Book Review

The Death of ‘Why?’

The Decline of Questioning and the Future of Democracy

by Andrea Batista Schlesinger, Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco, Calif., 2009, 254 pp., $16.95 softcover

The Death of “Why?”: The Decline of Questioning and the Future of Democracy will be a disturbing read for those teachers, parents and administrators who try to resolve difficult issues while minimizing controversy.

Death of Why


Author Andrea Schlesinger argues that the school decision-making process should be subject to open and intense questioning at all levels. Her approach directly counters those who want to keep the lid on during faculty and school board meetings to avoid uncomfortable and disruptive questioning.

In an era of growing political partisanship, Schlesinger claims too much is taken for granted. Liberals and conservatives involved in the current political conversation are taking positions at either ideological extreme. Schlesinger appeals to both sides to closely examine and come to celebrate their adversary’s position.

Schlesinger opens the book with a broad argument for deeper questioning across civic life. She then narrows her focus to make the claim that all students should be required to take civics. The class ought to hold, as its primary objective, the capacity to question political ideas.

Schlesinger challenges schools that teach students to devote themselves only to finding the correct answer rather than encouraging them to ask the right questions.

It may be unsettling for a superintendent to encourage further questioning while guiding the board and public through troublesome issues. Yet Schlesinger reminds us that questioning and debate are the cornerstones of our democracy.

Reviewed by Jim Frenck, associate professor of teacher education, Roberts Wesleyan College, Rochester, N.Y.