Good morning 8th grade students and families

Just this past Saturday, our 12th grade seniors graduated, and at their request, as they threw their caps in the air the stereo broadcast, quite loudly, the song Don’t’ Stop Believing.   (not, though, the Journey original, but rather the cover version performed by the cast of Glee).

Sentimental that song is, but I have a different request to make of you: Don’t Stop Asking Why?!

An interesting and important book was published last year by Andrea Batista Schlesinger, a woman still in her twenties, entitled The Death of Why?: The Decline of Questioning and the Future of Democracy.     Parents, you might appreciate its dedication: For my parents, who have suffered the most from my love of questions.

In the book, she argues that “questions have always been power.”   We know that throughout the history of free societies, questioning has been both essential and provocative: Socrates is famous for saying that a life without questions is not worth living, and he is also famous for being put to death for his relentless and pestering inquiry.

Yet, our schools, Schlesinger says, and she is NOT speaking of St. Gregory, “send the message to children that the answer is all that counts.”

Seth Godin writes in his just released book Linchpin that schools must change their mission from training people to follow directions to instead “teaching people to take initiative, become remarkable artists, and to question the status quo.”

Mr. Phil Woodall, who is retiring, is exactly this kind of person: someone who never stops asking why?  It has been a pleasure to work with him, and to learn from him: his questions have made my thinking clearer, sharper, and more powerful.

Today’s New York Times offers another example, in a column by David Brooks, called Drilling for Certainty.   In his assessment, the terrible tragedy that is the Gulf oil spill is in large part rooted in systems thinking, and the failure by a series of people and players to stop and ask the necessary question.  “A culture of silence settled upon all concerned, from front-line workers who didn’t want to lose their jobs to executives who didn’t want to hurt profits.”

As Schlesinger says in her most important passage:

There is no guarantee that our childhood curiosity will turn into a lifelong commitment to asking questions.   We have to send the message (just as I am sending this message today), that this journey, this journey of asking questions, of exploration—is as important as where we end up.   The journey is a risk that our children—that you our 8th grades moving into high school—must be willing to take.”

8th graders, as you move into your incredibly important high school years (and let me say how happy I am that a full two thirds of you are coming to St. Gregory’s high school), please take with you, and don’t let anyone or anything take away from you your natural spirit of inquiry.   Please Don’t Stop Asking Why?!