January 18, 2011

"Study: Many college students not learning to think critically."

Not surprising.
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....
I'd like a study analyzing whether the professors know how to sift fact from opinion, make a clear written argument, and objectively review conflicting reports of a situation or event.
Howard Gardner, a professor at Harvard's Graduate School of Education known for his theory of multiple intelligences, said the study underscores the need for higher education to push students harder.

"No one concerned with education can be pleased with the findings of this study," Gardner said. "I think that higher education in general is not demanding enough of students — academics are simply of less importance than they were a generation ago."

But the solution, in Gardner's view, shouldn't be to introduce high-stakes tests to measure learning in college because, "The cure is likely to be worse than the disease."
Hmm. Continuing my refocus to the failings of the teacher, let's analyze the critical thinking skills of Harvard professor Howard Gardner. Faculty ought to push students harder, but not resort to high-stakes testing? Why not? What's "likely" to be worse about that solution? Gardner blathers out some verbiage in pseudo-response to the study. He sounds as though he just knee-jerk hates the pressure of exams. Presumably, it has something to do with his famous theory of multiple intelligences, but I wish he'd be honest and specific about why he thinks these things.

How about adding to the list of "intelligences" the capacity to evade critical thinking without getting caught?

56 comments:

TMink said...

One of my best courses in grad school was a required course titles "Critical Thinking in Clinical Practice."

Trey

PaulV said...

As a student I preferred difficult questions that required analysis to solve. I was in engineering school. Sometimes on the curve a 45was a B. I did well on multible guess questions that required you to decode a pattern (Best answer)

Maguro said...

How many of these professors believe Critical thinking = Whatever the current liberal dogma happens to be?

TMink said...

Gardner is wrong in his critique. It is not that college students are not pushed enough academically, it is that the goal of too many college professers is progressive indoctrination.

Critical thinking has no place in that program. It is an anathema to indoctrination. Interestingly, what kind of world view is so fragile to critical thought? Only one not worth holding I wager.

Trey

Scott M said...

My profs twenty years ago, and then again when I went back ten years ago, were all roundly bitching about this fact. Why did it take yet another study to confirm?

Henry said...

The "high stakes" test to measure critical thinking is called "the paper." The reason papers (or even essay tests) are worse than the disease is because they are a bitch to grade. Instructors don't have the time and aren't paid enough.

A star like Gardner isn't paid enough because he has better things to do. The grunts that teach most core classes aren't paid enough because they aren't paid diddly.

Gretchen said...

Ironically Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences has not been proven via a scientific study. It is no wonder students are unable to think critically when they are taught at great cost by professors who espouse feel- good "everyone is smart" theory as truth.

Critical thinking is developed through fair and honest debate which is impossible if one side will be labeled racist, homophobic, anti-science or just plain evil if they dare to bring up an opposing view.

traditionalguy said...

The answer is simple. Critical thinking is not being rewarded in the classroom setting or in exam grading. When the Professor is the only one who knows anything worth knowing on a subject, then why let the students think at all? The society's newest religions du jour cannot be allowed to be blasphemed by questions and answers coming from critical thinkers.

TosaGuy said...

Since all what my grad school friends who are currently professors do now is bitch about grading, I can see why critical thinking skills are in decline in the college classroom.

It takes tremendous effort and lots of hours to develop coursework and examinations/papers to properly develop and evaluate such a high-level skill.

HKatz said...

Critical thinking isn't widespread on campuses, that's true. But is this only a recent historical development? Historically there has always seemed to be great conformity of thought in academia (as in other places), and usually it was only a minority of people pushing against it and considering new ideas, while the rest clung to the fashionable theories and notions of the day and punished others for thinking otherwise.

I'm not saying this is a desirable state of affairs, but it just doesn't seem to be a new one.

TosaGuy said...

Best class I ever took that developed my critical thinking skills was an elective called Personal Finance. The semester-long project was to invest $10K hypothetical dollars. You had to develop long-term and short-term investment goals, buy/sell criteria, reasons why your particular investment fit your goals, etc.

TMink said...

Gardner's theory is actually quite sound and useful. It is not based on "everyone is smart" thinking but on "there are lots of ways to be smart" thinking.

