The death of why: a book, many questions

Posted on 08. Dec, 2009 by in Uncategorized

By Almudena Toral

Modern society has eaten up critical thinking. Inquiry is nowhere to be found.

This is the essence of Andrea Batista Schlesinger’s book “The death of why: the decline of questioning and the future of democracy” that was released last spring. The author discussed questioning, education, civics, and the implications of critical thinking for democracy in a forum today at Demos, a non-partisan public policy research and advocacy organization headquartered in Manhattan.

“We need to let go of our addiction to the quick answer,” Batista said, “asking questions is the most important act of citizenship.” According to Batista, due to the spread of the Internet, the personalization of news we read through RSS feeds, and the higher access to education we enjoy now, we find ourselves with infinite information that we swallow and accept instead of digest.

“It’s less about people inquiring less today, it’s more about people using inquiry as times demand today,” the author said. She pointed at how people have lost sight of the power and value of questions, even if questioning and being curious are innate instincts.

“You question when you bump up against the unfamiliar,” Batista said. But she wondered out loud in the forum, how to learn to question and bump up against the unfamiliar if we only consume the media of the viewpoint we agree with, a trend more and more common as RSS feeds usage spreads.

Batista sees the policy implications of all this questioning rhetoric coming down to education. Young people need spaces where to ask questions, the motivation to move past the comfort zone, she said. They need an education system where civics plays a big role, she said, like in the old times and where not everything’s given and standardized.

“Schools prepare children to help get answers right,” Batista said. They don’t teach to question, which is necessary for a democracy. She contrasted civics education –the ideal kind of education where inquiry and questioning are taught- to the most-common current “financial literacy education” –where accepting the market is at the heart of the learning process.

“Without the why the understanding of the basics doesn’t matter,” Batista argued. “What type of citizens and neighbors should our schools try to prepare?”

Batista is the Drum Major Institute’s executive director on leave and currently works as an adviser for mayor Bloomberg’s re-election campaign.

Batista said she hopes her book will have more influence upon educators.

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