Kuglemass on Undergraduate Curricula

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

While I think that Joseph Kuglemass generalizes on Aristotle and Critical Thinking in this article at Inside Higher Ed, it’s well worth the read. He writes:

From the middle of the last century until fairly recently, the idea that the purpose of undergraduate education is to foster “critical thinking” has had a virtual monopoly in both academic and popular circles. This goal has been institutionalized around the globe, wherever students are tested on “critical reasoning” skills.

It is an answer I myself have given on many occasions, and it holds up well for an old chestnut. It is a difficult code to enforce in a humanities classroom. It is a concept best suited to the inspection of evidence. Education researcher Lion Gardiner described critical reasoning as “the capacity to evaluate skillfully and fairly the quality of evidence and detect error, hypocrisy, manipulation, dissembling, and bias.” Unfortunately, presented with something like a Max Ernst painting or a Martin Luther King speech, students will be hard-pressed to find error, hypocrisy, or bias. Critical reasoning will not help them to “unpack” the text, as we say in the humanities, though it may help when they are called upon to construct a rigorous argument.

The article originally appeared at The Valve.

Here’s where I think the major generalization happens:

Teaching a class too much in this mode produces an unhappily smug series of field trips through “our stupid popular culture,” “our stupid political landscape,” and so on, along with the depressing feeling that nobody, the instructor included, will follow through in practice on the overwhelmingly negative evaluations of culture that the “critical thinking” method produces.

Maybe in some cases “the negative evaluations” come as a result of a semester’s practice, but how is this an imperative of a whole?


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