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Why I Encourage My Kids to Question Everything

My 4-year-old bilingual feminist was ready to take on the 12,000-year-old "lengua española" in full force. Why should the presence of just one boy make her change the word she uses for friends?
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One afternoon, as I picked up my daughter from her Spanish immersion preschool, she asked me what the difference was between amigos and amigas. I explained that amigos were her friends that were boys and amigas were her friends that were girls.

She then asked why her school song, sung every day, began with the words "Hola, amigos," because she is a girl. I told her that when there are both girls and boys, we use the word amigos. (Don't worry, sweetie. You're included.)

That makes sense, right?

Not to her.

She did not like this answer or my pathetic explanation: "You see, Spanish comes from Latin and..." (A degree in the Spanish language did not prepare me for this.) From the rearview mirror, I could see the incredulous look on her face as she replied: "Most of the people in my class are girls, so I'm going to say amigas in our song instead of amigos."

My 4-year-old bilingual feminist was ready to take on the 12,000-year-old "lengua española" in full force. Why should the presence of just one boy make her change the word she uses for friends? That was a question I had never asked. I learned "how it was" from knowledgeable professors, books and through the norms of communication.

I often surrender to status quo. But not my preschooler.

What would happen if we all had the courage to question? What if we sought answers even if they were difficult to hear or hard to understand? Would humanity be any better?

A French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu, used the term "doxa "to refer to spaces in society that are largely undisputed and undiscussed. We do not question them. They simply are. And those at the table make sure those who dare to question are never granted access. Thus, inequitable power is sustained.

Yet, could we live in the realm of doxa? Dare to question the undisputed and undiscussed? If something is really worth believing in, then shouldn't we be willing to understand why? Could that not lead to greater understanding?

There are many other parts of our history we can look back on with the same incredulity and ire as my daughter to rules that govern the Spanish language. The Holocaust is one. How were so many people capable of rational thought led to believe that it was logical to murder 11 million, and perhaps more, people? Yet regular people not unlike me and you -- mothers, fathers, teachers, business owners, church-goers -- conceded to status quo. They did not question "common knowledge" until it was too late.

Not that long ago in the U.S., Jim Crow laws ensured the segregation of people based merely on race. Entrances to buildings, bathrooms, schools and water fountains were strictly divided. And it gets darker. Emmettt Till was a 14-year-old African American boy who was beaten, tortured and killed by people our justice system did not punish.

And then, what business owners and patrons thought signs such as "no dogs or Mexicans" were a good idea? Surely, some of the people whose skin was the "right" color to enter those businesses thought people of any race should not be equated to dogs. Yet, how many walked in and never questioned that "logic"?

There are other equally perplexing and embarrassing parts of our history: The slave trade. Anti-suffrage. Japanese-American internment camps. Corporal punishment for children speaking their language. (Because being monolingual is obviously so much better than multilingual.)

Would more questioning from people like you and me have prevented these events? We will never know, but we can imagine.

What exists in our society today that we blindly accept? Is everyone equally represented at the decision-making table? What gender, racial, linguistic and other forms of discrimination persist because they are part of our doxa, the realm of the undisputed and undiscussed?

Perhaps my daughter will not reform the Spanish language, but I want to encourage her to take a stand for what she believes in. Today, that is by singing, "Hola, amigas!" Most importantly, I do not want to shut down her natural instinct to question. I believe it is God-given. I believe it exists in all children. Let's not extinguish it as they grow into adults. Encouraging their questions could lead to a better world.

And maybe, if we are humble enough, we could even learn a thing or two from the 4-year-olds in the backseats of our cars.