Lexington Community Education Announces Spring Programming

Lexington Community Education’s Winter 2018 catalog has arrived in local mailboxes, and is also available on-line and at local libraries. Classes and LCE’s Special Speaker Series will start the week of January 8 with new classes beginning throughout February and March.

This winter LCE starts it’s special speaker series with an All-Star Tribute to Miles Davis’  Kind of Blue.  This event, being held on Friday, January 26, will feature a sextet of jazz musicians including Lewis Porter, Sean Jones, Jerry Bergonzi, Jerry Vejmola, Terri Lyne Carrington and Jared Henderson.

An afternoon of the Chamber Music of Haydn, Mozart and Brahms will be presented on Sunday, February 4th.  Performers include Peter Sulski, Violin; Nathaniel Farny, Viola; Ariana Falk, Violoncello; and Randall Hodkinson, Piano.

The Fiveash Legacy Lecture will be offered on Wednesday, February 7th with a presentation by Professor Emily Wilson, discussing her translation of Homer›s Odyssey.  This fresh, authoritative version is the first English translation of the Odyssey by a woman.  Written in iambic pentameter verse it matches the number of lines in the Greek original, thus striding at Homer›s sprightly pace and singing with a voice that echoes Homer›s music.

The scale and impact of the #MeToo movement caught many by surprise.  On Tuesday, February 13th Wellesley’s Distinguished Visiting Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, Leigh Gilmore, will speak from her book Tainted Witness: Why We Doubt What Women Say About Their Lives.  She will explore the pervasive and persistent culture of doubt women encounter in offering accounts of sexual harassment and sexual assault.

Tom Ryan, former publisher and editor of the Newburyport newspaper, The Undertoads, moved to the White Mountains of New Hampshire with miniature schnauzer Atticus  Finch.  Drawn by an online post Tom adopts Will, a frightened,deaf and mostly blind elderly dog.  Join Tom on Sunday, February 25th as he  disucsses his book, Will’s Red Coat, which tells the story of a dog and an indelible bond that is beautiful, heartbreaking, uplifting and unforgettable.

Report cards, standardized texts, tryouts, auditions, social cliques and admission to a top-tier college — all intensify parental anxiety. Wendy S. Grolnick, PhD, co-author of Pressured Parents, Stressed-Out Kids will offer practical ways to avoid the burn-out (in both parents and children) that afflicts so many in our highly competitive society, while raising children who thrive and excel.   On Wednesday, February 28th Dr. Grolnick will provide an accessible guide to channeling competitive anxiety into positive parenting.

Leora Tec is the Director of Bridge to Poland, an organization that she founded to engage people in topics related to Jewish Poland through small group travel, talks and workshops.  On Thursday, March 1st Leora will share the story of her journeys to Poland, a land many think of as a place filled with haunted memories, but a place where she has discovered, and works to show others, is a place filled with hope for humanity.

When you read passages from Winnie-The-Pooh, it’s hard not to feel nostalgic.  Did you know that the Hundred Acre Woods is based on a real place where you could actually visit Poohsticks Bridge and the Floody Place? Ashdown Forest is a wildllife haven that spans more than 6,000 acres in southeast England.  On March 18th, Kathryn Aalto takes readers through an exploration of the real landscapes, shares iconic moments from the books and celebrates the interplay of landscape and literature.

Raising Boys in the Digital Age with Dr. Anthony Rao is an event co-sponsored by Lexington Community Education and the Waldorf School of Lexington.  On Tuesday, March 20th Dr. Rao, who holds a PhD in psychology from Vanderbilt University and trained as a pediatric psychologist at Boston Children›s Hospital, will discuss his book They Way of Boys:  Promoting the Social and Emotional Development of Young Boys, about the crisis in American boyhood.

Share this:

Halloween in the Center!

