Missing the Point

Chalkboard with story openingOne of the defining traits that makes me who I am is that I want to know why things are the way they are. It’s not enough for me to be told, “That’s just the way things are.” Really? Why?

All the classes that I have enjoyed the most have been those that have done more than just present me with facts. They’ve explained why the facts are what they are. I’m not sure when it was that I developed that mindset. Maybe it’s an offshoot from how kids are always asking, “Why?” Sometimes they can string one why after another until it drives people crazy. Some people think that they do it for just that reason. I believe they intrinsically want to know if everything has a reason or if you hit a level where things become arbitrary. Or maybe they want to know everything and they figure that as an adult, you must know everything by now.

So, maybe nobody was able to beat that curiosity out of me when I was younger. Maybe that was in part due to my best friend that I met in 7th grade. He had a genuine thirst for knowledge that he was always feeding. We used to check out all the astronomy and astrophysics books we could. We would read them and talk about them and any tangentially related subject for hours everyday. Those are some of my greatest memories of that period in my life. That’s not to say that we didn’t play outside. We did that for hours everyday, too. Strangely it all felt related somehow.

While I did say that nobody beat my curiosity out of me, it wasn’t because the school system and our teachers were great. Some were and others weren’t. I still vividly remember a physics teacher getting mad that my friend asked a question on a topic that wasn’t being discussed that day, but was related. The teacher was way more irritated and dismissive than I felt was appropriate. I could see others in the class rolling their eyes that my friend had asked the question. That act on their part showed me that they were lost. They had already had a portion of their curiosity beaten out of them. They weren’t there to learn. They were there because that’s what good students did. You go to class, you get your A and you go home. If you actually remembered anything, that was irrelevant.

Think I’m being harsh? I remember all too many students at my university who crammed for tests and were proud that they got the A, but that after the test they couldn’t remember anything. What’s the point, I thought? You go to the university to learn something, not just to get good grades. If that was all that mattered, then cheating would be the preferred method. Which, I saw some of too in both high school and college.

Going back to what happened to my friend in high school, I honestly don’t think he would even remember it if he was asked. He always shrugged those things off. That’s probably how he kept his curiosity alive. I remember it though and it fundamentally changed how I thought about school. It made me more determined than ever to learn why things were and not blindly accept what I was taught. I did, however, realize that most teachers were either not as interested in the topics that they were teaching as I was or they didn’t really care what we were interested in. We were there to teach to, so that we would pass tests and they would get paid.

So, we learned as much as we could on our own. Learning on your own wasn’t as easy back then as it is now. Back when I was in high school, I had just gotten AOL and the web wasn’t even officially created until late in my high school career and it was hardly useful until late in my college career. So, that meant that I spent a lot of my time in libraries doing research the old fashioned way. That made me a lot more willing to dig for facts than a lot of people today that just latch onto whatever pops up first in their internet search. It has also made me a lot more appreciative of how much easier the internet makes it for us to research, fact check and learn, but I still refuse to allow myself to forget what I learned afterward. I fought so hard to not forget for years, that I’m not going to start now. What if the internet went away, after all? Just read Lucifer’s Hammer, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle if you want an idea of what that might look like. Sure that book paints an extreme view, but it’s a great book if you love sci-fi. And yes, my best friend and I read it in high school. And did a book report on it. That’s part of who I am, as well.

2 Responses to “Missing the Point”

  1. Fellow Observer

    I can relate to your perspectives, yours and your friend’s. Just yesterday a group of coworkers was poking fun at me asking where the question I was asking was coming from. Essentially, they were teasing (but still meaning), “Hey, don’t go making a science project of something that no one with a lot of authority has told you to look into. ”

    For me, the irony was that I wasn’t really asking about them something new or fancy or highly theoretical. I was asking them about the conceptual underpinnings of what our organization is trying to accomplish…. right now… today.

    I was asking them about the forest. They seemed to most readily conclude that I was inviting them to stumble with me off-assignment to get lost without a warrant in the trees.

    My favorite quote sums up the different approaches I are at work. “Everything should be as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

    Well, I don’t know that I expressed any of that very well. I guess what I’m trying to say is, “Yeah, you guys are probably outnumbered… You’re not alone.”

  2. Isabel

    There is nothing wrong with asking why whenever you have questions. I remember my grandfather always ready to answer any questions that we had and if he didn’t know he would research and tell us. He was a teacher and he would tell us that a mind needs to have as much information as possible in order to make a person interesting to know.


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