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Many Colleges Fail to Improve Critical-Thinking Skills (wsj.com)
396 points by guildwriter on June 6, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 311 comments



I've taught college. This study is wildly unsurprising. I've written about this in various places (e.g. https://jakeseliger.com/2014/04/27/paying-for-the-party-eliz...), but most colleges have evolved majors and paths that are designed to move students through the system, collect their tuition money, and graduate them.

In re-reading the previous sentence, I think I sound opposed to this. I am a little bit, maybe, but mostly I'm opposed to the way no one explicitly tells this to students. A lot of the brighter or better prepared ones figure it out, but many, it seems, never do.


"Paying for the party" is amusing. "Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities" covers much the same material. The importance of drinking didn't happen by accident. The alcohol industry promoted it heavily.[1] Two out of five students in the colleges studied are now binge drinkers.

I got critical thinking early because I was brought up by a lawyer. There were always briefs around the house, and I could read the briefs for both sides. Seeing both sides discussing the same facts and coming to different conclusions gives a sense of how to decide something. Today I read The Washington Post and Fox News every day, to compare what they're saying. This is apparently unusual, although it didn't used to be. Left-wing radicals used to read the Wall Street Journal, to see what the other side was up to. This seems to have stopped; the problem with the Occupy movement is that while they were against Wall Street, they never developed an agenda that could be implemented to do something about it.

[1] http://www.soe.vt.edu/highered/files/Perspectives_PolicyNews...


I'd actually be really interested in knowing what percentage of people read opposing rhetoric.

I easily spend far more time listening to and reading right-leaning rhetoric, despite being left leaning. I already know "my side". Why would I want to live in an echo chamber?


I have to read NYT, WaPo, WSJ, Economist, The Guardian, Breitbart, TimesofIsrael to get full information. NYT does a lot of censoring/under emphasizing of critical information. Of course there is also general reading that is important.


Interestingly, this is still a significantly limited echo chamber because these sources are all Anglo-centric, perhaps even the Times of Israel despite its location.

Of course, this number of publications is already a large investment of time so I don't think it's reasonable to expect anyone to do more.


> because these sources are all Anglo-centric

They are also mainstream media. They provide a very narrow set of viewpoints.

One example? No newspaper publish material as significant as wikileaks.


The South China Morning Post, even though more under mainland control than it was a year ago, is worth reading. For a while, they had a paywall, but it seems now to be inoperative for the "international edition".

The CIA used to have the Foreign Broadcast Monitoring Service, later the Foreign Broadcast Information Service, now the Open Source Center. During the Cold War, they had people listening to most of the national radio stations of the Communist countries and taking notes. Most of this was utter drivel; Radio Albania was mostly long speeches by their dictator. Sometimes something important would be announced, and it was the CIA's job to notice, so somebody had to listen. Must have been an awful job before it was computerized.


Have you ever considered that maybe both the big "left" and "right" media is itself an echo chamber?


Indeed, the points on which mainstream American "right" and "left" media agree with each other are more numerous than the points on which they disagree.


Well I should hope so. A nation cannot exist without some social cohesion, Americans need to (and do) agree on most issues.


In a lot of the bipartisan Washington consensus stuff Beltway opinion is in lockstep with itself but not with average Americans.


>The pretense in disputed elections is that the great conflict is between the two major parties. The reality is that there is a much bigger conflict that the two parties jointly wage against large numbers of Americans who are represented by neither party and against powerless millions around the world.

-Howard Zinn, A Power Governments Cannot Suppress


I find that hard to believe. The American right wing and the general western left wing are MILES apart. I think the fact that there are people who unironically think that center-right Hillary Clinton is a "communist" is evidence enough of that.

I mean I still live within the constraints of reality, and generally only read politics which are widely accepted. I think I'm getting a fairly broad spread by reading opinions that range from "deconstruction of class" to "this is a Christian country".


> I'd actually be really interested in knowing what percentage of people read opposing rhetoric.

It depends what you mean by "opposing" - different sides in a power struggle or genuinely different ideas? I think the number of people who read both WAPO, NY Times and WSJ (even National Review and Reason) is probably quite high, now more than ever thanks to the internet. They'll be familiar with the different sides in the nation's power struggle. And after a while, they'll probably know roughly what those papers' editorials will say before they even read them. It's vanity to think that those readers are often engaging in a some kind of big struggle of ideas, I think, although there's a lot of value in just knowing what is going on.

The number of people who seek out outlets like newspapers representing the views of the Communists, Green Party, Syndicalists, Illinois Nazis, Anarchists or whatever is probably vanishingly small.


Is understanding views that range from "deconstruction of class" to "this is a Christian country" not enough?

The void between the american right and the general western left is HUGE, to the extent that you will have american right wingers calling Hillary Clinton a communist, despite her being by all measures right leaning in any other western country. I don't feel like I'd be doing myself any value in reading extreme fringe politics, since I can read widely applicable politics that are so eclectic. And I do read green and libertarian rhetoric.

I think reading global rhetoric is really useful, especially if you live in a country that positions itself as the center of the universe, but I just don't see the use in digging up hyper-extreme ideology that no one participates in and will literally never see the light of day in my lifetime.


I don't hugely disagree, but the person you were responding to was holding up his daily reading of WAPO and Fox News as being representative of real "critical thinking," hence my wanting you to define your terms.

