The Corner

Education

Why So Many College Graduates Can’t Really Think

Among the standard claims made on behalf of putting kids in college is that they’ll learn “critical thinking.” (As if plain old thinking isn’t critical, but let that go.) But do they? It’s increasingly evident that instead of turning out sharp reasoners, colleges turn out dullards who believe that their emotions are a substitute for logic.

That’s the argument Georgia State English professor Rob Jenkins makes in today’s Martin Center article.

“Clearly” he writes, “colleges and universities across the country aren’t adequately teaching thinking skills, despite loudly insisting, to anyone who will listen, that they are. How do we explain that disconnect?”

His explanation is that more and more of the college curriculum consists of shabby courses where the professor does the very opposite of teaching critical thinking, but rather instills in students ideas that encourage them to rely on feelings as a guide to what’s right and what isn’t. The “deconstruction” fad is a big part of that, as students are taught that texts have no inherent meaning, but only what the reader sees in them. Same for the notion that truth is relative.

Jenkins writes:

That view runs contrary to the purposes of a “liberal arts” education, which undertakes the search for truth as the academy’s highest aim. Indeed, the urge to deconstruct everything is fundamentally illiberal. Heritage Foundation’s Bruce Edwards calls it “liberal education’s suicide note” in that it suggests the only valid response to any idea or situation is the individual’s own — how he or she “feels” about it.

(Strangely, if a student happens to feel that there’s no such thing as social justice or doubts that climate change is a looming disaster calling for vastly increased government powers, a professor is apt to berate him.)

It’s because students are taught to use their emotions rather than logic to guide their actions that we get so much of the silliness and even vicious behavior (as at Middlebury College and Berkeley) we now witness on college campuses. Jenkins drives the point home, writing, “All of this has a profound impact on students and explains a great deal of what is happening on colleges campuses today, from the dis-invitation (and sometimes violent disruption) of certain speakers to the creation of ’safe spaces’ complete with Play-Doh and ‘adult coloring books’ (whatever those are — I shudder to think). Today’s students are increasingly incapable of processing conflicting viewpoints intellectually; they can only respond to them emotionally.”

Wouldn’t it be fascinating to see what would happen if a parent sued a college that had advertised that it teaches students “critical thinking” for false advertising?

George Leef — George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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