lifestyle

Some memes are inspiring. This one made me cranky.

By KATE HUNTER

So I saw this in my Facebook feed.

And it made me unaccountably cranky. Maybe because I’d just wasted ten minutes arguing with my six year old about why she is required to make her bed every morning.

‘But Mum,’ she wailed, ‘It just gets messy again every night.’

Bloody George Carlin, I thought, it’s all his fault. Why is he inciting civil disobedience amongst my children? Who the hell is he anyway?

A quick Google revealed George Carlin was a comedian, activist and social satirist. I’m not sure if he had kids. Or if he’s ever worked as a teacher, caught public transport, or tried to have a coffee in a food court.

Because from where I sit, kids are EXCELLENT at questioning everything. It comes very naturally to them. Kids come with questioning inbuilt – as standard. The need no lessons, encouragement or reward to ask ‘why is it so?’

With no tuition AT ALL, most can ask, ‘Why do I have to?’ or ‘Who says?’ or even, ‘That makes no sense,’ before they lose their baby teeth.

‘It doesn’t have to make sense,’  I wanted to yell during the bed-making offensive. ‘I expect you to make your bed even though, you WILL mess it up again.’

‘But why?’

Kate Hunter

Then I do it. I speak the words I vowed I never would, ‘Because I said so.’

I know George probably wasn’t talking about such mundane things as making beds and eating vegetables. He was no doubt wanting children to question the big things – the meaning of life, the existence of God, the morality of capitalism. Good, great – all for that.

But when a kid asks, ‘Why is my bedtime 7:30?’ I think it’s completely acceptable to answer, ‘BECAUSE I SAID SO.’

And no correspondence will be entered into.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a bit of intellectual questioning: is To Kill A Mockingbird the greatest novel ever written?

Is global warming entirely caused by humans?

What’s the point of rugby league?

It’s conversation, it’s banter and it’s fun.

But before I learned to converse, I was proficient in shutting up and listening to what my teachers and parents told me. Not because they were always right (ha) but because, you know, they were my parents and teachers.

I remember having long arguments in my mind as my grade six teacher spouted the most appalling theories on why I should work harder on my handwriting. She said it was God’s will that I wrote neatly.

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‘No, Sister Zita,’ I thought, fuming,  ‘I think you have it wrong there. I can’t imagine God cares whether my handwriting is like the tracks of a dying fly or not. Surely he’s more concerned with the poor-and-suffering?’

I bit my tongue, not because I had any respect for Sister Zita – I was actually afraid of her, but the effect was the same: my handwriting ended up being reasonably legible.

Listening is the first step in learning and because these days we’re all about listening to our kids I worry that they’re missing the part about listening to us. Sometimes it’s good to accept that what someone tells you is the truth. Then you can get on with learning.

Teachers are under such pressure to answer every kid’s questions thoughtfully that it’s astonishing they have time to teach anything.

I heard of one parent who filed a complaint when a teacher said, ‘I don’t know, Marcus.’  When Marcus asked why bananas are yellow.

Apparently the boy felt he deserved a better answer, and maybe he did, but no (human) teacher can possibly answer the ‘why’ questions of 20+ kids and still have time for the alphabet.

I get that asking ‘why’ is important. That questioning the status quo is what pushes the human race forward, but hasn’t the pendulum swung too far?

I’m betting the great thinkers of the world didn’t warm up by asking why they have to catch the bus instead of being driven, or why putting away their clothes neatly is important. When they read books, I’m guessing they didn’t ask whether Willy Wonka’s Oompa Loompas were oppressed or why Harry Potter was a boy. But even those are relatively interesting topics for discussion.

Most of the questioning I hear from kids is more about getting out of stuff they don’t want to do. It’s rarely a genuine search for answers.

I think it’s all right to say to a nine year old who’s dawdling over dinner, ‘You’re playing for time. No, I don’t know why you have to eat seven serves of fruit and vegetables, not six or eight, but  YOU DO. GET ON WITH IT.’

It’s a fine line though – no one wants kids to automatically accept what all adults tell them. For their own safety, they need to know it’s okay to say no, walk away, find an adult they trust if they’re uneasy. Kids need to trust their gut. If it makes no sense to go somewhere or do something, then asking why is crucial.

So my problem with George Carlin’s statement isn’t so much about questioning as questioning everything. Because plenty of things should just be accepted.

Why? Because I said so.

Do you think kids should be taught to question everything?

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