the newest research study over a pint or two. Intelligent conversations must abound in this place of higher learning. At every turn there must be a fascinating individual willing to chat about Art, Culture, Science, Music, or Politics. For the most part there are a lot of rather intelligent and interesting people who bring valued and diverse opinions and knowledge to every classroom and conversation over coffee. Then there’s the other people. People who ask questions that make you question the university’s entrance policy. People who you figured would have been left in the dust in high school. People who achieve the impossible, and actually ask stupid questions.

Some courses are certainly worse for this than others. For example, in my first year I took Earth and Atmospheric Science (EAS) 100, a class which you can pass if you know the world is older than 6000 years old and how volcanoes work. When I took this course a fellow classmate actually asked if there was any geologic evidence for the 2012 Mayan Apocalypse theory. This suggests that the student had seen the film 2012 one too many times, and was apparently not paying attention very much during the lectures. Also, another classic example happened during a close friend’s Italian class. When asked by the professor who the famous Italian Scientist of the 15th Century was, a student replied “Aristotle.” The professor meant Leonardo Da Vinci of course, which makes the student off by about 1000 years, and in an entirely different country.

Perhaps the grand-daddy of all stupid comments (which my friends and I laugh about to this day) came during a Canadian politics seminar in my second year. A student made a comment about how the internet was allowing Canada to fit more into the globalization framework as it allowed a person to purchase goods from all over the world. When asked by the teaching assistant to explain further, the student replied that it depended on the country in question having internet access so he could buy “Mangoes from… Africa.” At which point my friends in the seminar almost doubled over laughing. The insinuation that Africans don’t have internet access is both false (over 100 million Africans have access to the internet) and slightly racist. Also, the student apparently failed to notice the logistical problem with buying fruit over the internet is that it would go bad by the time it shipped to you.

While some of these comments might seem blatantly dumb, there may have admittedly just been one lapse in consciousness as we’re all prone to sometimes. And while the people who harbour unfounded beliefs, or are spectacularly uninformed for an institution of higher learning remain around, they quickly dwindle off during the first and second years. They drop out or move into classes simply for the sake of getting a good job, and making lots of money. For the most part your conversations will be intelligent, your debates rousing, and coffees filled with inspiration. But, you will have to suffer through a small group of people who dare to do the impossible and ask a genuinely stupid question.

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  • Nick

    If your article is about stupid questions and only one of three examples is actually a question, is your article then two-thirds stupid?

  • Anonymous

    I am content and assured in knowing that I, as part of the readership of this article, will have mostly superior intellectual engagements throughout the upcoming academic year. This article empowers me to openly mock and deride others for their unexamined questions and comments. Validating.