Share this:

Veterans Day in Lexington

Veterans Day Breakfast

  • Veterans Breakfast, Saturday, November 4, Keilty Hall, St. Brigid’s Church
  • Sponsored by The Town Celebrations Committee in partnership with the Lexington Rotary and the Lexington/Bedford Veterans Services Office.
  • Tickets may be obtained at the Lexington Community Center and Michelson’s Shoes in Lexington Center. Admission is free but a ticket is required.
  • Coffee 8:30 a.m. Program starts 8:50 a.m. Breakfast served 9:00 a.m.
  • Rotary Club members will serve a full breakfast catered by Neillio’s.
  • Complimentary service portraits by professional photographer Dave Tabeling
  • More than 20 door prizes donated by local businesses.
  • For questions on the event, contact Veterans Services Director Gina Rada at grada@lexingtonma.gov or 781 698-4848.


Karen Budnick

Karen Budnick, LICSW, Senior Social Worker and Coordinator of the No Veteran Dies Alone program at the Bedford VA Hospital, will deliver the keynote address at the sixth annual Veterans’ Breakfast on Saturday, November 4, 2017 at Keilty Hall, St. Brigid’s Church, 2001 Massachusetts Avenue.
For the past eight years, Karen has served as the Social Worker at the David James Hospice Unit at the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Administration Hospital in Bedford. This unit includes its own dedicated physician, social worker, psychologist, nursing staff, volunteers and chaplain to care for veterans at the end of their lives with dignity, respect and compassion. “There is much suffering and hardship in the world today” Karen says, “and I view my job as helping to alleviate suffering and to bring light, love, peace and harmony to those veterans who are taking their final journey.”
Many veterans arrive at the hospice unit with serious psychic and medical issues – war injuries, PTSD, addictions of all kinds – that in turn have created sadness, loss, anger and separations from their families. As veterans approach the end of life, many yearn to mend these hurts and make peace with their families (and many families want to do the same). The love and support that the Hospice Program, Karen and the volunteers provide to veterans and families helps them open their hearts to forgiveness of self and forgiveness of others, often bringing peace and understanding before the veteran embarks on the final journey.
Karen holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona and a Master of Social Work from Yeshiva University.


Veterans Day Parade & Ceremony
Gather in parking lot behind
Police Station 9:30 a.m.
Step off 10:00 a.m.
Inside Cary Hall, 11:00 a.m.

Share this:

BEE part of Lexington Education Foundation’s Trivia Bee as a team, sponsor & fan!

The Lexington Education Foundation (LEF) will hold its 22nd annual “BEE-loved” Trivia Bee on Thursday, November 9th at 7:00 p.m. in the Lexington High School auditorium. More than 40 teams of three will compete in a friendly battle of wits — cheered on by exuberant friends, families, students, and teachers — while raising funds to enhance educational excellence in the Lexington Public Schools. We are thrilled to announce that Jeff Leonard, retired K-12 LPS Coordinator for the Performing Arts, will once again regale the audience as Master of Ceremonies. New this year!, LHS Principal Andrew Stephens is a guest judge. BEE sure to participate in the sweet evening!

BEE part of the fun, check it out at LexEdFoundation.org/trivia-bee:

  • Create a Trivia Bee Team
  • Sponsor a Trivia Bee Team
  • Submit a Question
  • BEE a fan

Trivia Bee Teams: Know a polymath? Think your student’s teachers are the “Bee’s Knees’?  Form a Trivia Bee team! We welcome teams of teachers, school and central office administrators, parents, local business owners/employees, community volunteers, and high school students. New this year: families of middle-school aged students and older may enter as a team with at least one adult. Plus, a new scoring system ensures that all teams  have the opportunity to answer all the questions in their swarm, and the overall runner-up will advance to the finals. The winning team will earn the title of “Masters of Trivia!” Register early, team entries are already buzzing in!

Trivia Bee Sponsors: Businesses, organizations and individuals are invited to sponsor a Trivia Bee team.   Your sponsorships and donations for this event make it possible for teacher and student teams to participate and help support LEF’s mission of bringing the community together to fund teacher-initiated grants that inspire and enable innovation in the classroom. Team registration fee is only $375 (same fee since 1990). Any and all donations are welcome.

