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I am reading another very interesting book, " The Power of Why", by Amanda Lang. You may have seen her CBC Television show the O’Leary, Lang Report on Business.

Amanda speaks of the importance of our children being able to ask why. "By the age of three it is very natural to question. The highly curious kids learn more: the more they find out, the more they realize they do not know and the deeper they dig for information and want the parents to explore why." "The researchers found that the more interested and alert and engaged you are, the more likely you want to learn."

"Curious kids learn how to learn, and how to enjoy it. How to think in order to be able to face new challenges and to solve new problems." The more questions that a child can pose the more they are learning to explore. My son, Ari when he was a little boy, delighted in asking me: " Dad, "did you know that you didn’t know?"

When children enter their first years of school they are taught to conform to exhibit good behaviour; not to talk to other students when the lesson is in progress. There are the sweet mannerly children who are mostly girls and then there are the rambunctious little boys who are wired to move and see little reason to sit still in class.

Perhaps, that is why we see that the majority of students who are designated as ADHD, Attention Defecit Disorder, are young boys whose parents are encouraged to make an appointment with the family doctor to be prescribed meds.

The middle years in elementary school, 4-6, there is emphasis on learning the basics in Math and English with little time to be creative. In grade eight the students are soon streamed to register for their high school education in either the Applied or Academic streams.

Check out the elementary school high school registrations and you will find that those children who live in the poorer neighborhoods are encouraged by their teachers to take the Applied level courses. The more affluent students from the well off areas register in the Academic programs of study that help with a post secondary education.

The teachers who are mostly female and from upper middle class families went to university and opt to teach school. For the most part they themselves had enjoyed attending classes, conforming to the norm and seeking "A" averages to be better able to go on to university and ultimately Teacher’s college.

For the most part teachers have rarely ever experienced failure in school. To be able to attend teachers college you must have completed a degree with very high marks. They are rarely creative or dare to challenge their high school teachers or professors. Not wanting to risk alienating their teachers they agree to memorize and parrot back useless facts/numbers in-order to be able to have a high average and impress.

"Currently, most schools don’t reinforce or reward divergent thinking. So instead of learning how to learn, too many students are learning how to be good at going to school, The "A" student is the one who has figured out what the teacher wants and how to deliver it. Students should not have to learn useless facts and shouldn’t be forced to memorize."

‘The teachers are the compliant, polite, predictable ones, You know: the ones who don’t question why or pose difficult questions."

"The kids who gravitate to the back of the class, the bored ones who question why or challenge authority or quit school altogether, may wind up hustling for spare change on the street corners."

The stats I have compiled show that male students in grade eleven in the College level programs tend to drop out of school with a ratio of four-to-one compared to the female students. But once-in- a while they may wind up be the ones who go on to start up a software company, Bill Gates who dropped out of Harvard after his first year or Steve Jobs of Apple fame who also dropped out after the first semester of college. Whether or not schools reward the why, the world certainly does.

When I taught Grade 12 modern history of the Second World War I1 I told my students that they were only asked to remember dates that made a difference. The air invasion of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese was on December 7 at seven a.m. Important points to ponder, "What’s the difference my students asked?" December the American fleet was docked for the holidays, the seventh was a Sunday and the men were sleeping after a night of parties. The Japanese Zero’s planes came in from the East early in the morning with the sun behind them. That was the why I wanted my students to learn the reasons why.

The typical first year university lecture hall is filled with 300-1000 other students that is not very conducive to dialogue, I still remember sitting in Thames Hall at UWO listening to a professor of Economics in a mega size class. At the end of his lecture he asked: if there was any questions? To the utter astonishment of the other students and the professor I raised my hand to ask for clarification. Silly me, it was a rhetorical question from the professor who told me to make an appointment with his secretary.

Tenured university professors are there to do research, write intellectual papers and then lecture for a few hours a week. Questions are not part and parcel of the lecture method of teaching. The professor pontificates and the students take notes on their lap tops and learn to regurgitate what they have been taught in order to be able to do well with their exams.

Little time is left for students to be able to find out things for themselves. The mantra is not to make waves. It is hard to be creative and question why in this atmosphere.
If we had the power to design schools of positive learning we would have small classes where teacher and students explore learning that is challenging; with the give and take of various diverse opinions. The teachers would guide and the students would be part and parcel of the learning experience.

Dr Havelka, who was one of my finest Psychology professors at King’ College; at the end of his lecture he used to challenge me: "Leonard what is your opinion? Perhaps that is why students skipped their boring classes to be challenged and be part of his learning experience.

‘To be able to risk and ask questions makes life richer,
more fulfilling and more complete. That’s the power, and ultimately the purpose of why.’

Len Lesser

Len Lesser posts a report every week

You can email Len at lenlesser@hotmail.com