Why College Students & Recent Grads Can’t Think

Freshmen and seniors at about 200 colleges across the U.S. take a little-known test every year to measure how much better they get at learning to think. The results are discouraging

. From a report:

At more than half of schools, at least a third of seniors were unable to make a cohesive argument, assess the quality of evidence in a document or interpret data in a table, The Wall Street Journal found after reviewing the latest results from dozens of public colleges and universities that gave the exam between 2013 and 2016. At some of the most prestigious flagship universities, test results indicate the average graduate shows little or no improvement in critical thinking over four years. Some of the biggest gains occur at smaller colleges where students are less accomplished at arrival but soak up a rigorous, interdisciplinary curriculum.

__ Colleges Fail to Teach Thinking Skills

More here and here

Thinking Skills Improvement by University

There is an excellent reason why today’s college students never learn to think in all their years of higher education: They are never taught to think. Why not? In the first place, teaching students to think is not a priority for the faculty, staff, and administration of most universities. Secondly, most faculty members themselves never learned to think — so they could not teach students those skills even if they wanted to.

Faculty Members Can’t Think

Sadly, studies of higher education demonstrate three disturbing, but hardly novel, facts:

Most college faculty at all levels lack a substantive concept of critical thinking.

Most college faculty don’t realize that they lack a substantive concept of critical thinking, believe that they sufficiently understand it, and assume they are already teaching students it.

Lecture, rote memorization, and (largely ineffective) short-term study habits are still the norm in college instruction and learning today.

These three facts, taken together, represent serious obstacles to essential, long-term institutional change, for only when administrative and faculty leaders grasp the nature, implications, and power of a robust concept of critical thinking — as well as gain insight into the negative implications of its absence — are they able to orchestrate effective professional development. __ Critical Thinking

You may be surprised to learn that small, relatively unknown colleges often succeed far better at teaching students to think than many larger and more prestigious schools.

At some of the most prestigious flagship universities, test results indicate the average graduate shows little or no improvement in critical thinking over four years.

Some of the biggest gains occur at smaller colleges where students are less accomplished at arrival but soak up a rigorous, interdisciplinary curriculum. __ Tax Prof Blog

If They Haven’t Learned to Think Before College, Too Bad

Children and youth should have been taught thinking skills long before reaching college age. Teaching thinking skills to college students should probably be thought of as remedial education — and it is typically left out of the curriculum.

Critical thinking, like other higher-order skills, gets crowded out in college courses that try to cover as much of the subject matter as possible. In the large introductory courses, with the largest number of students per class, students devote instructional time to a wide range of topics because no one wants to leave anything out. That forces the students into a breakneck pace that leaves little time for anything more than learning the vocabulary of the discipline — vocabulary that mostly gets forgotten just after the final exam. If critical thinking is addressed at all, it tends to be tacked onto the core content in a manner that everyone can tell is contrived. Students might be invited to reflect on potentially interesting topics, but few will do so without meaningful feedback and some kind of credit toward a good grade. __ https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2016/11/29/roadblocks-better-critical-thinking-skills-are-embedded-college-experience-essay

And — once again — faculty members themselves tend to not have a clear idea what critical thinking is and how to teach it:

Though the overwhelming majority of faculty claimed critical thinking to be a primary objective of their instruction (89%), only a small minority could give a clear explanation of what critical thinking is (19%). Furthermore, according to their answers, only 9% of the respondents were clearly teaching for critical thinking on a typical day in class.

Though the overwhelming majority (78%) claimed that their students lacked appropriate intellectual standards (to use in assessing their thinking), and 73% considered that students learning to assess their own work was of primary importance, only a very small minority (8%) could enumerate any intellectual criteria or standards they required of students or could give an intelligible explanation of those criteria and standards.

While 50% of those interviewed said that they explicitly distinguish critical thinking skills from traits, only 8% were able to provide a clear conception of the critical thinking skills they thought were most important for their students to develop. Furthermore, the overwhelming majority (75%) provided either minimal or vague allusion (33%) or no illusion at all (42%) to intellectual traits of mind.

Although the majority (67%) said that their concept of critical thinking is largely explicit in their thinking, only 19% could elaborate on their concept of thinking.