Statistically, g, the main factor in intelligence tests is pretty sound. But anyone who pays attention notes that there are many ways to be proficient.

My youngest daughter has a touch of dyslexia and is not the student that her twin brother are. She can also, at 8 years old, sing a melody she has heard once with close to perfect pitch and sing harmony when she feels like it.

while I have always had a good ear, I could not sing harmony until my 20s.

Trey

Paul Zrimsek said...

I take Gardner to be speaking for the education establishment here. Recall that "critical thinking" is the usual consolation prize the EE offers to make up for its failure to deliver on the three Rs. And testing (with the dread specter of accountability lurking behind it) is always the enemy.

Fred4Pres said...

No kidding!

Quayle said...

When there is only one valid and acceptable position to take, thinking critically isn't important.

The baby-boomer proffesoriate doesn't want the students to think critically about the current intellectual regime.

That would be so ...... 60s.

EDH said...

"I'm not joking. This is my job."

Clyde said...

From a credential-seeking standpoint, is it better to learn to think critically, or is it better to parrot the line most likely to please the professor giving the grade? The squeaky wheel may get the grease, but the pleasingly quiescent one gets the A.

Salamandyr said...

Way back in the 90's, the core group of classes for my university, called "university studies", all took as their central mission to teach "critical thinking". I honestly can't recall anything any of them taught that actually contributed to that.

Critical thinking is like happiness; it's easiest acquired by pursuing something else. The problem is, too many people jump to "ought" without spending enough time studying what "is".

tim maguire said...

I think you're right that the teachers would probably not test well in this area.

How could they after 40 years of humanities courses (of which by now nearly all of them are a product) dedicated to fitting facts to one or another theory of power and its control of society rather than trying to let facts speak for themselves.

ricpic said...

The best critical thinking (problem solving) is done by workmen, who have to deal with the obdurate nature of things, hard facts, that more often than not won't cooperate in the easy straightforward completion of a job but have to be made to fit. Maybe the best course to enhance the critical thinking of our future elites would be a required year of shop.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

By the time you get to college if you haven't learned to think critically, it is probably too late to learn.

I would imagine that the study probably used liberal arts types who congenitally have the critical thinking skills of a sea sponge.

Do the same study on the science and engineering students.

The Crack Emcee said...

How many times have I said this? Just in the last week, even? Pogo? Anybody?

The Crack Emcee said...

Critical thinking has no place in that program. It is an anathema to indoctrination.

Amen.

The Crack Emcee said...

It is not based on "everyone is smart" thinking but on "there are lots of ways to be smart" thinking.

Amen again.

CatherineM said...

I have to say, I went to a school most people think of as second (or third) best, but you didn't pass freshman year if you didn't pass critical thinking courses which included writing papers with opinion, argument, etc. Also, learning how to cite sources in your papers.

CrankyProfessor said...

Ummm...what's the real use of the word "critical" in the phrase "critical thinking"? If they think, that's enough. It's kind of like "close reading." Most people don't read - they skim their eyes across the words. Most people don't think.

The Crack Emcee said...

The best critical thinking (problem solving) is done by workmen, who have to deal with the obdurate nature of things, hard facts, that more often than not won't cooperate in the easy straightforward completion of a job but have to be made to fit. Maybe the best course to enhance the critical thinking of our future elites would be a required year of shop.

Probably.

bwebster said...

My freshman year of college (we're talking 1971-72), I took Honors English, which was actually a course entitled "Composition and Reasoning". We met 3 days/week with an English professor who taught us, well, composition. We met 2 days/week with a Philosophy professor who taught us logic, reasoning, fallacies, and a basic historical overview of philosophical concepts.

Most of the homework was separate, but all our major papers involved taking a stand on a controversial issue and defending it. Those papers were graded by _both_ professors; one grade for quality of composition, one for soundness of logic.

It was one of the best and most valuable classes I took in all of college. I think a class on logic and reasoning should be a _high school_ graduation requirement. It'd probably do more to strengthen society than just about any other HS-level subject matter.

Scott M said...

What's a true sham in higher education is that they reteach things you've already had, even in the middle-of-the-road classes, in high school. I had two algebras, trig, geometry and calc in high school and got a 28 on the ACT in math. I was still forced to take college algebra my freshman year in college and trig after that.

