"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

College Students are Having Problems with Critcal Thinking Skills

This is an interesting article about the problems college students are having with critical thinking skills. It chronicles difficulties of students not only with critical thinking but also other communication modes:

An unprecedented study that followed several thousand undergraduates through four years of college found that large numbers didn't learn the critical thinking, complex reasoning and written communication skills that are widely assumed to be at the core of a college education.

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. The students, for example, couldn't determine the cause of an increase in neighborhood crime or how best to respond without being swayed by emotional testimony and political spin.

Dr. Arum has a great idea:

For that reason, Arum added, he hopes his data will encourage colleges and universities to look within for ways to improve teaching and learning.

Arum co-authored the book with Josipa Roksa, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Virginia. The study, conducted with Esther Cho, a researcher with the Social Science Research Council, showed that students learned more when asked to do more.

I wonder if establishing common core standards and providing a "one size fits all" curriculum will help critical thinking skills. Do you really believe that by state establishing common core standards will take care of critical thinking problems college students are having when the emphasis is teaching to the test? Teacher pay will be tied to test results. Teachers will teach to the test to ensure good results for both them and their students. You can hardly blame the teachers; they don't have the autonomy or the authority to teach any curriculum other than what's mandated.

Let's go back to the previous sentence explaining when students performed better: students learned more when asked to do more.

Now, don't you feel better about teaching students with "one size fits all" standards?


  1. The students won't need critical thinking skills because someone else will already have determined what is fact FOR THEM when they developed the common core standards. Because EVERYONE is being taught the same thing, there will be no counter evidence out there for students to consider.

  2. I have far too much concern for my kids education to risk sending them to a standard college. Community College provides the meal ticke... er... degree, with less, and more easily overcome, bouts of indoctrination.

  3. Sixteen years ago, I decided to home school my firstborn. The school district warehouse was discarding a critical thinking workbook series, so I grabbed one of each for my son. It gave him skills that were never taught once I took him back to public school. The schools used to teach critical thinking, but I don't think the teachers are, for the most part, critical thinkers. But anyone could've followed those workbooks.

  4. @Margaret, What was the workbook series? Do you remember?

  5. I believe that the problem with critical thinking among college students is just one of the difficulties they are experiencing. This is because of the lack of knowledge about a certain area. If the teachers properly teach their students about how to be a great critical thinker, then most probably, students will not have a problem implementing the education.

  6. Question: how does 'critical thinking' differ from reasoning? How is being a 'critical thinker' better than a (supposedly) non-critical thinker such as Aristotle, Cicero, Marcus Aurelius, Aquinas, Galileo, Newton, Locke, Montaigne, Burke... etc?

    Anyone notice when 'critical thinking' first came into use? Do you suppose there might be any tie-in between the changes in ideas of what constituted an Education, and the fact that declines in the general quality of education, began to be remarked upon at around the same time that 'critical thinking' began to be cited as being critical?

    If 'Vinnie' shows up offering you protection 'for a fee' at around the same time that vandals began causing you problems... might it be worth considering whether the two could be connected in some way?

    I know it's a fashionable term... but... just a thought.

  7. The fact that most people coming out of college today are liberal attests to the lack of critical thinking and complex reasoning skills being taught in our institutions.

    How are young men and women supposed to learn in an atmosphere that condemns “deniers” for questioning “settled science”? What type of reasoning training comes from a system that values political correctness and cultural diversity above truth and logic?


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