> The void between the american right and the general western left is HUGE

Of course, there's a gap between the American left and the "general western left" as well. In many ways in America we effectively have a center-right party and a far-right party which harbors substantial fringe elements. There is not really much of an American left by any conventional measure. (America's left wing party just ran a hawkish supporter of the death penalty whose husband "reformed" welfare)

> I just don't see the use in digging up hyper-extreme ideology that no one participates in and will literally never see the light of day in my lifetime.

If you don't think the ideas have intrinsic importance that's fair. On the other hand, it appears to go hand in hand with an American culture wherein people don't even realize that Communism and Socialism both used to be a living, active thing in their country. I don't think you can be a "critical thinker" and just ignore all that history and context, but at the same time... yeah, I'm not seeking out the Socialist's newspapers, or whatever.


agree 100%. How do you know you're really right unless you read opposing viewpoints?

I've noticed that there's a herd mentality going on as well... People would rather "belong" than "be right", as it were


I've started doing that far more over the last year or so - I'm definitely "left leaning" but it's good to try and understand the viewpoint of others even if you don't agree with their conclusions.

Echo chambers are boring.


I mean I don't feel like I get much out of listening to the same talking points trotted out over and over again, personally.


I'm solidly on the liberal side of most issues, and I definitely try to remain informed, which includes exploring conservative viewpoints and media.

The problem is that MOST media (of any focus) is shallow. Reading the "opposing" side is just as tiresome as reading points I already know if obvious information is skipped over or not explored (actually, more tiresome). I end up chasing down lots of details myself, which is time-consuming and frankly, not really my primary skillset. It theoretically is the skillset of, um, journalists.

So when on the left I see "Immigrants on average commit less crime than native-born in the US" and on the right I see "3% of the population (immigrants) commit over 50% of the crime", I'm not finding any media exploring both sides. I can spend a few hours chasing down this one fact (a pretty important one, but still just one), which leads me to find vague references to a DOJ report on reported crimes supporting the conservative view, and surveys of self-reported crimes supporting the liberal view. So neither position is without basis, but I really have no better info on which is more true, and if I spend all this time chasing down evidence myself, the media is serving zero purpose.

Secondly, I've found left-leaning sites that do more factual digging (at least it seems that way) and will cover and attempt to disprove some of the opposing arguments. (Both sides have vapid overly dramatic coverage offered by many sources - I'm referring to the better sources on both sides). The closest I've found on the right is the National Review. I'm all ears if someone has better suggestions, but as it is I tend to read more within my "echo chamber" because it's actually the best source of nuanced information I've found so far.

Thirdly, when you're reading two sides: One side says things that you mostly know and agree with. The other side says things that are often ridiculous and false on their face (as far as you are concerned). Why would you want to frustrate yourself with the state of humanity all the time? I read enough (I think) to get an idea of the zeitgeist of others, I read enough to understand what the basis of their arguments are, but any reading past that tends to be far more frustrating than enlightening. (I assume this is something true for both sides).

Lastly, left and right may both have reasonable people, but the right seems to have a lot more [carefully edits this description several times] general disdain for science and more embracing of hypocrisy. The Left has baseless GMO fears, anti-vaxers, and sometimes more optimism than might be best, but in general I can expect less denial of well-demonstrated concepts and science. (I'm sure this is slanted by bias, but I'm happy to go point by point offline if anyone wants). This means that while I "check-in" with sources espousing opinions I don't agree with, I have no more desire to spend a lot of time there than I do on a site informing me that eating GMO corn will cause me to mutate.

Off topic side note: I really hate how the useful GMO discussions (monocultures, sustainability, environmental impact, prions, etc) can't really get any progress because everyone spends all their time rebuffing ridiculous accusations. Just like "what do we do about climate change" doesn't get as much discussion as "is there actually human-caused climate change".


There is something to that. I agree with a lot of what Glenn Greenwald writes, but I rarely read him because he can get so repetitive.

> Secondly, I've found left-leaning sites that do more factual digging (at least it seems that way) and will cover and attempt to disprove some of the opposing arguments. (Both sides have vapid overly dramatic coverage offered by many sources - I'm referring to the better sources on both sides). The closest I've found on the right is the National Review. I'm all ears if someone has better suggestions, but as it is I tend to read more within my "echo chamber" because it's actually the best source of nuanced information I've found so far.

I think the American Conservative can be good, especially Daniel Larison. But then again, they also run pieces with bizarre claims like "Uber is an example of distributism."


echo chambers are boring, but so is ruining terrible malformed arguments.

neither side has a monopoly on those, to be sure.


As a French, I read HN in part for this, to be reminded there are educated people out there with vastly different ideas about the world (I just hope they do the same...).


I lean left and right depending on the topic. I have a hard time listening/reading either the far right or left because spouting extremes just seems counterproductive.


I'd never thought of legal briefings as good educational material, but I think you are right that doing so would help a person understand how to even approach an issue. Maybe even following up with the court's decision and (in the case of SCOTUS) dissents. On a philosophical level, Leonard Peikoff talks about this issue in his essay "The American School: Why Johnny Can't Think" [1]:

"An education that trains a child’s mind would be one that teaches him to make connections, to generalize, to understand the wider issues and principles involved in any topic. It would achieve this feat by presenting the material to him in a calculated, conceptually proper order, with the necessary context, and with the proof that validates each stage. This would be an education that teaches a child to think."

