The Death of Why?

The Decline of Questioning and the Future of Democracy

Andrea Batista Schlesinger (Author)

Publication date: 07/13/2009

The Death of Why?
Obsessed with answers, we have lost sight of the power and value of questions. Debates over globalization, climate change, health care, and poverty will not be “solved” with simple answers, but that's what Americans are being trained to expect. Andrea Batista Schlesinger argues that we're besieged by cultural forces that urge us to avoid critical thinking and independent analysis. The media reduces politics to a spectator sport, standardized tests teach students to fill in the dots instead of opening their minds, and even the Internet promotes habits that discourage looking deeper.
 
But the situation isn't hopeless. Schlesinger profiles individuals and institutions renewing the practice of inquiry—particularly in America's youth—at a time when our society demands such activity from us all. Our resilience will depend on our ability to struggle with what we don't know, to live and think outside comfortable bubbles of sameness, and, ultimately, to ask questions.

• Argues passionately for the critical importance of inquiry to a healthy democracy

• Shows how the very institutions that should be encouraging inquiry—schools, the media, government, the Internet—are actually discouraging it

• Highlights hopeful examples of people working to restore inquiry to its rightful place of importance

The spirit of inquiry is the engine of democracy. The democratic process is nothing less than citizens regularly asking what kind of society they want to live in and whom they want to lead them. But more and more people are avoiding the whole messy business of questioning. Americans are instead being trained to look for ready-made answers, with potentially dire implications for the health of our society.

In this impassioned new book, Andrea Batista Schlesinger argues that we’re besieged by cultural forces that urge us to avoid independent thought and critical analysis. The media reduces politics to a spectator sport, focusing on polls and personalities rather than issues and ideas. Schools teach to standardized tests—students learn to fill in the bubbles, not open their minds. “Financial literacy” courses have replaced civics classes, graduating smart shoppers rather than informed citizens. Even the Internet promotes habits that discourage inquiry.
Regurgitating search-engine results becomes a substitute for genuine research and reflection. Social networks promote connection rather than engagement. With all the information available online, over a third of those younger than twenty-five say they get no news on a typical day, up from 25 percent in 1998.

The situation isn’t hopeless. Batista Schlesinger spotlights individuals and institutions across the country that are working to renew a healthy sense of curiosity and skepticism, particularly in American’s youth. It is, at this point, an uphill battle but one well worth undertaking. The Death of “Why?” offers both a penetrating socio-cultural critique of our current path and a way forward for cultivating inquiry and reinvigorating our democracy.

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Book Details
Overview
Obsessed with answers, we have lost sight of the power and value of questions. Debates over globalization, climate change, health care, and poverty will not be “solved” with simple answers, but that's what Americans are being trained to expect. Andrea Batista Schlesinger argues that we're besieged by cultural forces that urge us to avoid critical thinking and independent analysis. The media reduces politics to a spectator sport, standardized tests teach students to fill in the dots instead of opening their minds, and even the Internet promotes habits that discourage looking deeper.
 
But the situation isn't hopeless. Schlesinger profiles individuals and institutions renewing the practice of inquiry—particularly in America's youth—at a time when our society demands such activity from us all. Our resilience will depend on our ability to struggle with what we don't know, to live and think outside comfortable bubbles of sameness, and, ultimately, to ask questions.

• Argues passionately for the critical importance of inquiry to a healthy democracy

• Shows how the very institutions that should be encouraging inquiry—schools, the media, government, the Internet—are actually discouraging it

• Highlights hopeful examples of people working to restore inquiry to its rightful place of importance

The spirit of inquiry is the engine of democracy. The democratic process is nothing less than citizens regularly asking what kind of society they want to live in and whom they want to lead them. But more and more people are avoiding the whole messy business of questioning. Americans are instead being trained to look for ready-made answers, with potentially dire implications for the health of our society.

In this impassioned new book, Andrea Batista Schlesinger argues that we’re besieged by cultural forces that urge us to avoid independent thought and critical analysis. The media reduces politics to a spectator sport, focusing on polls and personalities rather than issues and ideas. Schools teach to standardized tests—students learn to fill in the bubbles, not open their minds. “Financial literacy” courses have replaced civics classes, graduating smart shoppers rather than informed citizens. Even the Internet promotes habits that discourage inquiry.
Regurgitating search-engine results becomes a substitute for genuine research and reflection. Social networks promote connection rather than engagement. With all the information available online, over a third of those younger than twenty-five say they get no news on a typical day, up from 25 percent in 1998.

The situation isn’t hopeless. Batista Schlesinger spotlights individuals and institutions across the country that are working to renew a healthy sense of curiosity and skepticism, particularly in American’s youth. It is, at this point, an uphill battle but one well worth undertaking. The Death of “Why?” offers both a penetrating socio-cultural critique of our current path and a way forward for cultivating inquiry and reinvigorating our democracy.

About the Author
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Table of Contents
Excerpt

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