Ditto with composition. My English Comp 1 was ALL about the five-sentence essay that I had been taught years before in HS. Granted, we never wrote a 10-page research paper (comp 2) in HS, but we'd written five or so and had to use citations.

Why are colleges intent on reteaching things we've already learned. DOES THE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION KNOW THIS IS GOING ON????

REPEATGATE!!!!

Birkel said...

The whole "multiple intelligences" (MI) business was a response to "The Bell Curve**". IOW, it was an attempt at political correctness wrapped in psuedo-intellectualism. Any attempts to push testing or for professors to "push students harder" would potentially undermine the theory of MI.

Professor: I must push you harder.
Student: In which of the seven directions will you push me?
Professor: ??
Student: Profit!!

-OR-

Professor: I must test you.
Student: Which of my seven intelligences will you test?
Professor: ??
Student: Profit!!

So the professor cannot respond to the study in any meaningful way without undermining his own fame. And if that happens no more reporters will come to interview him. QED

**I take no position on the "science" of that book.

dont tread 2012 said...

'Critical thinking' is just another secular humanist term for the rejection of traditional morals.

Don't fall for it.

Scott M said...

dont tread 2012, you're going to have to expand on that or, as a traditional guy and as Lutheran as they come, I'm going to call bullshit on that.

Given your sentence, it's very easy to point out that, short of more info from you, those two concepts have nothing to do with each other.

Big Mike said...

I'd like a study analyzing whether the professors know how to sift fact from opinion, make a clear written argument, and objectively review conflicting reports of a situation or event.

You too? But in your shoes I'd be very careful to keep Bascom Hill between you and the Sewell Building at all times.

Joe said...

Define critical thinking.

There have been a slew of articles on this, yet few actually define what they're talking about. Quite often it seems that they're merely talking about argumentation [of the inconsequential.]

Colleges are not only NOT teaching critical thinking, they teach conformity. It's not enough to simply think critically, but to accept that from others.

Unfortunately, businesses, government and the military have all come to prize conformity above just about everything else. Challenge an upper level manager in a meeting with a well constructed criticism and you are likely to be disciplined or fired.

(It doesn't help that most upper level managers have no clue what they're doing. They actually believe all the bullshit taught in MBA schools [by professors who've never run successful businesses in their lives.] They are then hired directly into management and are scared shitless that anyone will actually challenge them and expose their ignorance. Hence, the fear of underlings actually thinking critically and, worse, expressing that.)

Finally, if you want to think critically take classes in engineering, math and the hard sciences. (But that's not what they meant; engineering doesn't teach you how to deconstruct The Great Gatsby [which liberal arts professors apparently think is the same as critical thinking.])

roesch-voltaire said...

Critical thinking is rather ill-defined; rather I think the skills that are needed include the ability to reflect on heuristics-not just accept them, to engage in counter factual thinking that promotes a healthy skepticism, and the willingness to to change a strategy or opinion in the face of new evidence. To develop these patterns of thought,these habits and need to be practiced and cultivated daily, which is what happens in a "good" classroom. Unfortunately the media, and most pundits, and politicians model few of these traits, which might in part explain the general lack of critical thinking in our culture.

Roger J. said...

What Gretchen said--there isnt a shred of proof that there are multiple intelligences--Gardner asserts them and provides anecdotal "evidence." Why" recall the furor over the Bell Curve (Hernnstien and Murray) which asserted there was a thing called intelligence and the measure was IQ--Arthur Jensen was also a proponent--I submit Gardner's asshat scholarship was the liberal academic assertion that IQ is bogus as a measure when there are in fact "multiple intellegences." if someone can show me studies that confirm the existence of multiple intelligences, I might change my mind--Gardner offers only anecdotal evidence.

Full disclosure: I am not convinced that IQ is all that significant either, but at least the bell curve made explicit their methodology--a far cry from Garner's horseshit.

Roger J. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rhhardin said...

Test for the ability to believe things quickly.

Henry said...

One way to develop critical thinking skills is to switch majors. Or colleges. Get outside of the system. Find out what others find unimportant. Be the oddball.

Sarah Palin wins again.

Roger J. said...