That kind of process is exactly what good court opinion looks like.

[1] https://campus.aynrand.org/works/1984/01/01/the-american-sch...


The history of law school is a perfect example of developing critical thinking in students, and its pitfalls. Learning to be a lawyer didn't used to be about critical thinking. Up until the late 1800s, lawyers went to school and learned "the law", e.g., what was allowed and what wasn't. But the problem was that the law constantly changed, and what a lawyer learned in school could easily become outdated and wrong.

Around that time, there was a movement (based at Harvard) to change legal education. Rather than learning "the law", law students learned how to develop arguments. They did this by reading the final judicial written opinions, which evaluated both sides of the argument, rather than reading far more concise summarizations of the law. This caused a huge backlash and there was even a lawschool student walk-out when it was first implemented. However, the method caught on at Harvard and quickly spread to the rest of the country, and is now standard fare at every law school. A funny result of this method is that many law students don't remember how important cases turns out, but they are far more likely to remember the arguments that each side made. (It carries through to lawyering to this day: a lawyers job is not to "win" the case, but to craft the best argument for winning the case.)

The newer type of teaching is excellent for developing critical thinking skills, finding logic flaws, and building an argument. That said, having gone through law school, there is far too much of developing these basic building blocks, law students don't need 3 years of it, and the result is that many young lawyers don't know the basic mechanics of law (although they do know the principles). Ask a recent grad how to file a lawsuit, or defend against one, and they will be at a complete loss.

My point is that while building basic critical thinking skills are extremely important for any school, there is a point when it can swing too far in one direction, and law schools are a perfect example of that.


History of American law school, and Canadian because Canada follows America's lead more than Britain's. Every other nation/legal system has law textbooks, what are called hornbooks in American law schools as primary texts. The idea that the law can actually be reasoned about socratically is... strange. Precedent and path dependence are huge parts of the law. And the law doesn't change quickly. If you read a UK law textbook there will be references aplenty to cases from the 1800s, more from more recent times but the law is actually remarkably stable.

Harvard's case system didn't spread because it was better as a method of legal education, it spread because one of the most prestigious college in North America started using it and it's more fun to teach that way. The Socratic method has a place as a method in teaching but having it be the method is overkill.


Maybe the US's federalism is a part of it too. We learned a lot of 'stock' law from hornbooks too, but there was always a caveat that most of the 1L stuff is state law and may-no, will-vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The 'law' varies quite a bit from state to state with regards to criminal, contracts, property, etc. So you can either produce a great California lawyer who will be confused if she moves to Arizona, or a lawyer who understands how to learn the law and reason about it in general who can adapt to any state's idiosyncrasies.


Hence old style classical education on Latin orators (Cicero, Cato etc) comes to mind and the amazing rationality that was imbibed in founding generations and up makes a lot of sense (as a cursory reading of Google Books will impress you with). To bad it's exactly these authors that had to be memorized very often as well are the last thing on the list of our 'modern educational system' - and just for the record I am also someone who believes not enough STEM is taught as well


There are both left-leaning and right-leaning sources that (more or less) apply critical thinking to issues, and then there are sources that attempt to persuade by provoking antagonism. While it is an unpleasant job, it is important to be aware of what is going on in this last category.


Occupy Wall Street's lack of agenda was a deliberate move.

Apparently some of its leaders believed (and I would say, probably correctly) that advancing an agenda simply gives your opponents an opportunity to take you down. Instead they focused on 1 message and making sure it was broadcast: income inequality is a lot bigger than you think and it might be a problem. They left the answer to the public.


The Wall Street journal is maybe worth reading sometimes, but their op-ed page is cancerous garbage (same goes for the NYT actually).

You can read the other side but drawing the comparison with legal briefs suggests that both sides are acting in equally good faith, but the clogosphere is full of idiots who do nothing but argue in bad faith with bad arguments. Granted the left has these things too (cough TYT cough) but these days the right has more of them, I think.

Even the surface politeness that William F. Buckley managed to muster is mostly lost to bluster on the right today. I would say it's sad except that William F. Buckley's arguments were never any good either, so I consider his spiritual descendants more honest than he.


You have an interesting background. But I think the left doesn't read the wallstreet journal because it's paywalled (ha, just kidding). Because the WSJ editorial page is batshit insane, with people like Peggy Noonan writing about conversations with her taxi driver as illuminating her views of the working class, and endless petty complaints about the evils of the global warming conspiracy. There is a reasonable and intelligent different world view than the liberal one of course, but don't go to the wsj looking for it.


Fox and Breitbart have both lost key leaders due to death. (and other causes) They are both rapidly transitioning to the views of typical reporters (journalism majors), which will soon put them on the left. Breitbart has even started firing people who are strongly toward the right.

One America News Network is still on the right. It probably isn't moving... yet.

It's rather hard to operate a non-left media outlet when nearly all potential employees are far left. It's like standing in a stream, trying to push the water back upward with a rake. Good luck with that.


> Fox and Breitbart have both lost key leaders due to death. (and other causes) They are both rapidly transitioning to the views of typical reporters (journalism majors), which will soon put them on the left.

Viewpoints are set by media owners, not line workers, and the entire corporate media has a corporatist conservative pro-capital bias.

