Editorial | Why don’t we ask questions anymore?

Do you remember being a child, fascinated by the wider world around you, incessantly asking questions to the annoyance of your parents? According to Time, young children typically ask a question every two minutes.

Why is the sky blue? Where do babies come from? Where did the dinosaurs go? Why do I have a bedtime? Is Santa real? Are we there yet? Why can’t we have McDonalds? These questions, which may pester and annoy parents, are vital for learning and development.

Children have an innate curiosity. According to clinical psychologist Linda Blair, children use “Why?” questions to learn more about the world around them as their brain begins to develop. Asking “Why?” also gives children a sense of security, soothing and validating their curiosity.

Children love to learn.

But as we grow older, our natural curiosity and wonder about the world seem to taper off. Why is that? Research indicates that when children begin school, the number of questions asked per hour drops from 27 to 2 or 3.

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Moving on to the present: College degrees are not cheap — especially at the University of Illinois. If you’re going to college and pursuing a degree, you likely thought that the value of a college degree would help balance out the short-term cost of attending a university.

There’s a plethora of research about the greater amount of lifetime earnings college degree holders have, as opposed to those who do not have a college degree.

In purely economic terms, going to college is a no-brainer.

But the purpose of college — to expand one’s intellectual horizons, grow as a person and obtain a well-rounded education — gets lost in this preoccupation with graduating on time and making money soon afterward.

We’re all guilty of this, be it consulting Reddit or upperclassmen friends about the easiest general education courses to take, or passing up on interesting classes because they wouldn’t fit your already packed schedule. Oftentimes intellectual betterment is our second priority.

Why wouldn’t it be? The college environment is not conducive to learning.

At a big university like the University of Illinois, the issue of packed lecture halls with hundreds of students creates barriers between students and fully engaging with the course content.

Similarly, students have to contend with packed and disorganized office hours — if you even attend them at all. Most other times, taking the time out of your day to go to office hours is inconvenient and not worth the effort.

Even in small environments like discussions, meant for more personal engagement with an instructor, there exists the age-old fear of “looking dumb” in front of your peers.

While these are all problems that are characteristic of life at a big university, it’s important to recognize that these kinds of issues kill curiosity.

More and more students find themselves struggling with grade obsession in some capacity.  When you need a high GPA to land that first internship or apply for graduate school, it would be self-sabotage to challenge oneself with a challenging gen-ed that may sound appealing.

Grade obsession is associated with internal and parental pressure, financial anxiety and academic validation.

These pressures can go as far as causing students to cheat — especially with the advent of artificial intelligence such as ChatGPT, which more and more students are using as a crutch to complete assignments. But even speeding through online tutorials, using Chegg or Quizlet for answers and otherwise using resources to think for you could be considered “cheating” as well.

We’ve all cheated in the process of obtaining an education in one way or another. The bottom line is that students are no longer learning for the sake of learning — unless they actively choose to do so.

We are in no position to tell you what your priorities should be. We’re students too, so we understand the importance of graduating on time and maintaining a high GPA. Like everyone else, we want to land a job that will pay off the cost to attend college.

Instead, what we’re inviting you to do is to change your mindset when it comes to the college experience as a whole. It’s an incredible privilege to attend a university. Ultimately, four years is a short amount of time in the grand scheme of things — so savor it. Learn as much as you can.

Grab some friends and take on that challenging gen-ed headfirst. Who knows? A class that does not count towards anything except personal enrichment could change your life.

Join a club that doesn’t align with your intended career or field of study, just for the sake of experiencing something new. You might find a new hobby, not to mention an interesting talking point at an interview later on.

Talk to a professor about what their research focus is. Most times, they’d be happy to nerd out about their interests, and you may even make a friend.

College, at its core, is the ultimate learning experience, both academically and intellectually. Thus, your time as an undergraduate is the perfect time to ask questions.

The Daily Illini Editorial Board challenges you to take full advantage of this opportunity to channel your four-year-old self — ask endless questions as to why the world works the way it does.


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