CRITICAL THINKING: A Radical Approach to the Greatest Question One Could Ask

By: J.C. Riley #288310

I can remember it as clear as day. I was in the 3rd grade at Mary McCloud Bethune Elementary. I was just a baby duck and my teacher was preparing my class for recess. She ushered us all into a line and one by one the other children stood in single file.

I remember thinking, she never told us to “stand” in line. So I sat down and waited while the Teacher got everyone else in line. When she saw me sitting near the door she asked me, “Jerry, why aren’t you in line?”

I told her, “You didn’t say we had to STAND.”

So the teacher walked up and asked me, “Jerry, why are you always the one who can’t do what everyone else is doing? If you can’t get in line like everyone else, then you won’t go to recess like everyone else.” She stood me up and pointed out the door towards the hallway and told me, “Now go to the Principal’s Office!”

The message was sent at an early age. Get In Line. Throughout Grade School, Middle School, and High School I was taught a similar lesson. Get in line, do what everyone else is doing, give the same answers and if you don’t, you’re wrong. In English, in Math, in Social Studies, we all were tested and graded based on whether we thought and did what everyone else was doing. And even in Gym Class we all got in Lay-Up Lines.


When a child is taught to get in line, give the same answers, do what everyone else is doing, what are they actually learning? If they step out of line, give a different answer, or find something else to do, what is that child expressing? And when that child is punished or failed based on how they freely express themselves, what are we creating in that person that can haunt them later in life?

This article is not about raising your children. It is about learning all your life to do what everyone else is doing, and when your peers pick up a weapon, when your peers decide to do drugs, when your peers want to rob or car jack, how most teenage young adults are paralyzed in indecision on what to do. It’s not that they don’t have the Critical Thinking Skills necessary to challenge to group. The question is how many of us use those skills when we’ve been punished all our life for not doing what everyone else was doing.

A wise man once said that the single word WHY is the Greatest Question one could ask. The question Why is a challenge to conventional thinking and causes the person who asks the question to measure the response for understanding. In today’s society, Why is a radical idea that often creates opposition to a mass, group think mentality. And when the question Why can’t be answered, it freezes the recipient of the question in a challenge to their own motives, beliefs, and knowledge.

When you ask WHY, you’re asking for what purpose? What cause? Why is a critical question that takes a person to the root of what is not understood. Why should I stop smoking? Because I said so? No, because smoking is addictive, it causes Cancer and other diseases that kill you slowly, and it is a gateway to other harmful habits that can destroy your health, appearance, and life.

In the political climate that we live in today where you are either a This or a That, Republican or a Democrat, again Critical Thinking and the question Why is banned from conventional thought. The nuances in life are restricted and constricted to black and white with little room for the shades of gray that come with the independent mind children sometimes display when thy act “out of line” (Pun absolutely intended).

As I walk through the prison complex today I notice that there is a line for everything. A Chow Line, Med Lines, Gym Lines. They have Lines drawn out on the concrete to direct prisoners to this building or that building. The all famous Gun Line. It all draws to mind the lines we had in the hallways of Winship Middle School directing students to this class or that class. And my question is, Why?

Is the Public School to Prison Pipe LINE (Pun again intended) really that Real?

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