To the extent that ends up sometimes favoring Democrats, well, the dominant faction of the Democratic Party for several decades (since the 1990s, at a minimum) has been corporate capitalist conservatives.

Anyhow, Fox and Breitbart aren't moving into the left or even getting closer to centerpoint of the mainstream corporate media; they just aren't moving further to the Right as fast as the Republican Party is.


The media owners have died.

Yes, there are new owners, but those new owners are not putting forth the effort required to enforce a viewpoint. It takes real effort to keep the line workers from setting the tone.

Walmart used to be all about stuff made in the USA. Sam Walton died. I'm sure he spins in his grave.

The same goes for media companies. An original founder with a vision dies, and then things go off track.


> Today I read The Washington Post and Fox News every day, to compare what they're saying.

I (a German) do the exact same thing! I don't even find Fox News stories particularly egregious, it's more in what stories they choose, but it's not any worse than WP or German news, only different. The discussion forums are much harder to bear though, but there is at least one major German newspaper (FAZ) that has very normal articles but a Fox News like crowd in the forums too (but they express themselves much better). WP seems to be a single-issue website these days, it's Trump, Trump, Trump drowning out every other topic. The other articles they still have left are just a side-show. It's waaayyyyy too extreme for my taste.


Realclearpolitics does a good job of sourcing articles from each side next to each other.


Totally agree. It took me until several years out of school to realize that learning to think should have been a primary focus of university.

25 years on I am realizing that although it got me work and very decent pay I probably would have been much better off if the entire focus of university had been:

1. Learning how to think

2. Learning how to learn

Really the focus of earlier schooling probably should have been:

1. Learning how to read with good comprehension

2. Learning how to write so that others can understand me

3. Math so that I could do basic calculations required for everyday life.

Everything else is gravy.


Learning how to think and how to learn should be the primary focus of early education, since all later learning depends on it.


To an extent, yes. But I would also say learning how to think should continue to explicitly fall under the university umbrella, or at least that particular notion should be extended to a greater degree in university.

From my experiences, too many kids straight out of high school go to university blind in the face of knowledge and don't think for themselves, and the capacity for independent thought (or lack thereof) is a very big issue.


A high school teacher of mine recently posted a fb article of how HS valedictorians are statistically average with where they go with life. Turns out following the rules and memorizing answers isn't great for risk taking behavior.


You can lead a horse to water but you can't ...

Maybe 20 years ago taking night classes, the little liberal arts school I was at required a strange CS class theoretically oriented toward turning us into Excel technical experts in a semester. The REAL purpose of the class was to teach us how to learn how to learn, and learn how to think, about being handed an inadequately documented large technical system, then be responsible for providing support for that system after a couple months, which given my workplace experience, is a ridiculously useful and financially rewarding skillset.

Of course some kids took it as drill-n-kill memorization exercise in how to set up Excel pivot tables. That didn't help much with the somewhat theoretical final exam.

I would imagine that class has been scrapped as a teaching tool; too realistic; kids need more valuable education in their limited time, memorizing google-able algorithms for interview questions would be much more financially rewarding at least in the short term.


> You can lead a horse to water but you can't ...

Nonsense. Rational thinking can be thought directly and with methods.


> Learning how to write so that others can understand me

I'm in the middle of the book Towards Style and Grace and it is fantastic. It is everything that High School-me was trying to find an education about.


This book and Ross-Larson's Effective Writing series are the books that finally taught me how to write. If you write as part of your job. These books are gold.


The latter have been the ostensible focus of primary education for a couple of centuries.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_three_Rs


In a sense, yes. What I'm getting at specifically is that:

- Although we teach people to read, we don't necessarily put enough focus on comprehension and understanding.

- Although we teach people to write, we tend to focus on mechanics rather than on writing clearly and in a way that emphasizes our meaning.

- We don't just focus on functional math, but teach much more complex math to virtually everyone that goes through high school.

You can argue where exactly to draw the line on math (and don't get me wrong I loved math and was very good at it, at least the way it is taught in the US), but I'm not sure everyone needs to become as highly specialized as we attempt to make them in that area at that age.


> Although we teach people to write, we tend to focus on mechanics rather than on writing clearly and in a way that emphasizes our meaning.

That's not really true; the five-paragraph essay form and it's fractal expansions that dominate grade-school writing is all about clarity and focus on meaning.

It's a horrible as a model for anything other than persuasive writing for a number of other reasons, and given the way the target output influences process, it's an impediment to critical thinking compared to alternatives like thesis/antithesis/synthesis (or IRAC, which while pretty much taught exclusively in the context of legal writing is a very good model for general-purpose analytical writing.)


IRAC = Issue, Rule, Application, Conclusion (I had to look it up)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IRAC

now I wish I'd gone to law school!


That sort of thing can just as well make you wish you'd gone to real estate school.

"A-I-D-A. Attention, interest, decision, action. Attention -- do I have your attention? Interest -- are you interested? I know you are because it's fuck or walk. You close or you hit the bricks! Decision -- have you made your decision for Christ?!! And action."


Thank You for the condescension! :-P


It's a quote from Glengarry Glen Ross. That is one of Alec Baldwin's lines.


Ah! It sounded familiar.

