“He was our trusted man with the answers, even in times when reality came to us in the form of a question.” New York Times TV critic James Poniewozik wrote that about Alex Trebek, the beloved “Jeopardy!” game show host who died November 8. The writer was referencing the contrarian rule that “Jeopardy!” players shall be presented with an answer and must reply in the form of a question. My testimonial in honor of Trebek, whose presentations and persona have inspired me ever since he assumed his iconic role in 1985, is this reflection: We have been well educated–and prepared to keep growing–by the intelligent, respectful, exciting, and joyful dialogue that took place every evening. Thanks to Trebek, who has been called “America’s teacher,” the oddly beautiful, inseparable pairing of A&Q, of insight and inquiry, of gift and response, helped me to think of truth as fusion power, always renewable, and to see knowledge as something pursued, never held captive or hidden. The motif of learning was reconstructionist, not deconstructonist, liberally progressive yet somehow conservative. This game had to be taken somewhat seriously because two super-powers–understanding and curiosity–had been loosed for a drama of both collaboration and combat. My only response now is to ask follow-up questions. What is the legacy of this 80-year-old gentleman who embraced both wisdom and mystery, a Yoda-like blend of rigorous dignity and centered humility? And, what should we do with that legacy (beyond renewing the game for multiple seasons, of course)? It seems a national audience has been empowered to move from learning to teaching, to use the same qualities and quest to motivate tomorrow’s contestants. As our collective mass of information and our mash-up of realities grow exponentially, successive generataions must advance their questioning at a fast pace–into the next round, as it were. They must avoid being overwhelmed while they focus, shape, and sustain their inquiries, or else the game’s title will take on new, prophetic meaning.
(to be continued)