Trivia Bee Questions: Trivia questions are in the categories of history, sports, popular culture, science, arts/literature and current events. LEF’s Trivia Bee Questions Team is secretly working on this year’s questions. New this year: we are accepting questions from the public. Submit a question and answer, keep it secret, and your question may be featured this year.

BEE a Fan: Show up on November 9th (no school the next day!), BEE entertained and cheer on your teachers and friends. New this year: plenty of audience participation options and fun ways to show school or team pride!

Share this:

God has sent us a Judge, hallelujah

By Garrison Keillor

The triumph of Judge Roy Moore in Alabama’s Republican Senate primary was a ray of sunshine for those of us who’d like to restore stoning to our legal system and remove the curse of profanity once and for all from our country. Scripture is very clear: “Thou shalt not swear.” But God’s chosen party, the Republican Party, has waffled on this issue, as it has on the issue of adultery and obedience to parents and observance of the Sabbath and the engraving industry. And that is why our country today is on the verge of destruction. The signs are everywhere. Judge Moore is the only man who dares say so.

In Deuteronomy, God makes it clear that a rebellious child should be brought before the elders and stoned to death. It’s there in black and white. We ignore these things at our peril. Establishment Republicans and a great many Christians have adopted the leftist “Let him who is without sin throw the first stone” approach to the law, which would produce utter anarchy — sinlessness as a requirement for service on a jury — and Judge Moore of Alabama is a prophet in our time, calling us to return to God’s Word.

Democrats are fine with the Beatitudes — “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” and all that — but blessing people is no substitute for upholding God’s standards, and there are people in spiritual poverty who express that by taking the Lord’s name in vain, or by shopping on Sunday, or disobeying their parents, or by coveting their neighbor’s wife, and if we don’t punish sin, then sin will overrun the nation, as it has done already. That is why Judge Moore is not a Beatitudes guy but a Ten Commandments man. The law is the law.

“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.” It couldn’t be clearer. And our country is flooded with them. Currency, photo IDs, the Sunday rotogravure, high school yearbooks, television and movies, National Geographic. And the iPhone, an abomination to the Lord. Liberal theologians can try to talk this away but God has made it clear that when you print, or engrave, a picture, you are violating His law. You can draw or paint whatever you’d like, but when you make copies, your soul is in danger. Xerox, beware.

Judge Moore has taken the high road on the issue of homosexuality. The establishment churches have turned a blind eye, and he has been a voice in the wilderness. But that is only one evil and there are a host of them, profanity being one of the most prevalent and insidious.

We have weapons we can use in the war against profanity, if we choose to use them. The very same algorithms that produce graven images on iPhones can be reversed and used to detect cursing anywhere nearby. The phone can be programmed to sound an alarm and to send powerful electrical currents into the body of the malefactor and render him or her inert and insensate so that he or she can be handed over to the elders for stoning. Your establishment Republicans believe in light stoning, using handfuls of gravel, but Scripture is clear about this: we must use rocks so that the stoning results in death.

If we create stoning grounds in the centers of our cities and we publicly execute those who are guilty of rebelliousness, adultery, engraving, shopping on Sunday and cursing, you will see America become great again, assuming you are not one who will be executed.

Let us be honest here. There are too many people in this country. You know it and I know it. When we reduce the excess population by stoning and become a nation of 10 or 15 million, this country will be a paradise. You’ll be able to drive and not languish in traffic. No waiting for tee times. Our enemies will be gone, all of them, bonked to death, and we will gain their homes and their wives and their cleaning ladies. It will be perfect.


©2017 Garrison Keillor distributed by The Washington Post News Service with Bloomberg News.

