On Kids and Questions

Matt’s new book came out at a particularly providential time, at least for my own purposes. David J. Gilbert, Jon Mueller and I are in the midst of expanding and improving The Academy at Houston Baptist University, a junior high and high-school dual-enrollment program made up of discussion-based, student-driven classes. As the program’s faculty and staff, we spend most our time asking questions and learning to ask them well. In the next few days, you’ll be hearing our thoughts on questions and questioning.

A few months ago I was working in the rec-room of one of our partnering schools. I happened to be sitting near three junior-high boys who were engaged in a passionate discussion. They were discussing the various merits, talents, and abilities of a series of characters in a video game. I didn’t know they were talking about a game at first, nor was it immediately apparent. The passion, detail, and nuance with which they were arguing was such that I never would have assumed their subject to be so, well, trivial.

Since starting The Academy, I have found myself in the unusual position of continually attempting to convince parents and school administrators that their children and students are much more capable than the parent or principal has been led to believe (often by the students themselves).

I couldn’t help but feel validated as I listened to those boys talk. I knew one of the boys enough to know that he tended not to do very well in school. But listening to him argue over this game about which he was so passionate was proof  that there was nothing wrong with his mind. The problem was simply that a video game was much more interesting than anything else he’d been asked to think about. This should not be.

Those junior high boys didn’t need to learn how to think. They could obviously do that. They needed to be mentored in thinking about the right things, things that matter. They needed to be engaged in their own life and education in such a way that would allow that same kind of passion to manifest itself. And I think that’s where the right sort of questions become very important.

It is absolute and obvious common knowledge that teenagers are questioners and arguers. It’s totally annoying sometimes, but it’s a truly excellent thing. It’s an indication of deeper humanity, blossoming in a new and fuller way. It’s the beginning of a child’s ability to do a uniquely human thing: it’s the beginning of reason.

I used to teach three-year-olds in preschool. I loved it, but for one devastating problem: they soon stopped being three. Three-year-olds are immensely curious and see the world through open and (sometimes overly) excited eyes. For whatever reason, this wonder did not last long. It was worn down, child after child, as they went into kindergarten and elementary school. Soon, they were but jaded kids of six.

Matt’s book has got me thinking about questioning, and when I think about questioning, I naturally think about my students, about three-year-olds, and about those junior high boys. Forgoing interesting questions and lively conversation in exchange for staid textbooks and memorized responses has left too many children—and therefore too many adults—with nothing interesting to think about.

The questioning life is, at its heart, one of engagement. To question well is to find the world worth examining, and truth worth seeking.

Our ability to ask questions and to then shape our lives and our communities in accordance with the principles we build sets us apart from every other wonderful creature on this earth. It is what we uniquely share with the Creator himself. He may not ask questions—though, Christ certainly did—but it is in him that we are meant to question well so that we may find our answers.

 

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