OK, my bad! withdrawn (Can't edit any more). Apologies to pvg


YMMV, but only in the last two years of high school do I recall these five-paragraph essays being a substantial part of classes. We certainly did them from time-to-time before that, but we also did a lot of other writing of many different forms, and in the last year or two also did a couple "research papers" (in the classic sense, not in the grad student moving a field forward sense).


it's fractal expansions

Maybe their not as horrible as your saying! :)


I don't know, these exact things are what's on the SAT. I don't mean to debate its qualities as a test or whether these are things one should be testing but the notion that they are somehow not the focus of primary and secondary education while also being a key factor in college admissions doesn't quite add up.


I think it's unfortunate that people wont argue their point with you and are only downvoting.

I think a lot more of the SAT is about gaming their system these days. You could argue that making an "educated guess" by eliminating clearly wrong answers is useful maybe...but i dont think it really stacks up to what their hoping for. I dont think eliminating obvious bad choices is critical thinking, or if it is then it's a very low level of it.


Right, but as I said, I'm not talking about whether the SAT is a good test or not. Just that the fact it explicitly tries to test precisely reading comprehension, basic writing, 'practical' mathematical skills belies the notion these are not goals of primary and secondary education. If they weren't, this wouldn't be a test for US college admissions.


The LSAT is as much about test taking critical thinking as it is about critical thinking for the questions.


We don't necessarily need to teach more-advanced math, but rather more proofs.


Exactly. We're taught those things that Google can give us faster than our brain can recall, like "Capital of Peru???? https://hackernoon.com/learning-to-code-focus-on-when-rather...


Reminds me about a segment on Last Week Tonight where they showed a map of South America, with one country highlighted as Peru. And John Oliver said, "Peru! A country you care so little about you didn't even realize this isn't Peru... [Highlight changes to another country] THIS is Peru."

And he's got a point. There's not much advantage to knowing the precise locations of all countries on earth, unless you're working in foreign policy etc.


In fact one reason so many people have such confused ideas about foreign politics is a lack of understanding of geography.

Consider: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/05/14/upshot/if-ame...


I think they got their causation backwards. A working understanding of how foreign policy works is correlated with a higher education level is correlated with being able to find countries on a map.


How is someone supposed to understand foreign policy if they think North Korea is in Australia?


http://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/LookItUpS...

By not having the information in your head, you are less able to know what to search for and less able to contextualize and make sense of information you do turn up in a Google search.

Of course that doesn't mean that search is useless. But let's face it; if you and a random guy off the street were both asked to program something in a language you'd never used before, you would be much more able to handle the task because you'd understand what questions to ask (what's the modulo operator? how do you write a loop?) while the other guy flailed around trying to understand the basics.


Any decent program is going to force your first two points. I don't get any professional use out of my Japanese degree, but would I have easily been able to come up with a plan to teach myself computer programming, and have the discipline to follow through with it until I found work, if I hadn't gone through the experience of getting the Japanese degree? I think probably not.


So reading 'riting and 'rithmetic.

The old wisdom wasn't so bad after all


I know our education system often fails to do this, but in principle by the time you're going to college you should have mastered those things already.


"What was powering and pushing up prices in 2007 and ’08 were loans to borrowers with No Income, No Jobs, and No Assets. ... Now we only have one kind of NINJA left, and those are students. Student loans have been the most rapidly growing loans in the country. ... The whole student loan scandal is a corrupt. It shows the degree to which the universities and the government loan system have been taken over by banks writing the loans to give themselves a free ride at public expense."

https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/05/25/another-housing-bubb...

Just read the above the other day, and I know it's slightly off-topic, but it meshes nicely with some of the points you made.

I figured out around the last year or so of my university career that I should have actually spent less time in class than I did, but I did eventually figure it out. And I agree wholeheartedly with no one explicitly telling students about all of this. I can't tell you how livid I was once it all clicked. I try to expose the idea to as many high schoolers as I possibly can, but they aren't yet affected so it doesn't exactly make a whole lot of sense to them.

Anyhow, this comparison of student loan / universities working as a new profit center, similar to the junk mortgages of the '08 crash is new to me though. I think it illustrates what's going on very clearly, even if Micheal Hudson is a bit extreme with his view of the schism between public/private.

Jane Jacobs also wrote critically of what Universities had become (credentialing), and how it might (negatively) affect our culture sometime down the line in her book, Dark Age Ahead.


Thanks for linking to your blog post, that was a worthwhile read. I recently finished a Ph.D. and bailed on academia. I'd been working in a factory as an electrical engineer before this, and I naively thought I could do something about the overall poor preparation of my colleagues. (I worked with engineers who had grave difficulty with basic statistics, for example.)

While in grad school, I came to the demoralizing conclusion that the system was working exactly the way it was supposed to. The university, as an institution, has no interest at all in whether its students actually learn anything. Engineering professors are incentivized not to teach undergraduates -- indeed, there's a whole system of reward and punishment around the assignment of teaching duties. A light load is coveted, and the most elite professors manage to teach as few as two courses per year. My advisor drove this home when he told me that expressing an interest in educating undergraduates was career suicide, and I shouldn't waste my time.

The main reason college students don't learn to think is that it's not the univeristy's mission to teach them how. I've said it before in this forum, and I'll say it again. You can get a great education at the modern university, but nobody's going to stop you if you decide not to.


> Engineering professors are incentivized not to teach undergraduates -- indeed, there's a whole system of reward and punishment around the assignment of teaching duties. A light load is coveted, and the most elite professors manage to teach as few as two courses per year.

