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"Why" is a multi-purpose word. It is the language of curiosity, evidence of intellectual engagement. We revel in our children's and our students' whys; reward their curiosity with attention and serious responses; turn their whys back on them-"why do you think?"-to stimulate independent thought, reflection. "Why" is also a language of attention getting, even harassment. One of my favorite cartoons-I think it's from The New Yorker, perhaps by Ogden Nash-shows a small child leaning forward from the back seat close to his driving father's ear. The conversation must have been the familiar one with a bored four-year old on a car trip: "Why aren't we there yet?" "Why are you going so slow?" "Why does Grandma live so far away?" and so on, and on. The caption at the bottom gives the harassed father's response: "Shut up, he explained."
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