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Why I Need to Stop My Black/Jewish Son from Questioning Everything

Portrait of an African boy looking up

My 7th grader’s first semester report card arrived the other day. Amongst the letter grades was the following comment: His trademark is his need to question just about everything. This can be tiresome for a teacher.

Yup. We definitely didn’t receive the wrong child’s report card.

This is the child who, at age 4, would not let anyone talk him out of the notion that “the number after infinity is zero. Because after infinity is nothing.”

Who, when told that it was time for bed because the sun was setting, challenged that the sun doesn’t set. The Earth goes around the sun.

Who wanted to know why it was “the wonderful thing about tiggers,” when Tigger also sang that he was “the only one?”

Who questioned, “Why do people say we’re Jewish? We’re really Jews, but ‘-ish’ means not really.”

Who countered my insistence that he put on sunscreen so he wouldn’t get burned when I was forcing him to go outside with, “If you didn’t want me to get burned, you wouldn’t make me go outside. The fact that you’re making me go outside proves you don’t really not want me to get burned, so why are you making me put on sunscreen?”

And who spent last Thanksgiving cross-examining his aunt, a judge, about how the “No Fly List” could possibly be constitutional. Wasn’t it depriving people of due process? Couldn’t it be used as precedent for even more civil rights violations? And what about the National Security Agency spying? How could that be allowed without a warrant? Why wasn’t the government following its own rules? (He asks the same question regarding English grammar.)

Are you getting the picture yet? Because, really, I want you to have the full experience.

His teachers think his constant questions are tiresome? They only have to put up with him for a year! I’m at 13 and counting!

When people ask me what I think is causing his resistance, I reply, “Bad genetics.”

My husband and I question everything.

One of my family’s favorite catch-phrases is: Science is never wrong! And yes, we are being sarcastic.

We whip it out every time an expert pontificates that anybody who disagrees with his/her latest conclusion just doesn’t understand how science works, because this science is absolutely, positively settled, and anyone who questions it is an ignorant whack-a-doodle. We used it most recently when, after over a decade of being told not to feed children under 1 peanut products in order to prevent allergies, the edict has just been overturned, and parents are being urged to definitely expose children under 1 to peanut products in order to prevent allergies. But science is never wrong!

We’re the clan that actually recalculates statistics offered by the news (most especially when metrics are changed mid-stream without justification).

And when the story broke a few months ago about a Jewish family fleeing Lancaster County due to fear for their lives after being blamed for the cancellation of a Christmas pageant, I said (out loud, while my kids were in the room), “But that doesn’t make any sense. If the family were truly terrified, why would they want the extra publicity?” Sure enough, the Anti-Defamation League debunked the story soon after.

At our house, all news is Fake News until proven otherwise. And even then…

Maybe it’s nurture over nature. (The science is still out on that.)

In any case, I sympathize with my son’s teachers and agree that he can be very, very tiresome. Questioning everything has its place. But so does shutting up once in a while.

My dilemma now is how to teach my son to walk the fine line between being reasonably wary and not driving people insane (especially those people who actually do have something to teach him). Because I see a lot of problems if he continues down his path. Problems bigger than simply a bad report card.

My son is African-American. My son carries around a copy of the Constitution in his pocket. My son threatens to walk up to cops and explain what they are doing wrong. I’ve already written about how excited/worried I am by this possibility.

It’s conceivable that my son’s tendency to question everything may soon spill over from the merely tedious into the downright dangerous (though my husband has had numerous discussions with both our boys about how a Black man behaves when confronted by police. Reaching into your pocket—even if it is for your Constitution—is most definitely not on the list.)

I need to reign in my son, without either quenching his natural curiosity (can you imagine if Copernicus had just gone with the expert accepted science of his time?), or turning him into a gullible echo who believes whatever those in power (from the school-house to the White House) are dishing out. Oh, and keep him from getting shot.

Suggestions welcome. (Though don’t expect them to be accepted unquestioningly.)

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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