I wonder if this has to do with the type of school. Where I went to college, the dept. chair on down rotated through the intro programming classes and then taught their speciality classes. The school definitely focused on teaching above research though that can also have downsides.


This is a good point. I'm sure there's a lot of variation between schools. All of my university time has been at Big State Universities. I think the Big State U experience explains a lot about the state of the American workforce, however, since so many students pass through that system.


I was a part-time college instructor and agree. Some of the smarter students IMO were the homeless, poor, and others who paid little to nothing. I taught a homeless ex-Stanford professor who was well known in the community and he was very sharp. The rest were mostly under no illusions about what they were there to do: Get a degree or certificate and move along. It doesn't take much critical thinking to recognize a stepping stone like college for its most practical applications: Degree printer and networking system.

I made many good friends of students who were critical thinkers. I also saw really sharp critical thinkers get absolutely torpedoed by life events and poor decisionmaking; these were often the 4.0 high school students who thought they could cruise. It was sad to have to demolish their record.

I wish I could read TFA, as I wonder how my experience squares with the point of the article.


How exactly did a Stanford professor end up homeless? And why in the world would they be taking classes afterwards?


Very serious mental illness. He had fairly frequent episodes, but in between he seemed just fine. His homework assignments were mostly really tragic to look at.


I expect that most cases of people going from a solid social position to homeless involve mental illness and/or addiction.


or an unlucky illness


Probably a professor of one of the less marketable faculties retraining into a job.


For what it's worth, the fact that I'm the only one in my circles who didn't figure this out put me in a wayyyyy better position than most. If you think that college is for learning instead of just being present until they give you a degree, you spend a hell of a lot more time and effort figuring out what you want to study, where you'll learn the most, etc etc. All of my friends who treated college as "probably the best opportunity for concentrated learning in your life" instead of "conveyor belt with degree at end" are the ones doing extremely well in their careers, financially and in terms of self-actualization.

I came from a not-great home environment and it was a blessing in disguise that I was at such a "disadvantage" when it came to understanding the college admissions, attendance, and graduation process. Everyone who was savvy to the way college "actually" works ended up with just a relatively worthless piece of paper.


I think about it pretty much backwards from that. To me the value of realizing it's a diploma mill is that you know you need to do most of your real learning independent of class. Taking the the classes and tests seriously is a distraction from that. You might be more right than me, though, looking at the attitudes of other students.


Hm, maybe it depends on where you attended college. I usually didn't attend lectures but between assignments, exams, and discussion sections, college was by a million miles the most productive learning environment of my life.

I orient my career around learning but there's always this little nagging "ultimately the needs of the employer are paramount when push comes to shove" that rears it head every once in a while and prioritizes work I'm already good at over stuff I'd be learning by doing.


I'm a student and I agree. I'm enrolled in 3 classes right now that will have little to no impact on my future career. I am personally motivated to learn more about topics that interest me, and I believe that colleges should be more focused on helping kids work towards something that they want to do, and not have them taking extraneous classes just for the sake of it.


I don't think you're really agreeing with the OP. The OP didn't say anything about not making you take classes that aren't directly focused on your career.

Those classes are what make college different from trade school. You may think it sounds like a meaningless platitude now when you just want hurry up and be done with the whole thing, but many of those "extraneous" classes will make you a more rounded person if you allow them to.

I'm a vastly different person at 33 than I was at 18, I'm interested in different things now partly because I was exposed to subjects I wasn't particularly interested in at the time. 15 years later, I'm glad that my past self sat through art history, biology, and economics.


The problem with insisting on roundness, which has been a focus of the education system for years, is that it generates tons of generic shapeless people who specialise in nothing and find themselves unable to obtain the best, high paying jobs.

In my family, myself and my brother have been successful by focusing on one or two skills and honing them. That was made much harder by the education system, which fought us the whole way, because it sees specialisation as some sort of problem when it is in fact the solution. In my brother's case the school tried to insist he went to university. He didn't, as he knew full well what he wanted to do and reckoned, correctly, he would do better without being a student. In my case the university insisted that I take non-CS classes despite that I was paying them for a CS course. The classes were interesting, but marked arbitrarily (i.e. one essay at the end and who knows how it's evaluated?). I nearly got kicked out of CS because of a single essay written on archaeology!

As I go through life, I constantly encounter people who thought they were "learning how to learn" or "learning how to think" when they went to university, only to discover after graduation that they had no particular skills and were seem as essentially worthless by the job market. It's tremendously depressing for them and creates constant, lifelong insecurity.

Critical thinking abilities are something you want on top but are not a substitute for actual, hard skills. And they are certainly not something a university can teach - please. All the stats and studies show that universities are incredibly ideologically homogenous and rapidly stamp out any political thought that deviates from their left wing consensus. Universities teach people that thinking and disagreement are dangerous, that opinions are "triggering", and speaking out loud leads to exclusion. They're the last place on earth I'd expect critical thinking skills to emerge unscathed.


I'm a humanities student and not on the left. My experience with leftist professors is that even if they try to actively push their politics on students, they will still give As to papers with well-reasoned dissenting views on highly political topics, immigration for instance. The only unfairness is that students who just repeat everything the professor says in their paper will get an easy grade without much thinking but I don't know what can be done about that, unless professors are to penalize unoriginality. The groupthink isn't an obstacle to critical thinking, it's just an excuse to avoid it.

