Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Need for Critical Thinking

I teach logic, the core form of critical thinking, at Monroe County Community College. Most students who come into my classes are weak thinkers. Hopefully, after a semester and six exams, their critical thinking skills will have improved. Is this important?

Richard Arum, in Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, writes: 

"These diverse concerns about the state of undergraduate education have served to draw attention to measuring whether students are actually developing the capacity for critical thinking and complex reasoning at college. In a rapidly changing economy and society, there is widespread agreement that these individual capacities are the foundation for effective democratic citizenship and economic productivity. “With all the controversy over the college curriculum,” Derek Bok has commented, “it is impressive to find faculty members agreeing almost unanimously that teaching students to think critically is the principal aim of undergraduate education.” Institutional mission statements also echo this widespread commitment to developing students’ critical thinking. They typically include a pledge, for example, that schools will work to challenge students to “think critically and intuitively,” and to ensure that graduates will become adept at “critical, analytical, and logical thinking.”" (Kindle Locations 105-112; emphasis mine)

"[T]he labor market values “the highly analytical individual who can think abstractly.”3 But what if increased educational attainment is not equivalent to enhanced individual capacity for critical thinking and complex reasoning?" (Kindle Locations 116-118)

Arum's academic concern is that incoming college students cannot reason or think, and academic institutions fail in helping the situation. Arum writes: "Many students come to college not only poorly prepared by prior schooling for highly demanding academic tasks that ideally lie in front of them, but—more troubling still—they enter college with attitudes, norms, values, and behaviors that are often at odds with academic commitment." (Kindle Locations 134-136)