on learning to ask ‘why?’

I’m taking a graduate class on Women and Education this summer that has been quite fascinating. A couple of weeks ago, the instructor posed the question: As you reflect on your own educational journey, identify and describe one woman who had a positive influence on your educational journey. 

My college roommate of all 4 years of my undergraduate education, Lyndsay, played a major role in my educational journey as a positive influence. During this reflection process, I surprised myself by realizing that one of my own peers and best friends had been so influential to me educationally. Lyndsay was my peer, yes, but she was so much more than that. Lyndsay and I didn’t know each other previous to our freshman year of college, but we ended up having several classes together as we were both in the honors program and were both minoring in leadership studies. Many of the courses in these academic programs were very colloquial and designed to make us think through our personal beliefs on various topics and reflect on how we viewed the world. Lyndsay and I were both fascinated by many of the topics discussed in class and would stay up late in our dorm room continuing the conversations. I quickly learned how intelligent my roommate was and I was intrigued by her ability to externally process, ask questions and challenge the things she was learning in order to grasp a better understanding of the topic. She inspired me to be a thinker, and to not just receive knowledge but to examine it and challenge it.

Lyndsay taught me to ask ‘Why?’

This seems so basic, but I grew up believing that ‘Why?’ was a bad word, a bad question. When my parents told me to do something, I was to do it without asking ‘Why?’ and if I were to have asked ‘Why?’ I might have been disciplined. ‘Why?’ was always seen as a challenge of authority in my family, not necessarily a curiosity. I asked ‘Why?’ enough in my childhood that I still can hear my mother’s voice: “I don’t have to tell you why! You do it because I told you to do it!” This is no doubt a result of how my mother was raised, but it still impacted me as a learner and a knower in a way that I am only now realizing. Outside of the home, in the conservative Southern Baptist church I was raised in, asking ‘Why?’ showed a lack of faith, it showed doubt toward God, and it showed the challenging of church authority. ‘Why?’ was not only a bad word in the home, but it was highly frowned upon in my church.

Somewhere in my upbringing I stopped being curious. As a college student, Lyndsay (along with my professors) helped show me that curiosity was okay. With her always asking ‘Why?’ – Why do you believe that way? Why do you choose to do it this way? etc. and occasionally playing the devil’s advocate, I learned to examine myself, my own beliefs and my own intentions in a way that I had never before done. I learned that questions and self-examination is such an integral part of the learning process. I began to think for myself…to really think. And I became curious again.

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Thank you, friend, for inspiring me to fall in love with learning.

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