Birkel--apologies--I see I made the same point as you but you made it first--I should have acknowledged that--sorry

Scott M said...

Best definition I ever saw for intelligence is "what happens when you don't know what to do next".

Given that time is wholly sequential, I'm not buying the multiple intelligences line. I think the researcher has been playing too many MMO's and probably a twinker.

edutcher said...

We are surprised at the title of the post, how?

Quayle's point, that a lot of Lefty profs can't take anyone who actually disagrees with them, is part of it.

The other is that self-esteem and PC, instead of critical and analytical thinking, has been taught in primary and secondary schools for about 40 years because the Lefties who run institutions like Harvard's Graduate School of Education want to produce good little sheep who will believe and do and vote the way the Messiah tells them.

PS I see dont tread's point in the sense that something called critical thinking can be used as a blind to inveigle students into thinking the Lefty way, "How does this historical example show how evil the white settlers were?", etc.

WV "gorhilin" A loathsome disease passed by a former VPOTUS when his second chakra is aroused.

Roger J. said...

Re "critical thinking:" I am all in favor of it from a vague universalist approach--but to think critically, it seem to me you need to know shit to think about--that shit is, of course, facts: the chain rule in calculus, the dates of the thirty years war, and a whole bunch of other mundane facts--if you have no facts at your disposal, you will end up sounding like derrida or foucalt--full of shit and contributing nothing to furthering knowledge.

Pogo said...

Crack Emcee is right; this is a postmodernism/New Age error now serving as the basis for education.

If instead of 'Critical theory', they taught critical thinking (e.g., logic and hard sciences and shop and sports) in high school and college, students would learn it.

But they very often don't teach that anymore, instead favoring a relativism regarding facts and figures, to further other agendas.

This is one of the things we can thank the long march through the institutions for.

TMink said...

"The whole "multiple intelligences" (MI) business was a response to "The Bell Curve**"."

You are wrong.

Garnder published his multiple intelligence work in the mid 80s while The Bell Curve was published in the mid 90s. So it could not have been a response to something that was not yet written.

Trey

Kurt said...

Far too many professors in the humanities have decided to substitute "critical theory" for "critical thinking." In other words, learning how to apply a theoretical analytical template to any text or situation is, in their eyes, more important than questioning the logic or checking or verifying the facts.

Most scientists learn critical thinking within their disciplines--at least within the hard sciences--but many of them also fall under the influence of postmodern, leftist pablum when thinking about politics or other issues in life.

Roger J. said...

Damn Trey--first time I have been wrong since 1947--:)

Pogo said...

In short, it turns out that John Dewey's philosophy of education was completely, horribly, grotesquely wrong.

Pogo said...

An 80-year long massively failed experiment.

Paul Zrimsek said...

"Multiple intelligences" existed only before the 2000 election. For the following eight years, intelligence became a monolithic thing George Bush didn't have. Now it's a monolithic thing Sarah Palin doesn't have.

MayBee said...

I blame zero-tolerance rules in schools. And "don't be judgmental!" parenting.

TMink said...

Good on ya Roger! Talk to you again in 2040!

All the best.

Trey

Big Mike said...

@roesch-voltaire, are you aware of how seldom you seem to apply "counter factual thinking that promotes a healthy skepticism" in your comments on this blog?

You are reminding me, sir, of my handicapped son's elementary and high school teachers, who could quote chapter and verse of what they were supposed to do in which situations, but could not recognize that there was an instance of the situation -- a child who was physically handicapped -- directly in front of them.

The Crack Emcee said...

bwebster,

I think a class on logic and reasoning should be a _high school_ graduation requirement. It'd probably do more to strengthen society than just about any other HS-level subject matter.

Amen again - and thanks, Pogo.

dont tread 2012 said...

@ Scott M

Simple point, 'critical thinking' as it was presented to me and as I understand it, in general, attempts to upend the logical-reasoning portion of the program and usher in fuzzy concepts, allowing room for relativism.

I'm sorry I can't be more concise for you, I just believe the term to be a code term for the PC/elite crowd and don't really think you mean to support as such.

Timon said...

This might better be corrected in grade school with a greater emphasis on the classical trivium and a study of Latin and Greek. I wouldn't know from experience, except my own inferior education.