Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Is college making people dumber?

This sounds about right: "Many college students not learning to think critically:"
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.

Arum, whose book "Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses" (University of Chicago Press) comes out this month, followed 2,322 traditional-age students from the fall of 2005 to the spring of 2009 and examined testing data and student surveys at a broad range of 24 U.S. colleges and universities, from the highly selective to the less selective.

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.

What can we expect when critical thinking that does not conform to academic liberal dogma is frowned upon, emotion is substituted for reason in most situations--and now, it is even called for in the Supreme court, and teens and young people are taught that thinking for yourself has severe consequences. It's a wonder they can think at all.

18 Comments:

Blogger Larry J said...

Is college making people dumber?

I don't know the answer to that one. A year or so ago, I read an article which stated that college graduates knew less about civics than high school students, so the answer may well be yes.

It'd be interesting to have college seniors retake the SAT or ACT tests before graduation and compare the results to their high school scores.

4:01 PM, January 18, 2011  
Blogger HMT said...

It doesn't surprise me that the surveyed graduates didn't show critical thinking skills. I have a feeling that my class of 1990 would show similar deficiencies. My reading of the internet at large shows me that the general population couldn't identify a logical fallacy when faced with one.

I graduated in engineering and didn't learn about "scientific method" until well after graduation, and that was due to my own personal reading into various scientific topics. I learned logical argument because I took a one hour "philosophy of logic" course on a lark.

I think a required freshman intro class should include "critical thinking" topics that would cover scientific method and the logic of argument, including logical fallacies. Maybe if most people knew HOW to debate and what that actually meant we'd see more of it instead of the yelling matchings that are so pervasive in national and local politics.

4:13 PM, January 18, 2011  
Blogger DRJ said...

It's not that schools don't know how to teach students, it's that many of today's educators only tolerate PC thoughts and attitudes. How can students possibly learn to discriminate between competing ideas if one side of the debate is per se wrong?

5:06 PM, January 18, 2011  
Blogger Crimso said...

"Critical thinking" is redundant. Most people think (there's that damned word again) that thinking is taking in sensory perceptions. The actual process of thinking (in my own worthless opinion) is critical evaluation of those perceptions, not simply noting their existence and storing them for possible future use.

As an engineering major when I was an undergraduate, critical thinking wasn't explicitly taught. The process of getting through the first two years of the curriculum was one of demonstrating your aptitude for critical thought: you either "got it" or you didn't, and they didn't much care if you flunked out or not.

My upper-level courses were full of exams that were real marvels. You walk in, get your copy of the exam, note there are a total of three questions on it, and then begin reading the questions. You would very quickly begin to panic, certain that you had somehow walked into the wrong class. The questions we were confronted with looked absolutely nothing like anything covered in class or on the homework problems. You would then settle down and realize you had to THINK for a few minutes about the question. Soon, you would begin to see the way. Having confidence that you could in fact figure it out helped a lot.

I think the basic problem is most people don't really know what it is "to think." Furthermore, the process of actual thinking that they do engage in they see as being difficult. Thinking is not at all difficult (it is actually second-nature) when you practice it. There are many ways to practice it. The challenge for higher education (I am a chemistry professor) is to constantly have the students practice thinking rather than accepting information and then simply storing it. Not all subjects lend themselves well to this process, and I find the expansion of "General Studies Requirements" at the expense of courses in your major to be part of the problem. I don't want a civil engineer with a broad-based education designing the bridge I use. I want one that spent his/her time in college studying bridge design.

Sorry for the verbosity.

6:45 PM, January 18, 2011  
Blogger fred said...

"when critical thinking that does not conform to academic liberal dogma is frowned upon, emotion is substituted for reason in most situations-" Any evidence to support this emotional response to the post you put up?

7:49 PM, January 18, 2011  
Blogger Crimso said...

Any evidence at all? How about anthropogenic global warming? Does the call for revoking academic credentials and trying skeptics for crimes against humanity sound more like reason or emotion to you? I'll grant you that's not evidence for "most situations," but it's certainly a start.

7:58 PM, January 18, 2011  
Blogger Art Deco said...

I will suggest an alternative explanation:

1. Diminishing returns has, with this 36% of the student body, set in big time. Large quanta of instruction and drill will produce only small increments of improved performance. Therefur:

2. Tertiary education for this clientele should be concerned with the acquisition of additional skills. They were when they enrolled about as critical as they were ever going to be.

8:50 PM, January 18, 2011  
Blogger Grey Swan said...

I don't think college makes people dumber as much as it fails to make people smarter. However, in this day and age, it is better to view college as an investment in credentialsit is better to view college as an investment in credentials, and do a cost-benefit analysis from there. If you want an education, spend time at a library.

9:00 PM, January 18, 2011  
Blogger Stormbringer said...

Judging from some of the comments on my Weblog and on others, I have serious doubts that people are learning to think critically. One outstanding example was when my words were changed, a demand was made on me to defend what I did not say, then it was concluded that my original point had no merit. Ummm...yeah.

