Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Reason 2: College Teaches Ways of Thinking

In the second edition of my 100 reasons to go to college, I am offering another rebuttal post of sorts. In this post, I am exploring the reasoning offered in the 100 Reasons Not to go to College blog, where the author cites various reasons why colleges can’t really teach you how to think.

As always, I want to offer an olive branch before I even begin my rebuttal: I do not think the author of this post is necessarily entirely wrong. There is no doubt that many professors, myself included, have a habit of not necessarily teaching critical thinking in a direct manner, but instead teach students how we ourselves think and attack problems, about areas of interest, and our ideas for research and fixing said problems.  I, as I am assuming others do, also try to teach my students how to interpret news, opinion pieces, and scholarly articles in a way that is beyond looking at the superficial read and regurgitate level, more so by trying to push my students to connect ideas both from their own frame of reference and also between various pieces that they are reading.

In short, both myself and the author of the post linked above are “right”, just in different ways.


Firstly, the author notes an NYU study, which Richard Arum ultimately used to write the seminal book, Academically Adrift, (you can get a good idea about that book/article by reading about the study written about in this article) which found that students did not improve upon their critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing skills as one would expect of a college graduate.  While I know this book has been somewhat controversial since its publication, since the findings are so reliant on the CLA test, I also have found it interesting in that also helps to make the inverse argument of what the blog post author was aiming to make. For example, let’s review this quote below:

Forty-five percent of students made no significant improvement in their critical thinking, reasoning or writing skills during the first two years of college, according to the study. After four years, 36 percent showed no significant gains in these so-called "higher order" thinking skills.

In the above quote, we see that 55% of students are going to make some form of improvement in their critical thinking, reasoning and/or writing skills during their first few years in college, and that roughly two thirds of college students will make improvements as they continue through college. What does this point too? Simple, as you spend more time in university, you’ll continue to improve upon critical thinking, writing, and reasoning skills.

Another area the blog post author explores is the issue of time. How can students improve their thinking skills if they are only going through the motions to get a good grade, get a degree, and go on to the workforce? Ultimately, I think this moves the goalposts away from skill development, towards a motivation for one’s education. However, even then, a study by Lin and McKeachie found that students who are both intrinsically motivated and extrinsically motivated to succeed in a course were more likely to get a higher grade and to actually learn the content found within the course of study (1999).

The author closes with an analogy that one is more likely to improve upon thinking skills through solving puzzles or crosswords. While I certainly understand that this was offered for comedic purposes, I do feel the post glosses over the many ways one will learn to assess ideas and to think deeply about what they are learning.

By going to college you will most likely do all of the following found below:

  1. Work with experts in your field of study (i.e. your professors).
  2. Read, dissect, and discuss seminal works in your field of study. By building this foundation, you will be able to shape your ideas through developing a framework grounded in a deeper theoretical (and hopefully practical implications of said theory) understanding of your field.
  3. Learn how to assess bias of the authors you are reading.
  4. Connect theory to practice and connect theories to other theories.
  5. Learn for the background of your peers and their life experiences.
  6. Hopefully have your ideas scrutinized by others, so that you can reformulate your thinking and learn how to address weak spots in your overall knowledge of your field.
Opportunities for this in the real world are tough to find, quite frankly. More importantly, to reasonably address any of the above items, you would need to think critically, learn from others, and be able to synthesize a variety of forms of information. What does that take? Critical thinking skills

Consequently, I’ll close this post by noting that I believe that colleges teach you various ways of thinking. These include being able to dissect ideas, but also being able to understand ideas from a variety of perspectives, to understand what makes for a strong argument, and also to better judge the veracity of the argument of others. These are invaluable skills that one will need to succeed in life, regardless of the profession they choose to enter.

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Reason 2: College Teaches Ways of Thinking

In the second edition of my 100 reasons to go to college, I am offering another rebuttal post of sorts. In this post, I am exploring the...