Questions, not answers, drive education. Though educational models and methodologies have come and gone over the centuries, questioning has remained education’s most dominant and durable characteristic. Socrates taught by questioning, by responding to his interlocutor’s statements, opinions, and questions with more precise and probing questions that led each participant in the conversation—Socrates included—to deeper understanding of and insight into what it is we want to know and need to know. Scholasticism, the mode of education embraced by the great medieval universities, was rooted in the sic et non questions, questions which established authorities had answered with both a yes and a no. Learning occurred as apprentice and advanced scholars sorted through, considered, and finally determined a way to synthesize seemingly contradictory statements into a better and more unified understanding of the truth.
We ask questions because we need and lack sufficient knowledge and understanding of our world and ourselves. To be sure, we live at a time when we seem to be able to better satisfy some of our needs for knowledge and for technologies that help us solve some of our problems and improve the quality of our lives. But, for instance, Socrates’ question about what constitutes a just society is just as urgent and elusive today as it was when he first posed it. And part of the reason that it eludes us is that very smart and caring people in the past and the present come to very different conclusions about how to envision, much less realize, such a society. This is true even among people who share the same essential understanding of and commitment to the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The question of justice is hardly the only big question we still confront. That’s one of the reasons why a big question is “big,” or as we choose to call it, “great” in scope and significance: the question is older than any of the answers human beings have offered. One of the other reasons a question is great is that no one discipline at the university is capable on its own of providing a satisfactory, much less comprehensive, answer to it. Honors Education at BYU—and, for that matter, General Education at BYU—has a long history of centering itself in the interdisciplinary search for answers to great questions. It also has a long history of seeking knowledge and understanding “by study and by faith.” The new Honors Curriculum outlined here renews our commitment to the curriculum that the Lord Himself revealed to Joseph Smith: “things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms” (D&C 88:79).
We look forward to a new phase in the history of the Honors Program at BYU.