Garrison Keillor was born in 1942 in Anoka, Minnesota, and began his radio career as a freshman at the University of Minnesota, from which he graduated in 1966. He went to work for Minnesota Public Radio in 1969, and from July 6, 1974 through July 1, 2016, he created and hosted his popular variety show, A Prairie Home Companion, for some 3.5 million listeners on 700 public radio stations coast to coast and beyond. Keillor has been honored with Grammy, ACE, and George Foster Peabody awards, the National Humanities Medal, and election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His many books include Lake Wobegon Days, The Book of Guys, Pilgrims: A Wobegon Romance, Guy Noir and the Straight Skinny, and The Keillor Reader (Viking). He is the host of the daily program The Writer’s Almanac and the editor of several anthologies of poetry, most recently, Good Poems: American Places (Viking). In 2006, Keillor played himself in the movie adaptation of his show, a film directed by Robert Altman. He has two grandsons and in 2007, he opened an independent bookstore, Common Good Books, in St. Paul, the city where he and his wife and daughter make their home.

Share this:

Remembering Ken Donnelly

By Jim Shaw

Ken Donnelly

Few people in life have that special something, Ken Donnelly was such a person. He knew early on that his calling was to serve.  Whether it was as a fire fighter, a union leader, or as a state senator, Ken Donnelly epitomized the meaning public service.  Senator Donnelly, or simply Ken as he preferred to be called, recently lost his battle with brain cancer. And, although he may be gone, his legacy will carry on through the lives he touched along the way.

I first met Ken soon after I took my first job after college.  I was hired by the Massachusetts AFL/CIO to serve as the program director for young union members.  The program was intended to motivate young union members to be more involved in the political process.  One of the first people I was introduced to was a young legislative agent from the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts (PFFM), his name was Ken Donnelly.  The fact that he was a Lexington fire fighter was completely coincidental. Ken took me around and introduced me to several young union activists who became the core of our program.  Most of them went on to do great things.  Ironworker Steve Lynch is now a Congressman, Red Cap Steve Tolman is a former senator and current president of the Mass AFL/CIO, assembly worker George Noel became Commissioner of Labor in Massachusetts, and Ken Donnelly went on to become the second highest ranking fire fighter and a powerful member of the State Senate.

My relationship with Ken continued for a longtime.  We became friends.  Good friends.  That was easy with Ken.  He made everyone feel as though they were a good friend.  That was his gift.

Ken spent nearly four decades as a full-time Lexington Fire Fighter.  He soon became president of the local union, then turned his attention to the state fire fighter organization.  In the early 1980s, he was elected Legislative Agent for the PFFM.  He became close to Bob McCarthy who served at the time as president of the Watertown local. Then tragedy struck the PFFM when longtime president Dusty Alward was killed in an automobile accident.  McCarthy and Donnelly took the helm of the PFFM and worked together until Ken’s election to the State Senate in 2008.

Ken was a teacher by nature.  He liked to identify talented young people and help bring them along.  Current Lexington Fire Lieutenant Mark Ferreira was one of his proteges.  Mark explained that Ken was a special kind of leader.  Almost as if he led from behind, because he was always pushing you along trying to bring the best out.  Mark said, “I first met Ken when I joined the fire department 31 years ago. I was a young kid of 21 years and he took me under his wing. He was 21 when he joined the Department too. He eventually became my lieutenant and I was on the truck with him on a regular basis. He taught me how to be a good firefighter and introduced me to the importance of being involved in the union. Serving the public was important to him, so was his desire to serve his fellow firefighters.”

Ferreira explains that Ken spent the greater part of his career at the East Lexington fire house. He said, “He was the union president for the Lexington local and eventually became the legislative agent for the state fire fighters union or the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts. After several years of serving as legislative agent, he was elected statewide secretary-treasurer of the PFFM. Ken was the best! He always took good care of his crew. He was always fun to be around. He had a great sense of humor, but he took his responsibilities as a fire fighter very seriously. One of the things I remember most fondly is that his crew always ate very well. Ken was a great cook. He would cook every Sunday at the East Lexington station. I remember one time we were working a shift on New Year’s Eve and when the other station called to say they ordered Chinese food, Ken wanted better.  He decided we weren’t going to eat “that junk” and he cooked beautiful homemade Chinese food for everyone at the East Lexington station. It was the most delicious Chinese food I’ve ever eaten.”

