Critical Thinking – Not!

This was reported a few days ago and I’m late in getting to it. It is part of some research that I’m working on now, but significant enough that I wanted to share it before I finished.

As you read these two articles, think about the aftermath of the recent Safeway shootings and the rush to a narrative without evidence.

Study: Many college students not learning to think critically

NEW YORK — An unprecedented study that followed several thousand undergraduates through four years of college found that large numbers didn’t learn the critical thinking, complex reasoning and written communication skills that are widely assumed to be at the core of a college education.

Many of the students graduated without knowing how to sift fact from opinion, make a clear written argument or objectively review conflicting reports of a situation or event, according to New York University sociologist Richard Arum, lead author of the study. The students, for example, couldn’t determine the cause of an increase in neighborhood crime or how best to respond without being swayed by emotional testimony and political spin.

From USA Today:

Nearly half of the nation’s undergraduates show almost no gains in learning in their first two years of college, in large part because colleges don’t make academics a priority, a new report shows.

As a business leader, this is a problem that I see in a large population of applicants. Not so much in people with technical degrees, because engineering degrees demand critical thinking and the use of rules. Math leads to higher math to physics and higher functions. All engineering work is built on a solid foundation of critical thinking and the application of rules. The two greatest learning experiences in my life came from geometry in high school (geometry is built on “proofs” – using rules applied in new situations to solve problems, truth built upon truth) and the engineering curriculum in college. They taught me to think. My work toward an engineering degree made all my business and law classes much easier because they taught me how to think logically.

In the technical world, there is no room for boosting self esteem or “the answer is whatever makes you feel good”. 2+2 is not 3 or 5, it is 4, it was 4 yesterday and it will be tomorrow. Problems don’t get solved because we feel good about it. We must generate answers.

Have we graded on the curve so much that college is really a waste of time and money?

Talk Amongst Yourselves:

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