The Beauty in Questioning
A Story About the Importance of Knowledge
For the past two weeks of my summer, I had the opportunity to fly to Laos, a country on the other side of the world in Southeast Asia. I was a volunteer in a village called Sop Chem, or better known as, a home away from home. I was able to wake up every morning to go teach English to advanced teen students. Those students didn't need me to teach them, I wasn't giving them my "help." I was there because those students' eyes lit up at the thought of gaining more knowledge. They wanted to learn. Those students were intelligent when I got there, and they were intelligent when I left. I was there because learning brought them excitement. Sop Chem has an extremely strong community that would be flourishing with or without us. But, when our volunteer organization sat down, and asked the village what we could do with them, rather than for them, it not only created a bond, but it also allowed us to take measures to introduce sustainability to this community.
Towards the beginning of the week, it was on my lesson plan to review question words such as: who, what, where, when, why, and how. The students breezed through this, as they were already very familiar with these words. So, to make it more challenging, I had them begin to write out sentences that incorporated these words. Sentences such as: What are you doing today? Where do you live? How are you? etc. As I walked around the classroom, I watched as they all formed clear sentences using these words. Their word order was correct, and they used the question words in the correct ways. However, by the very end of that class I started to realize that all the students were missing question marks, the one thing that truly transitions these sentences from statements, to questions. So I began to show them a question mark, and how it is used. I showed them how to tweak their voices to dramatize the difference between "saying" and "questioning." And they had so much fun with it! They were so excited to know they had learned something new. It was such a beautiful realization to be a part of.
I have seen that small punctuation mark in my everyday life, and have never thought anything of it. To us, it is such an automatic part of writing in English, that most of the time we don't even notice that it has been written. But such a small mark made the biggest difference to those students.
Just as we see past the importance of the question mark to our language, I've noticed that we often see past the idea of questioning as a whole. If we don't ask questions, there is no way to learn. And during my time in Asia, I was really able to see how much we take our education for granted. I will be the first to say that I am possibly the worst at being appreciative for the education I have. My last school year I can confidently say I skipped classes at least twice a week, simply because I just didn't want to go. Then I flew to the other side of the world and heard about kids who have to go on two hour hikes through the jungle every morning to get to their nearest school, and young children who have to stay in dormitories at their schools five days a week, because they live so far away. These students go through so much to receive their education, and they still step into the classroom everyday with huge smiles on their faces, ready and excited to take on a day of learning. From growing up in a place where I essentially get my education laid right into my hands, I was able to learn a lot from this.
First, that knowledge is such an incredibly powerful thing, and we should take every opportunity that we get to learn more. Second, every single human has stories and experiences that are different from everyone else's, ask and learn. Third, people are really cool! Everybody is passionate about something. Take time to learn about other people's passions. Because when people speak passionately, you can literally see their eyes light up, I promise you won't want to stop listening. To know more is to grow and understand more. So, question your friends and family until you've picked their brains in full, question people you don't know until you are no longer strangers, question your teachers and textbooks until you understand, and question people's experiences until you feel as if you've lived them yourself. Ask people questions about themselves that they don't even know the answer to. Challenge people's minds, their morals, their character. Because when we are challenged, that is when we will begin to grow.
Start using that small piece of punctuation, and that voice tweak in your life often, it is a beautiful thing that is too often overlooked.