Long before Steve Jobs was the voiceover for those “Think Different” ads for Apple computers, Jeopardy! took the concept of game shows in a different direction by requiring contestants to think of the question for the answer that was provided. The answers are clues to the questions that need to be asked. The money is awarded for the questions, not the answers. Maybe there’s a lesson here.

On day 2 of the 2013 Government Shutdown, (or as some would prefer to spin it, Government Slim Down), many of us do feel a sense of being in jeopardy. Even those of us who may not feel an immediate threat by this government shutdown, are dismayed by the ridiculousness and incompetence that has lead to yet another crisis, this one self-inflicted. Many of us hesitate to refer to “our” representatives, as we do not feel represented in Congress.  I know a single mother of two who is furloughed now. NO income for her or her kids, while Congresspeople still get paid. I guess that’s why some spin this latest drama as a slim down, not a shut down, as only some “non-essential” services are shut down. Well, the workers are essential. Just ask them if their work matters to providing for themselves and their families. I can’t say that this is a matter of right and left. It is a matter of right and wrong. Congress’ job is writing and passing laws. If one’s ideology is based on opposing government, then don’t work for the government (which is of the people, by the people and for the people). The ideological purity and reckless behavior is small-minded and adolescent. It may provide a rush of energy, which may feel invigorating and create a sense of possibility to them, but it’s shortsighted, immature, ignorant, and at this point, idiotic. It puts individuals, families, communities, and our nation and culture in jeopardy.

This 2013 Government Shutdown is the most recent in a seemingly continuous crumbling of what was once a thriving culture built upon a strong infrastructure. We have been splintering politically for some time, and the vitriol has been corrosive. Many have bemoaned the disintegration of our political system and likened that to the disintegration of our roads, bridges, levees, and education system. We (they) keep kicking the can down the road. Well, the road has potholes, and needs to be fixed and maintained. Existing from crisis to crisis keeps us from tending to basic needs and puts our nation’s future in jeopardy.

…Which brings me back to thinking different(ly) and to Jeopardy!……..Thinking one has the answer(s), may occasionally (and temporarily) provide solutions. But, smugness and absolutism are at best short-term satisfactions, and ultimately close the door to possibility and progress . Questions, on the other hand, are openings. They invite creativity and innovation, and using facts and applied knowledge rather than ideologies, invite possibilities for growth and betterment. We need to create a culture of inquiry rather than one of purity and jeopardy. We need to seek questions.

Now, of course we need short term solutions as well as long term ones, but our attachment to righteousness keeps us from continuous inquiry. I don’t mean continuous inquiry in the sense of seeing problems that aren’t there, or by creating media opportunities with senate inquiries. These are fixed ideologies masquerading as inquiries. Inquiring, as a habit of mind, means showing an interest in learning new things–not merely reinforcing beliefs. As a culture, we have shifted away from inquiry over the last generation. We have seen this play out in the political realm and the social fallout has been undeniable. Our culture has reflected the political fractures and anti-intellectual stances. Science became a matter of belief or faith,as opposed to factual knowledge and truth. Not understanding evolution gave way to not believing in evolution. What does this say about our education system? Politics, education, culture….they are all connected and in jeopardy. But, cultural shifts can make a difference, and a shift toward a culture of inquiry could open possibilities toward a healthier political system and education system.

While accountability and standardization are understandable goals in education (and elsewhere), we must acknowledge when focusing on the answers has had unintended consequences. The cost of our education system and culture of education, has been corrosive to our kids, and to our culture at large. Going forward, maybe we need to think in questions more than in answers. Creating a culture of inquiry–of learning new things, can start in our schools from the earliest years all the way through. There is a terrific piece on this very issue by  educator Thom Markham.

Our current state of dysfunctional government, politics, journalism, media, education, culture…….may put us in jeopardy for a better tomorrow, but I’ll bet everything on creating a culture of inquiry. We have the tools for researching and delving that make learning so different from any other time in history. We have unprecedented access to information, so the time is perfect for a cultural shift toward one of inquiry. This would be thinking different. We’re in jeopardy when we are stuck with answers without figuring out  the questions.  Winning would require questions, not shutting down and staying stuck.

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