Arnt Gulbrandsen
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Kinds of answers

The simplest form of question is a yes/no question. How many kinds of answers does that permit?

There are eight kinds, as I count them. There's yes and no, including lookalikes like yes, in my opinion or most probably yes. This is about kinds of answers, not details.

Three more kinds of straight answers: neither, both and not 100% straight, it depends. (Some yes/no questions don't allow neither/both.)

The sixth kind is to talk about the question, for example you've heard a politician say that's a really interesting question and blah on without answering.

The seventh is to talk about the answers, for example by talking about the merits of each alternative. That can be informative and helpful, and it can also be a an unobtrusive way to stay vague or avoid stating your own opinion.

The last of my eight kinds is to talk about something else. Change the subject, make a joke, suggest that now's a great time to break for lunch.

The classification above is one I've dreamed up myself, mostly drawing on my experience as a parent. Can we go swimming tomorrow after kindergarten? is a very serious question, and I've thought a great deal about how my answers raised my children. If you had other plans for tomorrow, that question allows all eight kinds of answers. Try to answer it in eight ways now, as an exercise.

I didn't go through that sort of exercise in school. That's odd, isn't it?

When I learnt languages in school, I was taught many words, and I also had to practise sentence analysis. I learnt how to find the verb, I learnt what propositional clauses are, I learnt that some statements are questions, some are statements, some quote openly, some quote in another way, some are orders, etc. A lot of classification.

Geography was more than just where things are, we also studied the processes that led to that, so I know why the Rift valley is special, it's not just another valley like so many beautiful valleys all over the world.

But although we discussed many things during school and answered uncountable questions, we weren't taught about kinds of answers, not at all. We practised answering as a matter of pure practice. Like learning a language with just words and speech, without any of that classification. Or like learning math by rote, without reasoning.

This makes me unhappy. My children went/go to a school that places great emphasis on discussions, presentations, all the practices of modern office work, and they don't learn any of this either. The school pays someone titled persuasion/presentation coach, who was quite surprised when I asked about this. The children learn to speak at the appropriate speed and volume while presenting something, and to listen and ask followup questions. They don't practise answering those followup questions in different ways. The coach doesn't tell the presenter try again, can you answer that question without revealing your own opinion?

Shouldn't children people learn how/when/why to avoid questions? And to detect it when others avoid questions?