Literacies Circles: Why Not Why?

My husband is an engineer. They say living with an engineer can be both lovable and exasperating at times. Engineers are curious and quite handy around the house with all kinds of mechanical things and electronic gizmos, but when it comes to human relationships, they can be literally rational. According to adage, you can be either an optimist (the glass is half full) or a pessimist (the glass is half empty), but only an engineer will simply say there’s twice as much glass as there needs to be.

My dear hubby used to ask why a lot. A lot. Which is great when it comes to repairing things. Why did the washing machine break? Why did the tire go flat? Why did the router quit? But when asking any human (like me!) a why question, especially during a difficult conversation, it rather puts them (and me!) on the wee defensive. When asking children why, they may lower their eyes and shut down. Even if why is asked in a kind manner, children may shrug their shoulders for lack of an easy explanation.

Why? Well, why?! Why not?!

Journalists and educators are familiar with the 5 Ws: Who, what, when, where, and…why. And oh, there is how too. Authors of newspaper articles and classroom assignments are often expected to cover all areas of W-questions.

But when authors provide an answer to why, are they making a judgment through their own lenses?

In restorative literacies, noticing and listening in a compassionate manner are crucial to supporting readers and writers in their practices and development of a wide range and depth of literacies.

We can ask who is the reader or writer? But also, how does the reader or writer feel? What are the perspectives and views? When or where did things occur? We can ask tell me more. Gentle nudges can be made toward bringing out the full stories of trials and tribulations along with joy of reading and writing.

Asking why too soon brings out an urgency for a logical cause-and-effect and a simple fix, when the reality is that most human thinking processes, interactions with others, and personal feelings contain a full range of nuances and complexity. Furthermore, asking why too quickly can lead to arbitrary lessons, programs, and methods that do not meet the needs of our readers and writers. And worse, lead to disengagement and marginalization.    

The process of how we ask questions in order to fully listen and understand is an excellent topic for restorative literacies circle, not only as authors, but also as students and educators toward building our repertoire of literacies.

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