The Gift of the Question Mark

‘Make a sentence with the word “Grass”

That was the question for the 6 year old in her exam. She loved making sentences. She scrunched her face in concentration, and finally wrote a well thought out sentence, remembering all the rules in grammar that she had been taught.

The Gift of the Question Mark

The test paper came back with a zero for the sentence. The red circle around the selected words explained why.

“I saw a lion in the garden eating grass” was what the sentence read. ‘Lion’ was underlined once in red, and ‘eating grass’ was underlined twice by an irritated adult – the teacher.

The girl came back home, and showed the page to yet another adult.

“Hmmm…..” said this adult. “The lion likes to eat grass?”

“No. A lion only likes to eat what it kills. This one likes to eat rabbits, like the one in the story.”  Her lips quivered in sadness while she saw the red lines on her test paper.

“Sweetie, then why did this lion eat grass?”This adult was not angry; just a little surprised with the answer that the six-year old gave. Evidently, the child knew that lions did not eat grass. Was this child a tad rebellious, a little care-a-damn for her own good?

“The lion had a tummy ache. The grass was medicine for his tummy ache, and his Mommy had taught him to look for the right kind of grass for the tummy ache.” The quivering of lips had stopped, but there was a hint of a tear in her eyes as the child explained her stance.

The adult hugged the girl and promised, “We will go to school tomorrow and get this straightened out. You did well. Want to read another story?”

The little kid was me, and the other adult was my Dad. As promised, he went to meet the class teacher, and when the teacher was skeptical, went to meet the principal. The principal was amused, but convinced, and I got full marks for that question.

I shudder to think what would have happened if my Dad had gotten upset, told me I was wrong and judged me like my teacher earlier had – without understanding what went on in my head. I would definitely have stopped asking all the questions that I asked while growing up.

I have been a lecturer for a few years, and I still work with adult learning. The single most powerful hindrance to learning in all my classes has been the reluctance to ask questions; the reluctance to think out-of-the-box. I have realized that in my class, I am able to hold the attention of young, fertile minds only when they are forced to think, to imagine, and to question what I tell them.

Corporates (and some fancy schools and colleges too) these days spend millions on what they call “Innovation”. There are special classes aimed at making kids more ‘imaginative’.

Ironic, isn’t it? We spend a lifetime trying to weed out individualistic thinking out of our kids’ fertile minds. The whole of their childhood and young adult life, imagination was looked down upon. Questioning was ‘being rebellious’. In schools and colleges, they are taught to stick to the norms, believe without seeing, and trust without believing.

“Lions don’t eat grass!! What were you thinking? Where does it say in your textbook that lions eat grass?” Isn’t that what many teachers and parents would have said?

When will our education system learn to look up from the textbook to see the beautiful real world out there? And when will our ‘adults’ realize that children don’t need to be ‘taught’ anything – all they need is an environment where they can question, can imagine and can choose.

That’s what learning is all about, isn’t it?

Meena Bhatnagar is a mother of two, with a passion for the written word. She dabbles with fiction, a couple of them finding their way into published work, is an avid blogger, and works as a corporate trainer to pay for all the damages. She blogs on parenting, social issues and humorous incidents of her life and on hotel & restaurant reviews and corporate training.

  • Lovely post… I totally agree with you. I grew up as a ‘rebellious’ child (if that is the term used), I did have to bear the brunt so many times… but thank God I had supportive set of parents. Not everyone is so lucky, and they were forced to stop thinking creatively. Ironical, but I know hold classes for children in Public Speaking and ‘Creative Thinking’. Have times changed???

    • *now

    • Thank you s much Falak – am sure you have great stories about your classes too. And times really haven’t chnaged that much – we still are in the same trap – atleast most of us are!

  • We all have that creative streak within us. And all that is needed is a little encouragement and a little acknowledgement and applause. This creative inventiveness can help a child express his/her independence through thought which goes a long way in developing and strengthening the character!
    Glad to know that your lion could eat grass! 🙂

    • hehehe!!! thank God my lion had a Dad that knew how to handle the situation!! Some of us were lucky we got an environment that encouraged crerative questioning – not all are as lucky…. thanks Shilpa

  • Hi ,

    This had happened to me also as a kid, when we us siblings were playing Teacher Teacher at home.

    My cousin was the teacher and rest all students . She tasked us an assignment which required us to fill-in-the balnks———–. My brother and I, after completing, proudly submitted our doing to my cousin-teacher .

    To my surprise , although all my answers made perfect grammatical and literal sense, just because they did not match with the pre fed answers of the book (where she picked up the assignment), i got all Reds and Crosses , whereas my bro’s answers were lucky to be compliant with the books’ and were all Blues and Ticks

    I spoke out my shock and realised that confirming to the book is not needed as long as i was correct. I took the pen from my sis-no-longer-teacher and stretched a BIG Tick in BLUE across my assignment .

    This my brother too backed

    The rigidness of the teacher and the incident does not fail to shock me still

    • Nisha, I am sure this will remain in your memory forever! And this was only play-acting. Imagine cases where kids in reality are ridiculed for their imagination – happens so often!

  • Loved the post! Kids have such beautiful imagination and the time we tell them they are ludicrous, is the time when they start questioning themselves. Kids need parents who are supportive and who go that extra mile to understand what goes inside their young and curious minds.

    • Thank you Reema. Completely agree – we really need to go beyond the preconcieved answers when dealing with imaginative minds!

  • An eye-opener of a post. All parents and teachers (including principals) should read this one. 🙂

    Sadly, in the world today – we’re forced to care for our child’s existence (read “acceptance by the teachers”) in school, and not for her imagination; as a result, a curious mind that could’ve well been responsible for some important invention in the future, gets shut down before it can even show its mettle.