Mark talks about Ken’s dedication to fire fighters who made the ultimate sacrifice.  Mark said, “Ken felt that fallen fire fighters had waited too long to be recognized in way befitting to their sacrifice, so he helped to move forward the Massachusetts Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial.”   Ferreira continued, “He served on the original board of directors. He was very active in securing the site, raising the needed funds, and the effort to construct the memorial. He was particularly involved with the design of the memorial. He served as chairman of the board for a while right up until the time he passed away. We will be adding his name to the memorial at a ceremony this fall”

In a final thought, Mark shared what might be Ken’s greatest legacy.  He said, “What made Ken great and where he succeeded, was that he could always find common ground with both sides. His gift was his ability to educate. Whether it was negotiating in Lexington or as a member of the Senate, he was effective because he was fair and he educated those he dealt with. He was a special kind of a person who left an indelible impression, not only here in Lexington but in the town of Arlington where he lived and in the Senate where in nine short years he became a top member of the leadership.”

Ken had the ability to affect change and motivate people.  A longtime friend of Ken’s is United States Senator Ed Markey.  I talked with Senator Markey about Ken and as you might guess, he said Ken was one of his “go to guys for advice and counsel.”  Senator Markey said, “Ken Donnelly was Massachusetts. He was a guy who worked his way up, worked his way through UMass, was a fire fighter for thirty-seven years. He was a happy warrior. I always thought of him as a sort of Hubert Humphrey, fighting as hard as he could for the causes which he cared about, while at the same time enjoying the battle. He communicated that to everyone with a wink and a smile.”

Recalling a night of just unwinding with his friend Ken, Senator Markey talked about spending time at Fenway Park. He said, “I miss him. I took him in 2013 to the deciding game of the ALCS championship at Fenway Park. You might remember that was the game where Shane Victorino hit a grand slam to win the series. We sat in the third row next to Mike Pence and his wife. For Kenny it was a beautiful moment. He got the Red Sox, the Governor of Indiana, and the new U.S. Senator. We talked politics and baseball for 4 hours culminating in Victorino’s grand slam to win the game 5-2. We left and went back to his car and he drove me back home to Malden. That’s a great memory for me. I remember him as a good friend, and just an all around decent guy. He was a down-to-earth guy who loved politics and loved everything about life itself. He never forgot where he came from.”

Ken walked with kings and commoners alike.  Everyone was equal in his eyes.  After a long day of fighting fires, negotiating with governmental leaders, writing pension policy, or sitting through long legislative hearings, Ken was at his best when he was home on the grill or in the kitchen.  That’s how Ken showed his love.  Good food and companionship.  Ken and I spent lots of time together during his campaigns and driving to political conventions.  He always made me feel needed by asking me for advice, even though he already had the answers.  He was a friend to me and my family.  I will always remember his kindness, guidance and generosity of spirit.

Ken was a Senator and a fire fighter, but his deepest devotion was reserved for his family. His wife Judy was at the center of his existence.  The same is true about his children Ryan, Keith and Brenna. His grand children too.  He valued his time with family.  I remember Ken telling me that being a Senator was not going to interfere with spending time with his family.  And it didn’t. He valued his time at home and visiting their place in New Hampshire.  He loved the outdoors and spending time with his kids.

The pageantry at his funeral was nothing less than spectacular.  Flagged-draped fire trucks, hundreds of fire fighters lined up in formal uniforms, hundreds of friends and family were all there to pay respect to a simple man who made a lasting impression.


Rest in peace my good friend.

Share this:

Lexington Open Studios 2017




Share this:

Lexington Town-wide Survey to be Launched March 13, 2017

Lexington Town-wide Survey to be Launched March 13, 2017
The Lexington 20/20 Vision Committee is pleased to announce that a town-wide survey will be launched on March 13, 2017. The online link www.lexingtonma.gov/2020survey will accept survey responses from March 13 to March 31. Hard copies of the survey forms will also be made available at Cary Library, the Community Center and other public areas. Like surveys conducted by the 20/20 Vision Committee in previous years, this survey is designed for community members to give their perspectives on a range of Town issues.
Lexington is a diverse, vibrant, and active community whose residents are invested in the Town’s character and sense of community. In 1999, the 20/20 Committee was formed by the Town’s three elected boards — the Selectmen, the School Committee, and the Planning Board — to engage a wide range of Lexington’s citizens in developing a vision of Lexington’s future that can guide the Town’s decision making.  The 20/20 Committee has regularly used community meetings, surveys, focus groups, and working groups on specific topics to formulate and refine a long-range vision for the Town.  The vitality and legitimacy of our work has depended on the participation of thousands of residents. To keep the Town forward-looking, we need your input to assure that our efforts reflect priorities based on the community’s shared vision. Please be certain to take the survey and encourage your friends and neighbors to take it too!

Share this:


“Spotlight: A Story of Asking the Right Questions and Holding Institutions Accountable”

with Sacha Pfeiffer and Dan Rothstein

Hear Dan Rothstein and Sacha Pfeiffer speak in Lexington!
The importance of the press and of citizens in demanding a culture of accountability in a democracy. As citizens, how can we learn to ask the right questions and engage in effective action?

Share this:

Question Everything


By Laurie Atwater

We’ve become an answer culture.

Do we have time for questions anymore? As busy parents, do we reward the constant why, why, why that is the hallmark of childhood? Do teachers entertain questions in time-crunched classrooms? Do our leaders encourage questioning and transparency as they represent us? Do our doctors have enough time to ask the questions that would aid a proper diagnosis?

The lowly question has lost its appeal in the information age. Answers are so easy—why ask questions?

Dan Rothstein


Dan Rothstein is a Lexington resident, and co-founder (with Luz Santana) and director of The Right Question Institute (RQI). RQI is a nonprofit based in Boston.

Rothstein is a big fan of questions. His professional experience has taught him that thinking in questions—like little kids—may be the key to becoming better problem solvers and decision-makers, more creative thinkers, better students and more engaged citizens. In fact, Rothstein and RQI think that formulating effective questions—strategic questions that lead us to the answers we seek—may be the foundational skill for critical-thinking and higher learning. But, it is a skill that is rarely, if ever taught in school.

Early in his career Rothstein worked as the Director of Neighborhood Planning Director in Lawrence, Massachusetts trying to curb high dropout rates in the city. It was Rothstein’s job to work with parents from diverse socio-economic backgrounds and get them involved in their children’s education—to convince them that they could make a difference and encourage them to engage with the schools.

In these conversations they learned that many parents didn’t participate in their children’s education and didn’t engage with their kid’s teachers because they “didn’t even know what to ask.”
That was an epiphany for Rothstein and his team. “The parents named an insight that had never really been fully recognized—not knowing what to ask as a major obstacle to effective participation,” he explains.

Rothstein set out with other members of his team to explore this problem in their community-building work. They first tried a simple fix: supplying the parents with prepared questions to take with them to a school meeting. “We discovered that it only created greater dependency on us which was the opposite of what we were trying to accomplish.”

They needed to teach the parents to come up with their own questions so that they would take ownership. “We spent a lot of time trying to figure out what’s the simplest way to teach what is really a very sophisticated thinking skill—learning to ask your own questions and getting better at asking questions,” he says.

They found that the skill did not come naturally to most people. Initial barriers to participation—fear of judgment, embarrassment or shyness could be overcome as a group built trust. “But we started to understand that this was a dramatic change in practice,” Rothstein explains. “People were accustomed to being asked questions not to actually being invited to work on asking their own questions.”

Working with small groups, they observed how people formed questions and that producing questions (not statements, ideas or facts) was very difficult. “We then had to create these rules for producing questions that are similar to brainstorming rules, but also very different because you are working only with questions.”


“QFT helps you organize your thinking around what you don’t know.”  

                                                 -Stephen Quatrano, RQI board member


They tested out lots of ways to lead people through the process of developing questions and determined that an essential element was a stimulus or focus for question formation. “We came to understand how important that was. We created this term Question Focus (QFocus).” The QFocus is an initial prompt that focuses the group to form more directed and relevant questions. It can be a description of the problem at hand or a statement or subject depending on the setting.

