The other day Otis sent around this piece bemoaning the fact that undergraduates are unable to engage in critical thinking and that they don't learn a thing about critical thinking at college or university. Some excerpts:
... [A]lthough faculty in the humanities and social sciences claim to be teaching critical thinking, often they’re not. Instead, they’re teaching students to “deconstruct”—to privilege their own subjective emotions or experiences over empirical evidence in the false belief that objective truth is relative, or at least unknowable. That view runs contrary to the purposes of a “liberal arts” education, which undertakes the search for truth as the academy’s highest aim. ...
Unfortunately, such internalization of meaning does not culminate in open-mindedness and willingness to examine the facts and logic of differing views. Rather, it leads to the narrow-minded, self-centered assumption that there is a “right” way to feel, which automatically delegitimizes the responses of any and all who may feel differently.
All of this has a profound impact on students and explains a great deal of what is happening on colleges campuses today, ... Today’s students are increasingly incapable of processing conflicting viewpoints intellectually; they can only respond to them emotionally.
More to the point, that explains why employers keep complaining that college graduates can’t think. They’re not being taught to think. They’re being taught, in too many of their courses, to “oppose existing systems”—without regard for any objective appraisal of those systems’ efficacy—and to demonstrate their opposition by emoting.
For some reason, although I agree with the general thrust of the article, it provoked me to think about my own general lack of critical thinking ability. I wrote the following to Otis and friends (edited for this blog post).
In high school I was taught about syllogisms and Venn diagrams. I memorized what I had to about those things to get an "A", but I didn't internalize much. I learned what I had to learn to get by in my courses --- as an undergrad that meant getting C---- far too often. [As a satisficer, I upgraded that goal to getting a B---- in my senior year and an A---- as a grad student. BTW, those are minuses, not dashes.].
- I had a roommate who questioned things. His doing so forced me to question and think. He was VERY smart, an elitist interventionist, worldly. I will always be grateful to him and the memories I have of the challenges he posed for me. He and my other roommate combined to help me grow more, intellectually and emotionally, than I had before. For those who know me, I am referring to the late Fred Barra and the late Carl Young. I wrote about them here.
- I was going through the most serious stages of the identity crisis, which opened me to new approaches and ideas.
- I spent roughly 3 weeks mostly alone over Christmas break and had to face a lot of personal issues [the same thing happened again, with further development, when I lived alone in a rooming house after my first marriage ended -- more questioning, more critical thinking about many things: my life, my career, my relationships, economics, the non-meaning of life].
- Then while in seminary I read the Friedman-Samuelson debates in Newsweek magazine. Friedman won, hands down; I thirsted for his column every third week. I felt a strong sense of loss when the columns/debates were discontinued.
- Then I read some John Kenneth Galbraith and it made no sense.
- Then I read Capitalism and Freedom and for the most part was persuaded (his take on race and discrimination in that book still bothers me).
- And then I took courses from Robert Fogel and learned even more.