What happens when you fail to invest in education (and no, I don't mean investment in excessive layers of school administration), the most important single item in our nation's success or failure? You end up with this result:
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. [...]
How bad is this failure to learn the skills necessary to maintain a well-informed citizenry, a critical component of any healthy democracy? Pretty damn bad:
Forty-five percent of students made no significant improvement in their critical thinking, reasoning or writing skills during the first two years of college, according to the study. After four years, 36 percent showed no significant gains in these so-called "higher order" thinking skills.
Read more: link
By the time our kids get to college it is often too late to change habits por learn new skills that should have been taught to them in grade k-12 in my opinion. This study does not merely condemn colleges, it throws a harsh light on our primary education system on this country. In general, the US doesn't pay our teachers well (compared to other professions and other nations), nor do we reward them for excellence, nor do we often provide them with a system that accurately assesses their efforts (i.e., No child left behind ring any bells?).
One encouraging sign from the study is that students that majored in traditional liberal arts subjects -- literature, history, the social and "hard" sciences, and mathematics -- did better than their fellow students in other areas such as business. Why was that so? It was because those "liberal arts" students were required to do more reading and writing than their counterparts in many other disciplines. As one professor put it:
"We do teach analytical reading and writing," said Ellen Fitzpatrick, a history professor at the University of New Hampshire.
Maybe it's time to stop sneering at "book learning" and calling professors who emphasize critical thinking and analytical skills pointy headed intellectual elites and marxist-socialist propagandists. This country needs to have a real discussion about the importance of teaching those skills, not a mud slinging contest.
Because despite what some people think, we don't need ill-educated people such as Sarah Palin, who makes it a point of pride to point to her lack of intellectual ability, leading our nation by using their gut feelings and not their brains to make decisions. We certainly don't need a generation of people who turn up their noses at science and academia, people who actively dispute their credibility and value to our society.
"The four corners of deceit: government, academia, science and media. Those institutions are now corrupt and exist by virtue of deceit. That's how they promulgate themselves; it is how they prosper." It is tempting to laugh off this and other rhetoric broadcast by Rush Limbaugh, a conservative US radio host, but Limbaugh and similar voices are no laughing matter.
More importantly, we don't need a generation of people who can't understand or analyze the critical issues we face as a nation voting for candidates based on manipulative and often misleading political attack ads that appeal to emotion rather than to reason. In the past election, we witnessed the effect of the failure by so many people to discriminate between falsehoods and emotional appeals on the one hand and factually based arguments on the other. The best guard against a continued dumbing down of our political discourse is a well informed public able to think for themselves rather than relying upon the words of demagogues and political con artists to set the terms of our national debate.