The Question Formulation Technique includes the following steps:

  • Design a question focus (QFocus)
  • Produce questions
  • Work with closed-ended and open-ended questions
  • Prioritize questions
  • Plan next steps
  • Reflect

Once a group has a QFocus, each member must pose as many questions as they can and one member records the questions without stopping for discussion. No question is judged, reworded or rejected. When the questions have been formulated, the group works on improving the questions (changing close-ended questions to open-ended and any statements to questions). They then prioritize the questions and select three key questions. They decide how they will act on each question and finally they reflect on what they have learned from the process.

It took years of trial and error to refine the process—to make it simple, usable, repeatable and reliable. The Right Question Institute calls this protocol the Question Formulation Technique (QFT).

Rothstein points out that this is not a technique that was created in a think-tank or by academics or communications experts—this is a ground-up process that began with regular people in challenging circumstances. Although they started their work with adults in low-income communities, it soon became apparent that the protocol could be effective in almost unlimited settings across age groups, disciplines and education levels.

These days QFT is used by Lexington Public Schools, Harvard graduate students, Microsoft Corporation, Kaiser Permanente, schools in rural Appalachia and many more organizations around the globe to stimulate participation, aid in self-advocacy, unlock creative potential and facilitate learning.


Why is the Question Formulation Technique so powerful?
As participants learn to produce their own questions, they are thinking divergently—that is, more broadly and creatively. When they focus on the kinds of questions they are asking and choose their priority questions, they are thinking convergently—narrowing down, analyzing, assessing, comparing, and synthesizing. And when they reflect on what they have learned through the process, students are engaged in metacognition—they are thinking about their thinking. -RQI


HOW CAN QUESTIONS CREATE BETTER CITIZENS? The Hawaiian Sugar Cane Plantation Experience
When sugar cane plantation workers were about to lose their livelihood in Hawaii, RQI was brought in to help the workers through the transition.

“The plantation was being sold off,” Rothstein explains. “The department of public health brought us in. They were worried about how company owned housing was going to be divided up, how the land was going to be used, how healthcare was going to be provided all of these things that the company had provided.”

Working with these farm workers, RQI gained insight about how the QFT could empower people to take ownership and participate in decisions that could affect their immediate welfare and their future. Like their work in Lawrence, they observed that the simple act of asking questions was empowering to those who felt disempowered.

“That was a major point in our development—in understanding how to help people learn to focus on decisions right in front of them as the first step in learning how to participate effectively,” Rothstein says. ”What people learned was they needed to ask questions about the decisions that were going to be made locally—about the housing and the healthcare but that they were not able the change the decision made by a corporate board in London.” RQI witnessed that this process engendered a sense of control in people who felt helpless. “This process changes the dynamic and says that it’s not just the person with more power who gets to ask the questions,” Rothstein says, “but it’s the person who needs the service or the information or the help that also is entitled to question.”

What RQI observed through this experience and other advocacy work they conducted around the country was the many ways that positive interactions by disenfranchised people with institutions or figures in power could improve their self-esteem and increase engagement. “The process of asking questions sets up the expectation for responsible decision making from that authority figure,” Rothstein says. It’s a way to hold the system accountable.

This led RQI to the insight that each of these advocacy situations had produced citizens that were more prepared and therefore more engaged with their communities through each productive interaction. Government agencies like Medicaid, Social Security, immigration, schools, courts or housing authorities can be little gymnasiums for the “small d” democratic muscle necessary for citizenship. “They need an opportunity to see how all those services and programs are affected by decisions made by elected officials who are usually invisible,” Rothstein says. “It’s a muscle that develops over time through action. If you don’t develop the muscle it atrophies.”

RQI calls this network of public institutions “outposts of democracy or a Microdemocracy” where citizens or prospective citizens are often discouraged from participating in their own government. “When they experience participation on the micro level they discover the value of participating in traditional forms of democratic action,” he adds.

