Amazing Thinkers

By Dr Charles Margerison


What are the most important words that we should encourage students to use? In my view, Rudyard Kipling summed them up in his great poem called ‘If’

He said, that six words which led to questions taught him all he knew. They were:

Case Example

Recently, I had the opportunity to work with some teachers at Springbrook State School in Queensland, Australia. Sarah Jane Ash, the Principal, invited myself and colleagues to conduct a class about the amazing people who set up the inaugural Australian colony called New South Wales, in 1788.

The students were aged between 8 and 11 and, to help learn about the situation, we gave students the above six words. In group discussions, we asked them to come up with questions that they would pose to people from that era.

Learning with Questions

So began a fascinating discussion. In the process, the students began to think about a range of issues….

  • Why did the 11 ships set sail?
  • Why did it take 252 days to arrive?
  • What was life like on board the ships?
  • How did they survive, when they arrived in New South Wales?
  • What would it have been like to be a convict, as over one third of the people on the voyage had been sent as prisoners?
  • How did their arrival affect the Indigenous tribes who inhabited the area around what we now call the city of Sydney?


Afterwards, the students reviewed what they had learned. Many interesting comments arose. In the process, it was clear the students had developed their ability to think. By using the six key questioning words, they had improved their skill in gaining and using information.

“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.” – Henry Ford.

Amazing People and Questions

Looking at the lives of amazing people like Marie Curie, Albert Einstein, President Lincoln, Florence Nightingale, Dr Louis Pasteur and others, it is clear that their ability to think led them to break down barriers. Rather than taking the situation for granted, they asked fundamental questions and perceived ways of developing responses that advanced our understanding.

The Socratic Method is based on asking questions. Socrates, the ancient Greek philosopher, said that questions were the way to truth. But, they need to be put in a form that facilitates discussion, rather than in an accusing and judgmental way.

Questions and Achievements

In my research on the lives of amazing people, I have found that those who succeeded had the ability to ask questions and find answers that opened up new ways of looking at traditional ways of doing things. Many of these amazing people went on to make fortunes.

In his research, Thomas Edison had done thousands of experiments that did not work. One of his team asked, why he continued. He responded that they had learned a great deal from the so called failures and would soon find the right questions and the answers to create a light bulb. Today, we are the beneficiaries of his thinking and determination.

So, amazing thinkers had the courage to follow their curiosity. They not only asked questions, but took action to find the answers. They challenged conventional thinking.

Galileo asked if the Earth was the centre of the universe and how did it relate to the Sun? His experiments shocked the scholars and priests and caused him to be convicted as a heretic, despite having discovered a law of nature.

Louis Pasteur asked questions about the causes of illness and made breakthroughs that led to the understanding of how bacteria are the basis for germs that cause infection.

Marie Curie, the only woman to have been awarded two Nobel Prizes for science, also asked basic questions to advance her research in both physics and chemistry that led to the discovery of cancer treatments.

Irena Sendler saw families being sent to the gas chambers by the Nazis and asked what could be done to save some Jewish children? As a result, she saved over 2000 of them, before falling victim to arrest and horrific torture by the Germans.


So, what is it that we should focus upon in education?

Of course, we must teach students to read and write and to do mathematics. But, what is the point of having those skills, if they do not think beyond the proverbial? To become valued citizens, they need to look beyond the current situation and ask how we deal with difficult problems, such as; fairness, equal opportunity, and the creation of a culture that respects people. To do that, we need all students to use the six key question words. Those will help them focus on gaining evidence and making sound judgments.