“Essential Questions” and the Book of Job

Please help me shape a list of “essential questions”[*] raised for you by the book of Job. Offer suggestions or questions in the comments.

What are “essential questions”? Briefly, they are big, open-ended questions that force one to evaluate one’s own evaluations. “What is worth fighting for?” is an essential question. “Should the U.S. continue fighting in Iraq?” is not. “What makes good art ‘good’?” is an essential question. “Is the Piss Christ (warning: explicit content) good art?” is not. These examples show that a question can be thought-provoking but not yet itself be in the form of an essential question.

Essential questions:

  • lend themselves less to argument than to reflection;
  • invite participants to reconsider their own norms and valuations;
  • prove themselves to be interdisciplinary;
  • generate an unpredictable set of other questions;
  • are “non-judgmental,” and often have “ethical or moral foundations”;
  • are “life-long” questions to which one may return again and again, in different life contexts.

This is how I would begin a list of essential questions raised by the book of Job:

  • What does a Creator God owe to God’s creatures?
  • What is “blasphemy”?

If you would, take a moment to continue this list in the Comments. I also invite further discussion on what makes an “essential question.”

Thank you!

[*] I was first exposed to the notion of “essential questions” by Brigid Schultz of Loyola University Chicago, in her keynote address to the Focus on Teaching workshop of January 7, 2009. Her title was, “Strategies for Sustaining Teaching Effectiveness.”

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Fact-Checking “Irrelevance,” and Open-Access Ed

David Hymes wrote a thoughtful response to a Deseret News article in which Professor David Wiley was quoted as saying, “Institutions [of higher ed] will be irrelevant by 2020.” It turns out that Wiley claims to have been misquoted: his original utterance began along the lines of, “IF universities do not respond to certain crises and trends…” What is more, Deseret News went on to publish an editorial challenging Wiley’s claim: not the moderate claim he actually made, but the unqualified extreme claim that their own journalist redacted his words to produce.

In other words, it gives the appearance of a common media practice: produce a wild-eyed zealot if possible, and if none is available, edit somebody’s words to create the impression of wild-eyed zealotry. Sure, it fails to advance a conversation responsibly, but it does produce a lot of page-hits for the advertisers.

Let’s tease a couple of positive threads from this (in addition to David Hymes’ constructive reflections).

  • The Google video “What If?” (wrongly described in the original Deseret News article as a YouTube video) is thought-provoking and funny: an Enlightenment history of “OMG new tech will destroy learning.” Go ahead and have a look.
  • The Flat World Knowledge catalogue of open-access textbooks: do you notice anything about what sorts of topics are and are not currently available? Would you write an open-access textbook in Hebrew Bible, New Testament, ancient Near East studies, or whatever you teach or plan to teach?