RQI’s Better Questions Better Decisions (BQBD) Voter Engagement Workshop uses the Question Formulation Technique to help citizens become more involved with the democratic process. “It’s a voter engagement strategy that starts where people are and allows them to ask questions about decisions that are affecting them all the way up the democratic decision-making chain. It’s a different way to approach voter education,” Rothstein says. RQI thinks their strategy can make democracy work better.

It’s actually fascinating that Rothstein and Santana, who started their work so many years ago with adults, have come up with an insight and a protocol that has perhaps its most natural application in the classroom.

And, it could not be timelier. As intellectuals, college educators, employers and innovators reflect more and more on our current testing-centric education system—the decline of creativity, the collapse of critical thinking and the crisis of school funding—RQI enters with a decidedly low tech, low cost protocol that can radically transform learning. Switching the classroom dynamic and allowing kids to do what used to come naturally—ask questions—paves the way toward a coveted educational goal—creating critical thinkers for 21st century jobs and lives.

Naysayers believe that there can’t possibly be time for student generated questioning in the modern classroom with its performance demands and multiple assessments. To the contrary Rothstein says, “When students spend time on forming questions about what they need to learn it’s not a detour—it’s actually a shortcut. They just get there much more quickly and more effectively.” He’s not guessing about this; he’s seen it in practice. “This is what we have seen from educators all around the world—there are now over 200,000 educators using the question formulation technique.”

Teachers continue to inspire Rothstein and his colleagues at RQI. “There’s an art and a science to the question formulation technique. The science is—it’s a protocol. The art is in learning how to adapt it to what you need to be teaching what the students need to be learning,” he explains. RQI has now developed an extensive library of tools available for download from their site to help educators deploy the protocol in their classrooms.

As a Lexington resident, Rothstein is particularly pleased about the enthusiasm that the Lexington Public Schools have expressed for the QFT program. “So many Lexington educators are using the QF technique and it’s really great,” he says. “When successful communities also recognize that they want their students to be asking better questions, that’s inspiring.”

The Lexington Education Foundation awarded a grant to Lexington middle schools to attend a RQI summer seminar. Social Studies specialists were interested in using the technique to foster “higher order thinking skills.” RQI did further professional development across the district to enhance teachers’ understanding and implementation of the protocol.

Karen Russell, an English teacher at LHS, was one of the QFT pioneers in Lexington. I talked with Russell by phone and she was very enthusiastic about using the QFT in the classroom.

“I often use it when I begin a text,” she says. “Students’ questions inform me about their interests and [through the process] they take ownership over where we are going with the text,” she explains. “It gives me a chance to listen to their concerns about what the text might address. Great texts have plasticity that way and can lead in many different directions.” Russell says it works particularly well with students who may not be so quick to speak up in a regular setting. “I often worry about the students who take more time to process and want to go deeper—where do we give them a chance for their voices to be heard? This process values that.”

Russell also refers back to the student’s questions throughout their study of the text. “They’re given permission…their thinking is valued and they know it’s not just the right answer I’m looking for. When they ask their own questions, the seed of their ideas has been planted early on and they’re growing their own ideas.”

Russell also appreciates that the QFT is being used across the history curriculum at LHS so the language and process is familiar to students. She finds the common practice creates fluency and ease for the students. “In a place like Lexington where so many students are articulate and so quick to have the answers, it’s a chance to slow down. It’s a very different way of thinking and it often frustrates the kids who always have a quick answer which isn’t a bad thing,” she says. “To work together and listen to what other students have to say is a benefit for them.”

Rothstein says all teachers like this about the QFT. “It creates a better community and it creates respect for different perspectives among the students.”


Through creation of this invaluable protocol, the Right Question Institute has taken a complicated skill and made it accessible to everyone in any setting that requires engagement, advocacy or problem-solving.

In education, where problems often seem insurmountable, this technique is low-tech, affordable and transformative. Encouraging collaboration, sparking curiosity and creativity, creating confidence and laying the groundwork for critical thinking can only increase our capacity as a nation to thrive in the 21st century and help our kids realize their potential in these challenging times.

To learn more about the work of the Right question Institute, visit them online at rightquestion.org.

Right Question Institute

Share this: