Synopses & Reviews
Questions = Power
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. 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 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.
"America's preference for easy answers over hard questions is castigated in this unfocused critical-thinking manifesto. Schlesinger, director of the Drum Major Institute, blames an alleged (but undemonstrated) decline in the habit of asking big questions for a grab bag of shortcomings in education and public rhetoric: students who rely on Google to do their research; standardized tests that demand regurgitated facts rather than analysis and evaluation; the displacement of civics courses by 'financial literacy' curricula that insinuate free-market ideology; Sarah Palin's evasive gobbledygook in the vice-presidential debates. It all adds up, she contends, to an attenuated democracy that never challenges the status quo, that values 'solutions and being right over thoughtful inquiry.' One cannot argue with Schlesinger's call for deeper thinking about public affairs, but her framing of the issue as a crisis of questioning is obtuse. She ignores how inquiry can be an instrument of obfuscation (think of the fossil-fuel industry's persistent 'questioning' of global-warming research), and her disdain for factual knowledge slights the role of sheer ignorance in clouding political debate. Hers is a regrettably shallow take on the problems of public discourse. (July 13)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
""There's a reason,"" writes Andrea Batista Schlesinger, ""that The Secret has sold nine million copies."" Americans want answers to weight loss, health care, globalization, climate change. We want to believe that we can fix things once and for all, if we only find the right solution. In this impassioned critique of America's growing disengagement from civic life and ideals, Schlesinger, Executive Director of the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy, dissects the forcible erosion of our youngest generation's capacity for inquiry. In The Death of ""Why?"" she provides recommendations for restoring the social, educational and political infrastructures that are prerequisites for a healthy democracy.