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Bruno: What Summers & Lehrer Get Wrong About "Critical Thinking"

Higher_education_poster-p228483144150711475tdad_400Katharine Beals rightly chides Larry Summers and Jonah Lehrer for offering similarly misguided critiques of contemporary higher education.  As she points out, both Summers and Lehrer rest their criticisms on the fallacious assumption that "critical thinking" consists mostly of domain- and context-independent skills.

Beals claims that the problem is that Summers and Lehrer have "venture[d] out of their fields of expertise and start[ed] making recommendations to educators", but I think that's not quite right. Frankly, a distressingly large fraction of educators is confused in exactly the same way about "critical thinking". Ditto for "creativity", "21st century skills", "inquiry skills", reading comprehension, etc. (Don't get me started on "learning styles" or "multiple intelligences".) I think the field of education needs to get its own house a little more neatly in order before condemning interlopers too severely.

For my part, I'm a little more puzzled as to why the Summers/Lehrer crowd thinks college is a good time to teach students to "study for a test" (Lehrer) or "work with others" (Summers). Why on earth wouldn't we want to teach those things at some point during the first 13 years of a student's academic career? If we wait until college, about half of students would never get that training at all!

Of course, students do get taught those skills well before college. Maybe there's a case to be made that students' K-12 training in those areas could be better, but if students are getting to college without knowing, for instance, how to study for a test, that's not really a problem with higher education, it's a problem with K-12 education. Heck, it's a problem if kids are getting through middle school without being taught how to study for a test.

Shouldn't our goals for a college education be more ambitious than our goals for a middle school education? - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)

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Wait until college before we learn how to study, hmm?

Might as well wait until our PhD to learn how to write. *rolls eyes*

Yet, my old high school seems to follow this idea because they announced this year that they were doing away with mid-terms and final exams saying they were "unnecessary wastes" of the curriculum.

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