"Why?" is a question commonly associated with the toddler years. Most parents tire very easily of this period and the endless "why" questions, particularly as each answer is quickly met by yet another "why" question, but as our children progress to adulthood that is exactly what we want them to start asking again.
Why? Because quite simply it is a sign of an inquiring mind and that is in turn symbolic of an individual capable of independent learning. So why is that important?
Well it demonstrates a natural curiosity, a passion for learning, a tendency for self-motivation and examination as well as an ability for critical thinking. All of which are valuable commodities to have in the work environment to which our children will strive to place themselves.
By asking "why", life becomes a journey of exploration and adventure and not one of passive acceptance.
My husband is a huge advocate of an inquiring mind and regularly bandies it around the house when referring to interns or junior employees who have impressed him at work. He cares not for qualifications without an inquiring mind and is constantly reminding our teens of its added value.
It is fair to say the inquiring mind divides our household. Our son is all about numbers, not for him the world of "whys and what ifs", to him that hints at a world of unknown and unproven theories, which goes against the certainity of the numerical calculations he loves.
Our daughter on the other hand is cut from her father's cloth and questions everything. No stone is left unturned in her quest to know more than there is to know and to think outside the box.
The value of an inquiring mind was never more apparent for us than last week. It was a week of parents' evenings. The first for our daughter, was focused on her making her GCSE choices and many of her teachers applauded her passion for inquiry and debate which according to them, ensures she always brings something else to the table other than text book learning.
The second for our son, was the last prior to his A'levels this summer. Whilst his mock results showed his prowess in Maths and Economics, he is languishing slightly with Geography, his lack of natural inquiry held up by his teachers as the Achilles heal of his learning. He, however, would argue that inquiring mind aside, his dexterity with statistics represents the ultimate in critical thinking, as it teaches how to criticize the way we habitually think.
So how can we help our youngsters to develop an inquiring mind? Well encouraging a love of reading is the most obvious go to solution, as well as encouraging healthy discussion of subjects at home. But that aside, there are those that argue teaching philosophy is the answer to ensuring our youngsters respond to life and its problems with an inquisitive mind, but how?
Well philosophy is by definition the love of wisdom which through its teaching of analysis and debate teaches children how to think, which in turn creates and nurtures thoughtful minds.
Ireland is leading the way in this regard. Its president Michael D Higgins has previously said that ‘The teaching of philosophy is one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal to empower children’ and as a nation is already exploring reforms to establish philosophy for children as a subject within primary schools.
Meantime, in the UK, a network of philosophers and teachers is still lobbying hard for a GCSE equivalent and this was the subject of a conference earlier last week
In an interview with Professor Angie Hobbs. Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy, on the Today programme, John Humphries challenged the current teaching method with emphasis on A'levels, which in his opinion do little more than "teach to the test" with students simply learning bits of things and regurgitating them rather than actually thinking for themselves.
This is exacerbated by the fact that our children inhabit an age where googling questions is commonplace. The obvious problem with all of this is that it encourages an environment of laziness and acceptance, whereas we need young people prepared to buck the trend of acceptance and ask questions, to discuss possibilities and make informed choices as a result.
Learning and regurgitating information is the polar opposite to thinking and will soon be a thing of the past as academics lobby to force our youngsters down a road of valuable inquiry.
Everyone has an opinion on something but very few people can effectively explain or defend their opinion without resorting to what they "feel" and this is the territory of emotions and irrational rather than rational thought.
Thus, by using the disciplines of philosophy and encouraging our youngsters to push the boundaries of natural thought and to question the status quo without resorting to the comfort of the online search engine or how they "feel", the aim is that we will raise a generation of young people for the future with the capacity to respond to problems with inquisitive minds.
Philosophy is not a universal interest and "thinking" and the desire to understand beyond the obvious don't come naturally to everyone. Whether philosophy is the tool that will facilitate this process is yet to be seen, in the meantime it makes for an interesting debate.