Critical thinking skills aren't something to have on top of domain-specific skills, they're something to have as a foundation for them. If you focus on critical thinking skills in lieu of anything domain specific, and expect to get a job without further learning, you're foolish, but you'll have an easier time learning the specific skills you need for practical work anyway.


My degree was in Social Studies education, and I suspect you underestimate the degree to which groupthink is pushed in social sciences, and $area Studies. Especially when compared to the humanities.

The humanities have a long tradition of debate and disagreement as a path to seeking the truth, that is sometimes lacking in sociology or political science.


Right. While I actually believe society (and students) would benefit by converting a large fraction of our "liberal arts" colleges into more practical trade schools, your point stands—the problem with the "choose your own adventure" model of undergraduate education is that 18-22 year olds are distinctly bad at choosing the adventure that's best for them, especially when it comes to getting a liberal education. Trade schools for STEM and the trades, but stronger core curricula and less highly-specialized BS in the humanities.


biology and economics aren't humanities. But as for art history - how much would you pay for such an education, specifically?


Where did I argue that biology and economics are humanities, and how is that relevant to my post?

The OP said that they only wanted to take classes directly relevant to their future career. Biology and economics are examples of classes that I didn't think were relevant to my career (at the time).

>But as for art history - how much would you pay for such an education, specifically?

The first time I went to college I had a full ride scholarship, so I didn't pay a dime. The second time I paid, and I took another art history class. I think I paid about $1500 total for that course.


You say you may be a little opposed to colleges becoming simply a means for attaining a job, is that correct? In that case, could you expand on why you wouldn't be completely be opposed to such a notion?

I think that's what colleges have indeed turned into but to the student's detriment rather than benefit. The pursuit of knowledge scarcely seems to be emphasized upon now - though I'm not sure to what extent that's purely the fault of colleges.


Why would one not be opposed to it? Not only do colleges not explicitly tell the students, they almost-explicitly promote contrary myths, as they must do in order to keep the pipeline filled. A generation is being encouraged to take on debt that many may never pay off, setting us up for a future crisis, in order to support the lifestyle of a privileged few.


HR practices are the real problem, not just "the privileged few". Try getting a good job without a degree. It's tough. Until that changes, we're stuck with it.


While HR practices may be contributing to the myth-making, neither HR nor the companies they are a part of are beneficiaries of this process.


I teach college occasionally, and definitely agree. It is a conveyer belt from freshman to senior, and those students who have not thought beyond their coursework may be in for a rude surprise post-graduation.



Much depends on what you choose to study in college. One can easily get an advanced degree without picking up critical-thinking skills.

Whether critical-thinking skills are actually valuable for making money or personal happiness are something perhaps left to philosophy or theology departments.


>Whether critical-thinking skills are actually valuable for making money

if you know when to keep your mouth shut and when to speak up, i'd say yes.

>personal happiness

certainly not. an analytical mindset rarely exposes the happy truths, which tend to be self-evident


Hey man, I've been reading your blog for quite some time. I like it.


I teach community college biology, and I agree that we're really bad at teaching critical thinking. But the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) cited by this article was graded by a computer last time I checked. Here's a direct quote from one of their papers a few years ago:

"Beginning in fall 2010, we moved to automated scoring exclusively, using Pearson’s Intelligent Essay Assess or (IEA). IEA is the automated scoring engine developed by Pearson Knowledge Technologies to evaluate the meaning of text, not just writing mechanics. Pearson has trained IEA for the CLA using real CLA responses and scores to ensure its consistency with scores generated by human raters."

Link below: https://www.pdf-archive.com/2017/06/06/cla/cla.pdf

Most of you are more knowledgeable about technology than I am. So I'll leave it to you to decide if using an algorithm to grade an essay-based exam of critical thinking is a valid approach to this problem.


Leave it to Pearson to sell us the problem and then sell us the solution. Taking poetic license to exaggerate just a bit...

The problem: High school kids now spend 100% of their time studying prepared curricula, sold by Pearson, to study for standardized tests, sold by Pearson.

The result: Students lose critical thinking skills.

The solution: A standardized test for critical thinking skills, sold by Pearson, and of course a prepared curriculum to study for the test.


As a computational linguistics grad student I find Pearson's "product" line completely mind-boggling, and their peddling it deserving a giant class-action lawsuit. Consider that the state of the art in machine representation of words is something around Word2Vec or GLoVe, and that we have some okay dependency parsers. That their system provides scores consistent with human raters is likely just evidence that they have a coarse-grained and noisy human evaluation system.


So as long as you think critically the same way as everyone else does you'll be fine.


Or perhaps worse: think critically the same way the test writer does: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/standardized-tests-are-s...


I've often thought that a lot of the high-brow analysis put into art was junk. Just people taking dots and connecting them with shreds of evidence existent in the art. Confirmation bias masquerading as analysis. It's nice to see an artist agreeing with that viewpoint.

I should clarify that I don't mind when the context of a piece is explained. I like knowing about where the artist was when a work was created; what was happening around them that might have influenced the work. It's when that jumps to "and this small detail is about this particular thing that was happening" -- and always spoken with confidence -- that I feel like the train jumps the rails.