10:14 PM, January 18, 2011  
Blogger jimbino said...

Speaking of the Supreme Court: one of the prerequisites for getting appointed appears to be having studiously avoided every science, math, and engineering course possible in college and graduate school.

Of the nine, only Breyer has earned any distinction in math and science and only he has taken a graduate class in economics.

Of course, our congressmen are even dumber in math and science, and the only presidents in this century who had any scientific sense were Hoover and Carter. It's good to know that if you flunk out in substantive college courses you can still have a good run in law and politics.

8:46 AM, January 19, 2011  
Blogger dr.alistair said...

lawyers, judges and so on are only taught the stregth of winning arguements, developing tactics and strategies and being gangsters, and the majority of our politicians are from that said group.

so, of course they aren`t going to encourage critical thinking at any stage of a person`s education.

the political system is designed to polarise thinking amongst a populationn of folks with an average of 100 i.q. and therefore setting themselve against eachother.

our handlers from both sides of the house laugh all the way to lunch.


a population of people who still believe things such as man-made global warming are easy to toy with.

as a hint for those sitting on the fence; the sun. (the big bright thing in the sky your mother told not to stare into.)

9:08 AM, January 19, 2011  
Blogger Quasimodo said...

What is critical thinking? I disagree that is is what helps engineering students take tests. (I remember taking tests where I was convinced I walked into the wrong room at exam time too) To me critical thinking is more like stepping into a real world situation where there is an enormous mountain of facts, data, and opinions available: critical thinking allows one to sort out the wheat from the chaff in that mountain, recognize what is missing, determine how to fill in the gaps, then put it all together coherently to arrive at a solution or correct conclusion.

3:24 PM, January 19, 2011  
Blogger JB said...

I always thought it was ironic that I was not taught the Scientific Method -- along with critical thinking, statistical analysis, and syllogistic reasoning until I was in graduate school... majoring in a so-called "soft science" (psychology). My undergrad degrees were in math and computer engineering. You'd expect that I'd have learned the science part there, but no. It was never taught in my degree curriculum.
I was a TA during my grad student years, teaching Experimental Method at the undergrad level (again, in the Psych department). It always floored me that these students struggled so much. Experimental Methods was known as the "filter" class -- the one that exposed the wash-outs. These students came into college completely unable to *think*; the concepts of hypothesis-testing, correlation vs. causation, and of course "all that MATH!" were simply beyond them.

8:52 AM, January 20, 2011  
Blogger DRJ said...

I've been thinking about this for several days, and I've decided college isn't a waste ... but college is wasted on many of today's students.

I have a college-age child and too many of his peers use college to socialize, not study. When they do study or attend class, they don't apply themselves and instead do the least amount of work possible. Finally, to the extent high schools and colleges facilitate this attitude via grade inflation, group assignments, and dumbed-down PC curriculum, that education is a waste.

2:22 PM, January 20, 2011  
Blogger Larry J said...

I have a college-age child and too many of his peers use college to socialize, not study. When they do study or attend class, they don't apply themselves and instead do the least amount of work possible.

Speaking only based on my own expeerience, I think many high school graduates would benefit by not going straight to college. They should get a job, do some volunteer work, or serve a hitch in the military. That will give them some time to grow up and get the partying foolishness out of their systems.

In my case, I served in the military before going to college. I was 23 before I was able to go to school full time. By that point, I was ready to work. I got very little from the VA back then so I had to work while going to school. This motivated me to take heavy courseloads (never less than 18 credit hours and often more than 21) and since I was paying for it, I almost never skipped class. I finished a degree in math in a little over 3 years.

Serving in the military certainly isn't for everyone and I'd never support a return to the draft, but getting out in the world and learning how to support yourself can make you a lot more focused.

4:17 PM, January 20, 2011  
Blogger br549 said...

"Our schools have been scientifically designed to prevent over-education from happening. The average American [should be] content with their humble role in life, because they're not tempted to think about any other role."
-William Torrey Harris, U.S. Commissioner of Education from 1889-1906.

8:35 PM, January 20, 2011  
Blogger DADvocate said...

I learned logical argument because I took a one hour "philosophy of logic" course on a lark.

Same here. I took 4 philosophy classes. Three of which I credit with teaching me more about writing than did my English classes plus teaching me about logical arguments, etc. The 4th class was a give yourself you're own grade class taught by a liberal that was worthless except to contribute credit hours towards graduation.

11:59 AM, January 21, 2011  
Blogger Doom said...

Some of it, though too, has to do with the "education factory", in which people who should not be in college are there anyway and at every level. Eventually, even rocks pass. How much of that is chosen by schools, I can't say, though I think they are looking at the bottom line more than anything else. Professors grumble about it, but know that is their guaranteed $100k and up salary.

Add in the leftist dogmatic command and you get what we got. It almost looks like colleges have simply given up and are just trying to soak as much money as they can while it lasts. They have to know that putting out that many worthlessly degreed people will have to kill their own market? Don't they?

8:34 AM, January 22, 2011  

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