Editor’s Column: Understanding the “Why”



Ryan Smith

In my Catholic grammar school, I was rarely quiet. In almost every class, I needed to know, “Why?” In a parochial school, no question is feared more. Those early years of education were meant to be about what students were learning; how to learn was supposed to come later. When learning how to learn, the “why?” of the educational process is essential.

Regardless of that incessant need to know “Why?” I graduated eighth grade not much bet­ter off than many of my classmates for whom the “Why?” never mattered. Remember­ing what my world was like back then is difficult because it was nearly fantastical. I had a basic understanding of American history but that excluded the events that took place in my lifetime. The only significant global scenario I was familiar with was the instability in the Middle East. However, what I thought I knew was the result of the inescapable nature of 9/11: all I knew was that “they” killed some of “us.” At the age of 12 or 13, it is natural to exist in one’s head. There is so much going on in our immediate reality that to begin to incorporate anything beyond us is phenomenal.

In high school, I was fortunate enough to be exposed to an academic mentality where it was unacceptable to be uninformed about those events beyond oneself. The “how” and “why” of our education trumped the “what.” Free time was spent reading every print and online resource we could get our hands on. To be informed and opinionated were the most respected individual qualities. The only character flaw worse than ignorance was to be comfortable with ignorance.

Now, halfway through my time at Colgate, I have realized that the mentality of the typical Colgate student does not usually transcend the personal reality we all experienced at a young age. Worse yet, the solidification of these personal bubbles has spawned stigmas around being either opinionated or informed with regard to world events. Without question, the typical Colgate conversation is as dependent on alcohol as many of the personal relationships formed here.

Classes at Colgate are temporary and so students only need to maintain course material for a set period of time. Maintaining an understanding of world events is an endless endeavor powered by the need to know “Why?” By the time an individual gets to college, their understanding of, or care to understand the world beyond them, has all but solidified. Although professors may cause students to question, the opportunity to be inspired with the need to question has all but past. While the unacknowledged embarrassment often falls on the Colgate student the blame lies with their pre-Colgate education.

Being informed about our world is not simply about rousing conversation and new ways of thinking. It is about knowing one’s place in a global reality. Being informed forces an individual to pose real questions about events greater than his or herself. Colgate students are not the only unin­formed youths. I believe it is a problem that exists throughout our generation. The most unfortunate aspect of this blissful ignorance is that those afflicted usually never know. They will not read this article and will not think twice about having missed an opportunity to know more. Their situation is nearly hopeless because in order to take the first step, they need to ask “Why?”