Asking the Questions of Youth

May 22, 2014

Have you ever been around when a child was awkwardly honest? You know, when they say things like, “I need to go potty” in the middle of a church service, or when they ask why someone else’s child in the checkout line is “acting naughty?” Children are really good at stating the obvious.

For me, recently teaching a class of students ages 11-14 was an informative experience. I was reminded of the black-and-white way in which children ask questions. We were having a discussion about rights and a student began talking about the right to keep and bear arms. I asked the class a question that my college-aged interns and graduate students almost always fail to answer: What is the most important question when talking about gun rights and the Second Amendment?

One bright young lady piped up within seconds and asked, “What is a right?” I was impressed. She had asked the correct question.

In the many classes I have taught on public policy, almost no one can figure out the most basic questions. When I ask the question, “what is a right,” very few can answer. I am sometimes surprised at how often we talk about something we can’t define. The term “rights” is ubiquitous in American culture yet few can define what a right is. I have a simple one sentence definition of a right that I believe clearly explains it but I will save that for another time. Of greater concern to me is that we don’t bother to ask questions.

We have a culture that accepts and advocates for things it does not understand. If we are not trained in careful thinking we are prone to accept anything that comes along and sounds nice. When it comes to marriage too many have used the term “equality” not understanding what it means. When it comes to life to many have used the term “choice” not realizing what the choice is. When it comes to economics too many have shouted for “fairness” without ever defining the term. All of these terms require definition to have a discussion, yet try to ask anyone to define them and you will be filibustered or ignored in most cases. It would do us good to look to our youth and unashamedly ask the questions that we work so hard to avoid.