What’s With WHY? Why is WHY important?

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Why is water clear? Why is the sky blue? Why do I have to eat broccoli?


Children love to use one of the most powerful tools of language to experience the world around them and engage in a sort of game with adults. It is a part of childhood, that special time when the many forces acting upon our cognitive development converge around a singular desire to ask “Why”. It becomes the central focus of the soul, an unexplainable yearning to jump into the void and explore it. It takes hold of our conversational style and becomes an incessant question that agitates any nearby adult. At the heart of it though, our desire to know why is a marker of the innate human propensity towards curiosity.

Why do we ask Why?

There is so much to know and seemingly so little time to learn it all. The world presents us with a flood of new things, new interactions and new puzzles for us to wonder about.
Formal schooling and the need for “cogs in the machine” transform us. Warren Berger, an American journalist, is rather fascinated by the dynamic of questions. In his book “A More Beautiful Question”, Berger reveals the power of questions to solve problems and encourages us to ask more. He describes the decline in our questioning and cites research by Richard Saul Wurman, American architect and founder of TED (whose slogan is “Ideas worth spreading”), shares that “Preschool kids ask their parents an average of 100 questions a day”. By middle school, they’ve basically stopped asking questions. Around this time, the article points out, student motivation and engagement plummets.

Which raises an interesting question: Have the kids stopped asking questions because they’ve lost interest?” Middle school is around the time when we turn more frequently to another form of the “Why” question- Why do I have to learn that?”. It might be that the traditional response to this question is what has turned students away from asking questions – “You need to know it for the test”. If the only things that seem to be valued are those in the test, why would we ask probing questions? Why would we want to dig deeper into a topic we have no interest in?

This subconsciously implies that the only reason we should ask why is for tests. But what happens when we leave school and we are no longer presented with formal tests?

When we are presented with an engaging topic, when we can see the relevance of what we are learning, “Why” becomes a very powerful question. By asking “Why” we begin to dig beneath the surface and guide our learning towards the issues at the heart of the topic. Facts are interesting but studying facts alone will only ever take us so far.

Exploring the “Why” of the facts opens new avenues for rich understandings. But students do not naturally ask “Why?”, they often need a teacher or mentor to ask the “Why?” question for them and of them.

Thanks for reading!

Kareem Abdurazag


Writer | Culture & Humanities Blogger

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