When I was five, my grandfather told people that I asked more questions than any kid he’d ever known.  I’ve retained that pesky character all of my life, although I toned it down through my adolescence and adult working years.  But as I approach retirement (again) that quizitive and curious nature seems to be re-blossoming.  

For example, I've been watching this year’s NCAA men's basketball tournament (as the University of Illinois team is featured there) and I started wondering where some of those other schools came from.  Iona?  St. Bonaventure?  Rutgers? Villanova?  Drexel?  Morehead State?  Winthrop?  And so when nobody was looking, I looked them all up.  The internet may be chock full of inaccuracies, but it is a great turn-on for anyone with an inquiring mind.  

Here’s what I learned.  Iona College is in New Rochelle, NY.  It was started in 1940 by a Catholic fraternal group in order to provide educational opportunities for middle class students who could not afford other colleges.

St. Bonaventure is the patron saint of bowel disorders.  The school named after him is located in St. Bonaventure, New York, and is known as a party school…which raises another vexing question:  how are those two factoids connected?  

Rutgers is in New Jersey and is also known as the State University of New Jersey.  It is the eighth oldest college in the United States and was once known as Queens College.  It received its original charter from William Franklin, the last colonial governor of New Jersey and a “love child” of Benjamin Franklin.  After years of financial trouble, the college was named “Rutgers” in 1825 after Henry Rutgers, a Revolutionary War hero and by some accounts an exemplary “Christian.”  

Villanova is located in a suburb of Philadelphia and is named after St. Thomas of Villanova, known for his care of the poor.  The college began as a private Catholic research institution. It was an all-male school until some nuns crashed it in 1918.  

Drexel is another Philadelphia school, founded in 1891 by Anthony Drexel, a financier who founded Drexel, Morgan & Company, which later became J.P. Morgan.  He had nine children and I suppose could afford to send all of them to his college without taking out student loans.  

Morehead State is in Kentucky and first opened as a teacher’s college in 1887.  It started with only one student in its first year.  The internet doesn’t say whether there were any professors at that time.  (Just being quizitive.)  The university is named after its town, which is named after a politician from the 1800s.  James Morehead was pro-slavery and in his spare time would mosey up into Ohio to capture runaway slaves and bring them back.  I wonder what he would think about the photo of the basketball team that bears his name, suggesting that only one white guy had the supremacy to make the squad.

And then there is Winthrop University, located in Rock Hill, South Carolina.  It was started in 1886 by a Massachusetts’s carpetbagger, Robert Winthrop, who wanted to establish a school for “white” teachers.  The school began to desegregate in 1964.

That date was five years after my grandfather accused me of asking too many questions. I wonder how many children over the years questioned the fairness of segregation at Winthrop... and all the other segregated schools. After all, every curious child asks pesky questions about race… and why adult life is so unfair when it comes to race.  Two things children know for sure:  they notice the fascinating diversity of racial features ...and they notice whether something is fair.  

The news this past week once again raised issues of race and fairness.  Several Asian women in Atlanta were stereotyped and then shot dead.  When that story hit the national news, it opened the floodgates and a host of recent stories exploded into our consciousness.  It turns out that life has been getting more and more difficult in this past year for Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, etc.  Of course, our family and our Asian friends have known these stories and shared them “in house.”  But now the narratives, along with all the blaming and denying, are everywhere.

We Americans do not like to think that we are unfair.  And so when a group of people is treated unfairly, we sometimes rationalize that there must be something about them that makes them unworthy of fairness, something less than human, less than us.  And when we hear about how someone else is stereotyped and treated unfairly, we sometimes revert to the dark side of childhood, and we whine, “Yes, but what about ME?  I’m not being treated fairly either!”  And the seeds of white privilege and supremacy are planted. 

I think it’s time to turn loose our peskiest, most quizitive and curious children.  Strap all us adults to our chairs and let the children torture us with their innocent inquisitions.  Let them quiz us about race and fairness until we can stand no more and finally repent.  

Adults huff and puff and pontificate.  Children, before they are taught prejudice, simply ask questions: the kind of questions that cut through all our historical amnesia, selfish interests, and defensiveness. We are faced then with a difficult choice:  tell the children that they must be seen but not heard… or recognize that God’s justice works in the simple questions our children ask.  Jesus had it right:  let “a little child lead them.”

Mike