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The Death of "Why?"

Book Description

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.

Table of Contents

  1. Cover Page
  2. Title Page
  3. Copyright Page
  4. Introduction: Questions and Power
  5. Part I: Culture: Questions or Answers?
    1. 1: Inquiry Is Risky, Resilience Is the Reward, and Other Lessons from Childhood
      1. Wisdom from the Crib
      2. Inquiry Builds Resilience
      3. Our National Motivations Matter
    2. 2: Ideological Segregation by Click and by Clique
      1. News We Can Believe (In)
      2. Don’t Know, Don’t Ask
      3. Ideological Polarization Online
      4. Transcending Ideological Segregation Through Deliberation
    3. 3: Consuming Opinion
      1. A Different Kind of Talk Show Host
      2. A Different Kind of Media Today
    4. 4: In Google We Trust
      1. Information Drive-by and the Google Generation
      2. “You Have to Read It”
      3. Yahoo! — One Authority Young People Don’t Question
      4. Leaving Room for Observation
  6. Part II: Schools: Citizens or Consumers?
    1. Financial Literacy in the Schools
    2. 5: The Three Rs and a Why
      1. The Civic Function of Schools
      2. The State of Civics Knowledge
      3. The Decline of Civics as a Priority
    3. 6: No Piggy Bank Left Behind
      1. A Dream of Financial Literacy — Who’s Behind It?
      2. One Person’s Test Question Is Another Person’s Push Poll
      3. So, Who Gains?
    4. 7: Questioning the System, or Beating It?
      1. Does It Even Work?
      2. Other Models: Different Approach, Same Flaw
    5. 8: The Marxist, Anti-American Conspiracy to Convert Young People to Engaged Citizenship
      1. Social Justice in the Schools
      2. Trusting Young People to Question
  7. Part III: Politics: Engaged or Connected?
    1. 9: Black and White and Dead All Over
      1. Snacking on the News
      2. The Limitations of Do-It-Yourself News
      3. Using Newspapers as a Tool for Inquiry
    2. 10: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Youth?
      1. When the Answers Aren’t in the Room
      2. “Cause” and Effect
      3. Power Precedes Policy
      4. Training, Creativity, and Youth Civic Engagement
    3. 11: Lights, Camera, Debate!
      1. The Role of the Presidential Debates
      2. The Role of the Questioner
      3. Control of the Process
      4. Candidates Shouldn’t Fear Questioning
  8. Conclusion: A Call for Slow Democracy
  9. Notes
  10. Acknowledgments
  11. Index
  12. About the Author
  13. About Berrett-Koehler Publishers
  14. Be Connected