knee socks and pigtails

I sat next to Jordan and Soha, scrunched on the floor in the back of the classroom, knees aganist my chest observing interactions between second graders. I noticed the chipper girl at the front of the classroom whose hand was practically always in the air. I thought of myself as a second grader,  plaid skirt, pale blue blouse, navy blue knee socks and pigtails stationed on either side of my head, sitting at the front of the classroom directly next to Sister Mary Hope’s desk. My hand was always poised, ready to be shot into the air at the first opportunity, like the girl I was watching at the Riverside School. I went to a Catholic school where I was in the same class of twenty students from kindergarten to eighth grade. The size of my old school and Riverside are similar in that they are comparatively small and the the same students go through the grades with one another. At Riverside the students also wear uniforms, although they are less preppy. As I observed Riverside and reflected on my own experience in school more, I noticed an important distinction in the education I received and the one these students were receiving. The teacher at Riverside asked the students what they did in the past week at school. One student responded, “We watched a video about flooding in Delhi”. After the student’s answer the teacher immediately asked a follow up question, “Why did you watch it?” I was surprised to hear the teacher ask, “Why?” Sister Mary Hope never asked my class why we did something and we also knew not to ask her why we did anything either. It was hard enough to keep a group of second graders in line without having them continuously question why things were happening. We were meant to accept that everything we did was for a good reason and to therefore go along with them. Riverside’s approach is much different. Students are encouraged to think about why things might be and to understand the reasons behind why they are doing them before blindly accepting. I find this to be crucial to education because it recognizes that the status quo might not necessarily be right and also that it has the potential to be changed. Teaching students to ask why from a young age allows them to think more critically, a skill I wish I had learned earlier. I loved my time in second grade and think back on it fondly. But I feel optimistic observing the second graders at Riverside, the type of education they are receiving and how freely they ask, “Why?”