Is Tony Blair real?

15th October 2004 at 01:00
What are there more of, questions or answers?" asks the logo on my pencil.

Anyone who works with or knows any three to five-year-olds doesn't need to think for more than a second about that one. The answer is questions.

Perhaps this helped inspire artist Alec Finlay to collect lists of things young children have asked and to compile The Book of Questions, due to be published this month.

Working with five schools in the North-east, and involving primary children of all ages, Mr Finlay has been gathering infants' questions since 2001 as part of a Creative Partnerships project.

He focused on three to five-year-olds because "they're just at that age when they're putting together knowledge, but they're still untutored. It's before they've been taught too directly. Their questions are generated by their imaginations".

Although the book has been completed, Alec Finlay and schools such as Westlea primary in Seaham near Sunderland are still collecting questions for an archive.

My pencil is a work of art, a limited edition. It also says "Why do we get feelings?"

About 6,000 pencils have been produced. "All the children use them in school," says Mr Finlay. "They have a relaxed relationship with it. I like that relaxedness."

Postcards, too, are given out. "If tin whistles are made of tin, what are fog horns made of?" reads one. This is not as convincing as "Is Tony Blair real?"

Alec Finlay wants to make the point that education should be more about questions than answers. He underscores it with an epigraph from Edmund Jabes, the 20th-century Jewish-Egyptian-French poet and critic, whose work also called The Book of Questions, inspired him. "If I give a special status to the question," Jabes wrote, "that is because I find something unsatisfactory about the nature of the answer. It can never completely contain us. Also, and this is quite important, I feel that answers embody a certain form of power.

"Whereas the question is a form of non-power. But a subversive form of non-power, one that will be upsetting to power. Power does not like discussions. Power affirms, and it has only friends or enemies. Whereas the question is in-between."

Something to bear in mind when reading government advice on questioning techniques.

The Book of Questions will be published on October 31 by platform projects, Edinburgh; Creative Partnerships and Morning Star. Anyone wishing to contribute questions from three to five-year-olds to the Archive of Questions should send them to alecfinlay@yahoo.com

THE BOOK OF WHY?

Why are there wars?

Why are there aliens?

Why was fruit invented?

Why don't men have babies?

Why don't raindrops taste salty?

Why is the world made for people?

Why do football players get medals?

Why are different countries separated by sea?

Why do brown cows eating green grass make white milk?

Why is a tree called a palm tree when it has no hands?

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