Sunday, January 06, 2013

Colleges Aren't Teaching Students Much

Monroe County Community College

My friend Dr. Jim DeVries and I are reading Robert Arum's Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. Jim is retired from teaching history for 40 years at Monroe County Community College, where I have been teaching philosophy for 15 years. Jim was just elected on MCCC's Board of Directors. I'm excited for him and for our college, since Jim is an excellent scholar and educator, and has a real heart for student learning.

Should colleges teach students something? I'd say yes. What should students learn (if we agree they should learn) in college? Arum says they should learn critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing during their first two years in college. Are students prepared for this when they enter college? The answer, says Arum, is no. Do colleges help? Arum writes: "How much are students actually learning in contemporary higher education? The answer for many undergraduates, we have concluded, is not much." (Kindle Locations 799-800)

At least MCCC has a class dedicated to teaching critical thinking skills, Introduction to Logic, which I teach. My classroom text is: The Power of Critical Thinking: Effective Reasoning About Ordinary and Extraordinary Claims.  

On the universally agreed-upon need to teach critical thnking Arum writes:

Teaching students to think critically and communicate effectively are espoused as the principal goals of higher education. From the Commission on the Future of Higher Education’s recent report A Test of Leadership to the halls of Ivy League institutions, all corners of higher education endorse the importance of these skills. When promoting student exchange across the world, former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings urged foreign students to take advantage of “the creativity and diversity of American higher education, its focus on critical thinking, and its unparalleled access to world-class research.” The American Association of University Professors agrees: “… critical thinking … is the hallmark of American education—an education designed to create thinking citizens for a free society.” Indeed, 99 percent of college faculty say that developing students’ ability to think critically is a “very important” or “essential” goal of undergraduate education. Eighty-seven percent also claim that promoting students’ ability to write effectively is “very important” or “essential.”"

That sounds good. "However, commitment to these skills appears more a matter of principle than practice, as the subsequent chapters in this book document. The end result is that many students are only minimally improving their skills in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing during their journeys through higher education." (Kindle Locations 809-813)

Beginning Jan. 14 I'll meet a group of new students in three philosophy classes, in hopes of getting them to see the value and even fun of learning to think critically about all things, to include life's most important issues.