The Resurrection of “Why?”

Why is the sky blue? Why do I have to go to bed? Why can’t I have more ice cream? Why do birds fly? Why is red, red and not blue? Why, why, why?

If you have ever had the wonderfully amazing experience of interacting with a two or three year old, you have been bombarded with one particular question, “Why?” No matter the race, color, culture, ethnicity, or socioeconomic factor, children are curious beings. They question everything. Questioning allows them to make sense of the world. Being inquisitive is a desirous trait; one that is valuable throughout life. Why then, would such a valuable and necessary characteristic be practically non-existent in the middle school classroom?

Last school year, I began to seek an answer to this question. My students were engaged, active learners. They performed well on common, benchmark, and state assessments. They were well behaved, participated in academic discussions, and were respectful of each other. Yet, there was something amiss. I rarely heard them ask me, their teacher, “why?” Despite many conversations where I quickly informed them I didn’t know everything and no adult does; despite many conversations where I encouraged them to “call me out”; despite me giving them the “ok” to question me, I rarely heard, “Why?”

What have we done to the children? I can vividly remember my response to my own children’s “Why?” When I’d worked eight hours, prepared dinner, assisted with homework, bathed, and read a bedtime story, my response was too often, “Because I said so,” or “I don’t have time to explain, just do it.” Those responses equated to “Don’t ask me questions, just do as I say.” Over the course of only a few years, “Why?” died, and it was me who caused its death.

Have we taken the concept of authority too far? Are we, unconsciously and unwittingly, raising a generation of young people who are accepting the hand they’ve been dealt. Who will be the challengers, the resistors, the ones who ask questions and demand answers? I taught my students to look me in the eye when speaking. At the same time, I taught them to make sure they DID NOT look a police officer in the eye, just in case. A middle school student once shared, “If I ask my mom why, I might get slapped.”

I wanted my students to challenge me. I wanted them to beg the question for skills I taught.  I longed for a “Why?” that rarely happened. It was during my reflective time that I began to ask myself a question, “How do I resurrect why?”


  • As you model procedures and expectation, require that students ask the reasoning behind the procedure.
  • Assure your students that it’s OK to question you.
  • Set an expectation that each student MUST ask a minimum of one “Why?” question per week, or ideally more frequently.
  • During instruction, ask more “Why?” questions.
  • Teach situational discernment on when to ask “Why?”
  • Teach the relationship between advocacy and “Why?”
  • Teach the difference between an insolent “Why?” and an inquisitive “Why?”
  • Encourage students to challenge each other by asking “Why?”

Having students ask “Why?” can seem daunting. I can hear the insolent tone of a misbehaving student even as I write. However, using a positive approach and good instruction, can only yield growth and development for students who need it most. I challenge you. Why?





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