The Death of “Why?”: The Decline of Questioning and the Future of Democracy

Andrea Batista Schlesinger, Author . Berrett-Koehler $16.95 (254p) ISBN 978-1-57675-585-3

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)

Reviewed on: 05/11/2009
Release date: 07/01/2009
Genre: Nonfiction
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