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The Freedom to Ask Questions

I used to love when my children would ask me questions when they were young.  They would ask me such wonderful probing questions about science, math, history, religion and life.  Sometimes I would answer if I knew it.  Sometimes I would give them a partial answer because I knew they wouldn’t be able to understand some of the basic science or math contained in my answer.  Sometimes I would say I don’t know and it would give me an excuse to look up something I never learned in my education.  Sometimes I wouldn’t remember, and I would have to look things up again.  Sometimes I wouldn’t know and I would have to explain that was something I might never know (because I would never be smart enough to understand the answer or because there was no answer).

Although I have some regrets as parent, I have no regrets about those times when I would try to answer those questions.  I always told the truth, even if that truth was “I don’t know.”  I always believed my relationship with my children was a sacred trust and I had to be careful not to break that trust.

When the kids got older they learned the concept of not being truthful.  Sometimes misleading and lying can be fun.  When a magician looks us in the eye and tells us one thing, but the smoke and mirrors tell our eyes something else it is a wonderful surprise.  When kids learn there is no Santa, but it is explained to them they were told about Santa so we could have fun together, just like when we read story books to have fun together.  (Ok, I ate the cookies left by tree.)

But what I can’t stand is the concept of orthodoxy.  I don’t believe in a God who is not loving and kind enough to understand a questioning soul.  I also don’t like when orthodoxy comes into the classroom from teachers who preach one way of thinking.  I don’t like when as a society we teach things that are “certain” but maybe just seem true given our level of understanding at this time in history.  (Imagine the poor kids in 1400 who were taught the world is flat.)  Sometimes children come from a religious background and will be less likely to accept certain scientific principles.  Some kids will come from a completely secular family and will have no concept how a person could let their actions be dictated by an invisible being.  The same can be said for children of different races and religions sitting together in the same classroom.  Just by sharing the experience of school together, children can learn from the questions each other ask.

Some people believe there is scientific evidence to support the theory of global warming.  Some people don’t call it global warming, but instead call it climate change and point to weather patterns.  I honestly don’t know enough to form an opinion.  I do know things like lunar orbits and sun flares affect the earth just like carbon dioxide emissions.  I have no idea what the relative impacts are of these events and thousands of others.  Weather is very complex.  But does the fact that I am willing to ask questions about climate change make me a bad parent?  My kids know orthodoxy from going to church.  They know they cannot challenge a teacher on the orthodoxy because it will affect their grade.

So I ask, where is the freedom to ask questions and challenge assumptions?  I am old enough to remember the 60’s.  It was a young person’s duty to challenge adults’ assumptions and arguments.  When did we give up that right to debate?  Why does every every debate on science or public policy become a personal combat?  If I disagree with another person, why does that disagreement bring another person to tears?  Maybe I am a fool.  Maybe I am uninformed.  But I believe by asking questions and debating, I might better inform myself.  Who knows, maybe if you debate a fool like me, you can learn the strengths and weaknesses of your arguments?  But you will never know, if I am not allowed to ask the question.