Teach your kids to question what they read and watch. Teach them to question everything.
— Zina Harrington
I have perhaps taught my daughter too well. She questions everything I say. She even questions my responses to her questions. Don’t get me wrong — I want nothing more than for her to become a strong, resilient young woman who doesn’t let people walk all over her. I want her to question people’s statements, feedback and instructions if they don’t sit well with her. ‘Question everyone and everything,’ I said, but I regret not adding the caveat ‘except your mother’.
Seriously though, accepting everything you hear or read is not a good thing.
Embedded somewhere in our curriculum is reference to ‘critical literacy’ — the ability to question the validity of what other people write and say. We might look at opinion pieces, persuasive texts and advertisements and ask the students to evaluate what the authors are trying to say and how it relates to the reader. Should we accept everything as true and correct just because it is published, or has come from someone older than us and/or in a position of authority?
There is a fine line between respect and blind belief.
It’s not, however, all about ‘critical literacy’ (which, by the way, really needs to begin well before the age of compulsory schooling, but has become another thing the parents leave for the teachers).
There are two points I try to reinforce with my children (and apply to myself):
- Just because you’ve seen it, heard it or read it — doesn’t mean it is true and, if it is true, it doesn’t mean it applies to you.
Television is a huge culprit here; the other night we had an extended conversation about the art of editing so-called ‘reality’ shows (in this case, Masterchef) to make people out to be someone they are not. But, the internet is the beast that scares me the most and, with it, social media.
- If someone says something to you and it doesn’t feel right — then it probably isn’t and you should question it.
At the current moment, this applies to peer pressure and teacher talk (both instruction and feedback). The age of my children (pre-teen and early-teen) tends also to be the age when friends and teachers have the most influence and can do no wrong. Standing up to your friends is so hard to do. (I did this as a thirteen year old; ended up being ostracised for months, then worked out who my real friends were.) Questioning your teachers (or boss) can be downright scary.
The ability to question both your friends and teachers (boss) without copping any fallout is indeed a skill of the highest order. If they are true friends/leaders, and your questioning is timely, justified and sensitive, then there shouldn’t be an issue. If, on the other hand, your question is justified but they take offence (or worse), we have to wonder who exactly has the problem here.
I would like my children to be comfortable in the following situations if needed:
- saying ‘no’ to their friends
- disagreeing with the opinions (or attitudes) of their friends
- picking a teacher up on mistakes they make (and we all do!) or disagreeing with the point of view of their teacher
- asking their teacher to explain why they lost marks on a test/assignment
I would like them to be able to do these things in a sensitive and timely manner.
Above all I want them to be true to themselves and acknowledge that their own feelings and opinions are valuable and worthy.
In order to be able to do think, act and feel like this, they need to be able to question everything.
Except me … what I say goes, because I am the mother!