Right to know meets the right to ask

Within an eye’s blink of my posting the piece about International Right to Know Day I received a note from my ever-inquisitive son Stephen asking about my celebration of Ask a Stupid Question Day which is most appropriately observed on the same day. Though I doubt the two events are organizationally related, the harmonic convergence of their intersection offers countless creative and complex possibilities.

Exercising my Right to Know privileges I turned to google, an occasionally useful, if sketchy, resource. There I learned that Ask a Stupid Question Day is a holiday created by teachers in the 1980’s to encourage students to be more boldly inquisitive. The implication is that young learners thought their questions were stupid, inappropriately posed to teachers and librarians who are no doubt chomping at the bit to grapple with tough inquiries.

What’s evolved since the 1980’s are the tools – and the challenge — to understand the potential and the dark side of those tools. The challenge is to young people, to teachers and librarians, to parents, and to the public writ large to build a quiver of tools not just to find (that’s easy), but to assess, to place in context, to interpret, to weigh, to understand that information is today’s tool of power, and ultimately to put good information to work to cope with not only the financial but the societal challenges of the day.

This is a mighty challenge for all of society.   We are on the cusp of the Information Age. Now that we have begun to create the tools, what will we do with them?  The task for now is to establish the framework – the technology, the communications systems, the institutions, the tools, to remove the barriers to accessibility.  Tending to the future is in our hands; fulfillment of the possibilities remains to those who come next.

This leads me to wonder about the ways in which we are preparing forthcoming generations to grapple, not so much to increase bandwidth or how to code or to search or even to get rich,  but how to understand the human context in which they will be creators and decision-makers.

It seems to me totally appropriate that Ask a Stupid Question and International Right to Know Day converge on the calendar.

My stupid question is: How do we create a more intelligent, functional, global framework in which valid, truthful, balanced and accessible information becomes not a weapon but a right and tool for thoughtful people who are empowered by knowledge to make good choices.

Some of the answers may come from heeding, and acting on, stupid questions, and by encouraging young people whose stupid questions reflect concern with societal, global and environmental concerns that transcend today’s market.

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