From Publishers Weekly
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)
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Schlesinger, executive director of the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy, considers the decline of civic consciousness as symptomatic of a general "habit of mind." She adduces much evidence about the diminishing use of "Why?" among American youth and in society at large. From the Internet to the decline of civics education in recent Bush Administration policy, the sources of our indifference move from the philosophical to the explicitly political. There are pedagogical bright spots to suggest methods to revitalize questioning in the classroom and "slow democracy" in public life. Schlesinger helps connect educational theory with the current debate about "social capital" in Robert D. Putnam's classic, Bowling Alone. Verdict Schlesinger's book may attract a wide audience of readers concerned with education, political science, and community organizing. Recommended.--Zachary T. Irwin, Pennsylvania State Univ.-Erie -- Library Journal, August, 2009