    • So good to see you here Ph …. Absolutely agree with you. We as parents struggle for teachers’ acceptance of our kids – so what if it means that we paint all th drawings in their homework? 😉

      • Oh, thatttt (painting, drawing etc.), let’s not even go there, hehehe 😛

        Nice to be back, ma’am. 🙂

  • Nice thought provoking post, but I would not blame the teacher alone. The challenge is that the teachers are trained, rewarded and expected to create conveyor belt kids who will get through the IIT JEE, so where is the time for innovation and rewards for the same ?. No wonder even with a 100 billion plus IT industry we do not have a single Facebook or google.

    • Yes desi traveller, the teachers alone ar enot to blame. The entire thought process behind education is flawed

  • I was righttttttttttttttttttt 🙂 yesssssssssssssssssssssss .. I jsut commented on your blog abou the tummy problem ..

    I am so happy that I am as intelligent as the little one Phewwwwwwwwwwwww

    and when will our education system change .. Well it would if Teaching is taken professionaly and now because one could not become a engineer or get into a med school , so the option left was be a teacher .. which is what happens mostly..

    You pas a degree and become a teacher , NO, to become a good doctor one needs to pass a degree and then Practise , they work under another doc to gain experience and what not .. and furthur studies etc .. but as a teacher I dont think any furthur studies are done or training is given ..

    I may be wrong but thats what i have experienced when I started my career, incidentally I started as a teacher too, till i came to uk and here it was a complete different scenario of being a teacher ..

    • Hehehe……. yeah Bikram – you were right indeed! I think a teacher is one of the ,ost powerful iinfluencer the child has, especially during the highly impressionable age of 5 to 15….. maybe even higher. Very sad if our teachers only think of the commercial aspects of the preofession

  • the power of questioning and being inquisitive- like you say it’s time we water those needs to make the garden of knowledge a flowering success. I so loved your post. Very thought provoking. will make sure my kid’s lion gets a chance to eat grass also 🙂

    • Thank you so much Priya ….. We all need to get that thought into our heads.

  • rakesh nandakumar

    lets hunt that teacher down if he/she is still around and destroy him/her. 🙂
    congrats to your Dad!

    • Hahaha……….. Rakesh, that I think is a rather drastic reaction….. but I do understand what you mean.

  • Very very pertinent. This child’s creativity could have been stifled by the unimaginative teacher.

    • Thank you Sir. Which kind of takes me to your session – we need teachers like that 🙂

  • Absolutely brilliant… and timely. People should teach their children to think outside the box. You just know we Aquarians believe in that 😀

    • Oh yes, Roshan…… I think this is one trait we can claim to excel in 🙂 … and more than thinking outside the box, kids need to know that they can question authority when the need arises.

  • Totally agree with you. Most of the teachers want kids to learn the answers by heart word by word and pour it on the test paper. The students are not allowed to think at all. Its not enough that the answers are right, they want it to be the xerox copy of the answer in the book. I always had problem with this. I wanted to understand things and then present them in my own way. But very few teachers appreciated that.
    My parents too sadly were more interested in the marks then. I was always questioned about the lost 0.5 mark, instead of being appreciated for the 99.5/100. I have taken an oath to never do this with my child.

    • Seena, even in my household, my mom and dad had radically different approaches to learning. Mom took over the tables and the alphabets, whoch required a certain amount of cramming, and dad took over the ‘whys’ and the ‘whenceforths’ ………… that worked out well for us.

  • That is a cogent observation! Pity how the system is hell bent on pruning out the freshness and ingenuity from children. I hope there are more people like the Principal you have written about.

    • “Pruning out the freshness……….” – Couldn’t have put it better. Thanks Mr.Pandey!

  • You’ve raised a very valid point. Sadly education is still very teacher oriented. Very few will goad the child to think beyond textbooks and question what’s right and wrong. Even as parents we get annoyed with the constant questions our kids bombard us with.

    Blessed are kids who have parents who understand them.

    • Yes, Purba; guilty as charged – I, too, have willed that the kids be gentler with the questions 🙂 …. but then, I have been lucky enough to have understood the importance of these questions. Thanks

  • We absolutely lack rebellious children.. Curious minds are almost strangulated in school and college not by teachers but by books and curriculum.. We just have to write an answer the way its wanted or as per the set patterns and thats really- really bad. It so important to realize that new thought process is important and we have to grow on that..

    • How true. We have either kids who are plain outright obnoxious, or kids who are smothered in ‘education’…. the balance is almost lost out there. Thanks Manjulika.

  • Very well written Meena. This is the sad reality of our education system and I wonder if things are looking any hopeful . I know they are not when I see my five year old just cramming …

    • Jaspreet, I so connect to that! I have a five year old who cannot understand why the alphabet ‘i’ gives off a sound ‘ee’ in ‘pin’ ….. sigh!!! Only the begining of things to come, I imagine! 🙂

  • yes, questioning is yet another way of learning. we need to encourage, but unfortunately in today’s competitive world, there is no time for it. the teachers are not interested in interaction, but are more conscious on finishing the syllabus.

    • Absolutely, Ashreyamom ….. finishing the syllabus and scoring in the exams – somehow, life skills take a back seat. Thank you!

  • Few minutes back my son was asking me, amma what is judgmental mean? I give him a half answer. He says, why does sridevi in English Vinglish say that? Then I explained him better. I was busy cooking dinner. I liked your post.

    • Thank you Latha … I think the most amazing moms are the ones who manage to answer questions all day long …. I am not one of them, but my mom was a stay at home mom, and she was amazing! 🙂

  • Pooja Dager

    Absolutely Fantastic writing !! Could’nt have agreed with you more 🙂

    • Hey! Good to see you here! Thanks.