Sunday, 18 January 2015

A Critical Thinking Discussion

Sometime around 1150....in Paris....the first college or university opened up.  It was founded by the Catholic Church.  You can browse through a thousand documents and reports....most center the original concept around a small group who intended to bring higher learning to a privileged few.  It worked in the same fashion as the guild-concept that was developed and part of the handicraft or craftsman world.

If you were a young man and wanted a skill for some foundation or economic purpose....they joined up with a craftsman and learned the skill.  You might spend several years and learn the art of being a carpenter, baker, or butcher.

The original university system was developed in the same fashion.....some smart guy leading a discussion group and introducing to something called 'critical thinking'.  You had to be able to reason, draw conclusions, think, and conceive ways of using collected information to form a solution.  It was......that simple.

The first such university (at least generally recognized) was the University of Paris.  Around forty years later, the King of England (Henry II) determined that these young British gentlemen going off to France....were coming back and asking questions.  They'd become free-thinkers.  Henry II determined that it was best if England had it's own university, and backed a Catholic Church effort to build Oxford University.

To be truthful....Oxford had only a building or two in the original design, and for some odd reason....ran into trouble ten years after it's start-up.  Some local guy owned a house that he rented rooms out to students (same practice we have today).  The house owner....either by the use of alcohol or just madness....murdered some local gal.  The name of the gal for history sake is unknown.....but what we do know is that locals got upset, ran off to the house, and could not find the owner.  They grabbed the three students of the house (the boarders)....held them for a couple of days, and the King (Henry II) made the decision to hang the three to appease the locals.  After the hanging....just about every student packed up and left the area....leaving Oxford without students or instructors for several years.

For the past thousand years, the draw of a university degree usually meant that you were able to think and draw conclusions.....critical thought processes which the typical normal non-university guy could not accomplish.

This week, the Wall Street Journal did a fine article on this statistic that was discovered.  The smart guys went to 169 colleges and tested around 32,000 college kids.  What they came to find is that forty-percent roughly....CAN'T analyze or conduct critical analysis.  Yeah, no critical thinking skills.

They measured up freshmen versus seniors.  This is the odd part of the story.  When you look at freshmen.....around thirty-seven percent had critical thinking skills as they entered college....to a very proficient level.  That was a bit of a shocker in terms of noting abilities. Four years later....the highly proficient thinker had moved to sixty-percent of the crowd. Almost doubling in scores.

From the senior crowd, almost fourteen percent had marginal or non-existent critical thinking skills....with roughly a quarter of the crowd having just basic skills only.....even after four years.

The issue?  No one can say precisely.  Imagine yourself....father to some young gal.....putting out $88,000 for four years of university, and then kinda discovering that it's just a certificate and that your daughter really didn't learn much.  She can't think, analyze, ponder, and come to critical thinking.  The degree she holds?  Worthless.

Critical thinking skills?  No one usually teaches a class dedicated to such thinking unless it's a philosophy requirement or just some oddball class that a professor wanted to teach for a semester.

To teach critical thinking skills.....you'd have to cite Socrates, Plato and forty other Greek guys.  The vast number of professors around today can't do it.

The bottom line?  We developed ourselves as a society and culture, on the wings of critical thinking. To lose such a skill, or to marginalize such an ability....lessens us in various ways.