Although the vast majority (89%) stated that critical thinking was of primary importance to their instruction, 77% of the respondents had little, limited or no conception of how to reconcile content coverage with the fostering of critical thinking.

Although the overwhelming majority (81%) felt that their department’s graduates develop a good or high level of critical thinking ability while in their program, only 20% said that their departments had a shared approach to critical thinking, and only 9% were able to clearly articulate how they would assess the extent to which a faculty member was or was not fostering critical thinking. The remaining respondents had a limited conception or no conception at all of how to do this.
__ Critical Thinking

College students are typically considered to be the leaders of the future. They will certainly be tomorrow’s journalists, politicians, academicians, and political activists.

They will be tomorrow’s voters. If they cannot think, they can have no perspective on world and national events. They will increasingly be prey to political hucksters such as Corbyn, Obama, and Sanders. They will be doomed to repeat the fatal mistakes of recent history, because they never learned the lessons — and would not be able to connect the dots even had they memorised the historical facts.

Demographic decline takes many forms. Dysgenic decline occurs when higher-IQ populations have far fewer children than lower-IQ populations — both internationally and within a nation’s borders. This phenomenon is clear to see when comparing birthrates of sub Saharan Africa with birthrates in East Asia, Europe, and the Anglosphere. Another source of dysgenic decline is when low-IQ immigrants from the third world pour into traditionally higher-IQ countries — such as what is happening inside Europe, Russia, and most of the Anglosphere.

But demographic decline also occurs when higher-IQ populations are immersed in dysfunctional ideologies. The prominence of the climate apocalypse cult, for example, across much of Europe and the Anglosphere, exposes an ideological self-immolation by populations that have marinated too long in a dumbed-down educational environment and a degraded popular culture. They cannot think, so they are easily led from one artificial hysteria to another by dysfunctional systems of media, education, and government.

Instead of helping students to think for themselves, modern colleges and universities seem committed to stamping out any sparks of original thought that students may once have had.

Critical thinking is the ability to evaluate the connection between evidence and potential conclusions. It is the ability to make logically sound judgments, identify assumptions and alternatives, ask relevant questions, and to be fair and open-minded when evaluating the strength of arguments. __ Inside Higher Ed

It does no good to have the genetic ability to learn to think when one never utilises his genetic complement.

Hope for the Best. Prepare for the Worst

The Dangerous Child Method is the perfect antidote to the engineered obsolescence of the modern western mind. It is never too late to have a Dangerous Childhood. But no one can be forced into being a Dangerous Child, whatever his age. It is an informed choice, made by people who learned to think.

More: Within the mental void left by the absence of critical thinking, rampant anxiety and deluded thought streams abound.

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4 Responses to Why College Students & Recent Grads Can’t Think

  1. bob sykes says:

    I “taught” at Ohio State for 35 years. I don’t believe that critical thinking can be taught, at least not in the humanities. Critical thinking in the liberal arts is a built-in, genetic thing. Some critical thinking can be taught in the sciences, after all that is what the scientific method is. But it doesn’t translate into other areas, and fads like AGW show that critical thinging is rare even in the sciences.

  2. alfin2101 says:

    I suspect that you are correct, at least for the lower tercile of today’s students. Too many youth are pushed into college when their aptitude and propensities clearly point in an entirely different direction.

    Yet if you look at the graphic at the top of the article above, you will see that some institutions at least seem to be improving the critical thinking scores of students between their freshman and senior year exams.

    Finally the problem remains that many professors in the humanities simply want to train students to mimic the professors’ own opinions and attitudes. Teaching critical thinking would get in the way of that project.

  3. Someone says:

    I guess once again public education was a ‘success’ for someone. I’m doubtful whether critical thinking is really valued at many corporations or other large bureaucratic institutions.

  4. D. Gonzalez says:

    I think there’s one point that hasn’t been mentioned and that is the failure of big box public universities (the article specifically mentioned UT-Austin and U. of Kentucky) it’s impossible to have classes on philosophy or literature in those settings, these need class participation and you can’t do it with 300 or 400 students. These massive institutions really have low quality undergrad. education despite their resources and seem out of place to be honest, as most of the teaching is done by adjuncts and ‘research’ is the only thing full time professors care about.

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