A story for children
It was early in the morning and Abigail was preparing for her very first day of school when she stopped for a moment and looked up at her mother nervously. Abigail asked a question. To her it seemed very simple. “Why do I have to go school?” Abigail did not really want to stay home. She just wanted to know why she had to go to school. Her mother, busy as mothers sometimes are, did not seem to take her question too seriously. Our Abigail, on the other hand, was a perfectly serious little thinker, but since she did not want to distract or bother her good mother, she decided not to push too hard with tough questions. Abigail had a knack for difficult questions.
Abigail went through her first four classes with happy amazement! School was so weird to her! She could not understand why she was not allowed to eat snacks during class or why the teachers put so many different things on the walls! She thought it was so silly that she had to ask permission just to go to the bathroom! Abigail thought it was funny and interesting, so she went through her first four classes with her eyes wide open, trying her hardest to understand the place! Even the outside of the school—the playing fields and all the grass—had a fence around it with locks and security guards, so that even the outside was inside the school. It really was an odd place. Abigail kept wondering why she had to be there.
After the first four classes, Abigail got to go outside and play with the other kids. While all the other kids were just happy to be outside, Abigail walked around asking everyone her question. Many of her classmates did not understand why she was asking the question. Some of the other kids thought she was making a funny joke. Some of the other kids thought it was a good question and they wanted to know the answer, too! Still some other kids thought her question was stupid and annoying and told her to go away! She even thought the teachers were watching her as if she was up to trouble, even though she was behaving very well!
Abigail could not understand why this question would receive such different responses but no good answer! Abigail really wanted to know. She decided that she was going to ask all of her teachers for the rest of the day until she got an answer! Three subjects left gave her three chances before she went home that day. When she told the other students this, then the students found something they could all agree on. Abigail might ask some of the teachers but she would never even think about asking the math teacher! Everyone knew the math teacher was the meanest and that Abigail would keep her mouth shut for math class.
Period Five, English, Miss Benna Benign
In period five, the teacher was very nice and she very kindly told all the students that they could ask any questions at any time. Immediately, Abigail asked, “Why do we all have to come to school?” The teacher was nice so she smiled and said, “It’s for your own good! So you learn everything you need to know!” But our Abigail was a smart girl. She knew this was not the true answer, because Miss Benign’s answer did not tell Abigail what Abigail needed to know!
Period Six, Social Studies, Mr. Patrick Priggish, PhD
Social studies, during period six, was taught by a very smart teacher, so Abigail was sure she would get a good answer from him. A few minutes into class, Abigail raised her hand and asked, “Why do we all have to come to school?” And Mr. Priggish was so smart that by the time he was done saying a whole bunch of really smart things, Abigail could tell he forgot about her question! “Well, Abigail,” he began, “schools have been around for thousands of years…a lot of different purposes…many kinds of schools…SOCIALLY INTERACTIVE DEVELOPMENT…” That was it! Mr. Priggish was lost in his own thoughts, Abigail could tell. Some of the other students thought they were the ones who got lost, but our Abigail was a good learner and she was starting to understand how these teachers work!
Period Seven, Math, Mrs. Danielle Disdainful-Derisive
When period seven began, Abigail could tell that Mrs. Disdainful-Derisive really was mean! But Abigail did not worry. She knew that if she behaved herself, and did not break any rules, she would be just fine. A few minutes into the class, a few of the other students were shocked when Abigail raised her hand. When Abigail was called on, she asked very calmly, “Why do we all have to come to school?” Abigail heard some of the students chuckle and she saw some of them look away in fear for her! The teacher made a funny face because she did not know what to say, and because she did not know what to say, she got angry! “Your question has nothing to do with math! It is irrefutably irrelevant…outrageously off-topic…ca…ca…ca…cantankerously counterproductive! Go to the principal’s office right now!”
Abigail could not believe it. What did she do? Oh, she was so confused! She wanted to go home and never come back. What were her parents going to say?
Principal Grayhair Garfunkel
When Abigail entered the principal’s office, she was surprised to see a very old man with a very gentle appearance.
“Abigail, were you keeping Mrs. Disdainful-Derisive from conducting her lesson?”
“No, well, I thought my question was part of the lesson!”
“She said you asked a question that had nothing to do with the lesson, that you were trying to be a smart alec, just to tease her and to distract the other students.”
“No! I just wanted to know the answer!”
“What was the question, Abigail?”
“Why do we have to come to school?” She looked a little nervous and embarrassed to ask her question yet again after all the trouble she caused.
Mr. Garfunkel saw that she was a good girl and that she was very nervous, and he responded kindly, “Ah, relax, Abigail. You know, we have heard this question before. Truthfully, it is not a bad question. Do you want me to tell you the answer?”
“Well, Abigail, you should be proud that you came upon this question at such a young age and that you had the courage to ask it. Most students never even think about it, and then most who do think of it would rather not ask it. I went to this school when I was your age, and I remember asking that same question! Nobody gave me a good answer and I was sent to the principal, too! And do you want to hear the funniest thing? Now, I AM the principal and have been for 30 years now, and I still have not learned a good answer to that question! And I’m the principal!
Listen, Abigail. Everyone just wants to go through their life and be happy in their own ways. Different people do this differently, and they invent different things to do different things. As you get older you will learn a lot about how people and things work, and I bet you already have today. There are always people who are bigger than you, and older than you, and smarter than you, and sometimes they force you to do things with no good answers for your questions! But if you keep your eyes open and trust your own ideas and questions, you’ll learn how people and things work. Do you know what happens next? Before you learn any of the answers, YOU are the principal and kids ask YOU why they have to come to school. You won’t KNOW the answer, but you’ll be free to respond however you think is best.”
Abigail, being a perfectly serious little thinker, started wondering how she would respond if someone asked her.
“You can go back to class now, Abigail.”
“Thank you, Mr. Garfunkel,” Abigail said, gratefully, turning toward the door.
But before she made it through the door, Mr. Garfunkel called her name. She turned back around.
“Abigail, did I answer your question?”
“I think so, Mr. Garfunkel, I think so,” Abigail said, not perfectly certain but feeling much better about everything.
Murphy, Justin. 2010. "Abigail asks a question," http://jmrphy.net/blog/2010/09/19/abigail/ (April 17, 2017).