Friday, 2 September 2011

Why? - Andrew Strong

Anyone with children will know the ‘why?’ stage. The child discovers that this tiny word can make an adult talk and talk and talk. The child receives undivided attention because the adult loves to show how much he knows.
‘Isn’t the blossom beautiful?’
‘It’s beautiful so it attracts bees.’
‘To help make more trees, and more blossom.’
‘So you like some Gummy Bears?’
It goes on forever. The child isn’t really listening, she’s just enjoying the attention, the love that’s being devoted to her.
Because adults love to explain. Adults want to be able to show they understand and that everything is explicable.
Because adults fear that not knowing means they are stupid. Or that the child will feel rejected. Adults just love to fill silence with sound.
Shut up. I don’t know.
Take the recent riots. How many different explanations did we hear? Left wingers giving left wing explanations (cuts; no jobs; the breakdown of the state). Right wingers giving right wing explanations (bad parenting; nanny state; the breakdown of the family). I am sure many of these views could have been given even before the event.
Question: If there was a riot next week what would be the causes?
The right wingers and the left wingers have already made up their minds. The event itself doesn’t have any relevance.
Young children imagine all adults will give similar answers, that the reasons for something happening are easy for us grown ups to understand. The world is black and white. Up until around the age of seven or eight, if you ask a child whether it is wrong to steal a loaf of bread to feed a starving family, almost every one will give a categorical ‘yes’. It is wrong to steal. Of course it is.
This is one good very reason for giving children a diet of fiction. Children get to hear inside the heads of other people, even if they aren’t real. These imaginary people can hold views that real people may have. And slowly, a child begins to realise that two characters versions of the same event may be very, very different.
As children begin to explore the territory of what makes us the people we are then they can begin to understand that others may be inflexible, or are not even prepared to listen to evidence before coming to conclusions, that sometimes judgements are clouded by temperament, character or emotion.
It’s a giddy experience, the dawning realisation that there may be fewer certainties in the world.
It just is. Now go to bed.


Michele Helene (Verilion) said...

Brilliantly argued reason to read, thank you. As for why I seem to be perfectly happy to say to a class of 8 year olds: I don't know, but we positively trip over each other to answer the why's of my 3yo!

Joan Lennon said...

I'm going to send your post to my sister who struggles to teach entitled, entrenched 20-year-olds. Many thanks for writing it!

catdownunder said...

And I am going to send a link for this to the grandmother of a "why" child!

Stroppy Author said...

I think children want you not to be able to answer - they are exploring how far they need to go to get to the vulnerability of ignorance which they share. OK, we know why bees pollinate flowers, but unless you are going to opt for a religious answer at some point there will a 'why' you can't answer somewhere. And then you and the child are equal again. You are no longer an alien being who knows everything.

Lynne Garner said...

When my niece was much younger she went through the why stage. We turned it into a game - truth or tale? Often I'd keep fingers crossed it was tale as I often struggled with giving the real reason why. It was a great way of coming up with stories or bits of stories I could use later.