Ha! I don't know if you've ever seen Ocean's 13, but there's a line in that movie that cracks me up along the same "high brow" analysis lines.

> Matt Damon - "Do you have any wine back there?

> Lady - "Château d'Yquem?"

> Matt Damon - "As long as it's not '73..."

Just makes me chuckle every time because he's a con artist in such a broad field almost nobody can actually identify all of the good and bad varieties from any given year. By just giving an obscure reference you somehow sound like you know what you're talking about...knowing that nobody else actually knows enough about what they are talking about to call you on it.

Just struck me as a great bit of "high brow crowd" humor.


Haven't seen the movie, so it's hard to directly comment, but for what it's worth, Château d'Yquem is a very famous wine. Exactly the (rare) sort where the popular wine magazines will routinely every few years have an article reviewing how the different historic vintages are holding up -- should you drink that 1975 d'Yquem now or hold it a few more years?

It also would be a very dangerous wine to BS about if you didn't know anything about it. 1973 apparently was a lesser year. (Still, it would run you something like $500 a bottle today.) 1975 and 1976 were classic years, name those as something to skip and people will be questioning your taste. And they didn't release a wine at all for the 1972 and 1974 vintages, because they didn't think the grapes were up to snuff.

I had to look those details up because I haven't paid much attention to wine in 20 years. (Wife doesn't like it, so it's hard to justify buying even $20 bottle. Not that I ever could have afforded a Château d'Yquem.) But I still remembered the mid-70s produced a couple of really good vintages. Someone who was actively into wine could probably have given you all those details without any research.


>> It's nice to see an artist agreeing with that viewpoint.

Yep. I've always beaten myself up over my ACT score. Near-perfect scores on grammar, science, and math, but near-zero on reading comprehension. And it was a lot of, "what is the author trying to express by using this word in the title?" I'd rather know how good I am at, "after reading this 5 page article, did you catch this really important detail well enough to recall it quickly?"

Art's important too, but can you judge someone's artistic side in a multiple choice test graded on a scale of 1-9? Don't think so...


The fact that it claims to check spelling and grammar seems suspect to me because if it really were even at least as good as Microsoft word at good at checking spelling and grammar they would have spun it out and sold it as a spelling and grammar checker instead of as a complete packaged writing analysis tool. This makes me doubt the validity of their more ambitious claims like checking for quality of "ideas" and analytics.

It seems to me that there is a much easier way of automating logical reasoning tests. Just make it a standardize multiple choice and have a machine check the answers - the LSAT is probably one of the most successful analytic and logical reasoning test and it has been done this way for a while.


Why wait for college to teach critical thinking skills? My father is a prof at a major university and we grew up discussing ideas, but high schools can teach critical thinking skills and problem solving. My high school was owned by the university and we did a lot of critical thinking.

Jewish religious schools (Yeshivas) teach critical thinking skills by studying the Talmud [1]. A number of Yeshiva students take the LSATs and skip college altogether to go directly to law school so powerful is the process of learning Talmud.

Basically Talmud is full of (often) legal arguments and stories and a lot of time is spent on thinking through/arguing edge conditions (e.g., a piece of property is found overlapping public space and private space).

The point is that college is absolutely not necessary to teach critical thinking skills and in my opinion this should be started at a much younger age.

Incidentally, I have found even graduates of Ivy League schools seem to not understand basic fundamentals. For example, in Economics, they don't seem to understand why housing is so expensive in certain cities and don't seem to have the analytical skills to understand why prices are high.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talmud


I agree that critical thinking should be taugth sooner. A 12 years old can perfectly handle it.

I got the most jewish name ever, however, I can't agree with you on the Talmud. Just like the Bible and the Coran, it's full of things that goes exactly in the opposite direction of critical thinking. And religion, while helping with a lot of things like holding communities and sharing values, is definitly using a huge number of arguments that are totally in opposition with critical thinking. Starting by the fact that all of it is based on the assumption you believe in Yahweh.

However, since the Jewish community itself is pretty well educated, it's easy to be biased.


I have learned Talmud without being religious and it is very, very educational in my opinion and very interesting. If you study it you will see that it is full of critical thinking and different ways of looking at the same issue.

It has been translated into Korean and a number of Koreans study it to help them to be better at thinking [1].

Check out an Artscroll Talmud which has a good English translation. There might even be something on-line.

Also, much of critical thinking in my opinion is cultural. In some cultures, children "are to be seen and not heard." In the Passover Seder (The Last Supper was a Passover Seder) the youngest child at the Seder asks "The 4 questions" (memorized ahead of the ceremony of course).

[1] http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/how-the-talmud-be...


Well, speaking from a secular point of view, studying the Talmud in and of itself makes you religious regardless of the education you are getting from it.

You are funny. You are basically orthodox for whats considered Jewish around me and yet you don't even think of yourself as ,"very religious".


Well, I'm glad you find me amusing. Using your logic, studying Physics makes me a Physicist. Studying Mathematics makes me a Mathematician.

Also, I think that the Koreans who study Talmud might not think that they are religious.

Honestly, anyone with intellectual curiosity I feel would find the Talmud interesting, regardless of being non-religious or of an ethnicity other than Judaism.


Koreans and others studying the Talmud are sort of one off rarities. Nearly everyone who studies the Talmud is a Jew doing so for reasons related to religious or cultural identity.


Physics makes me a Physicist Thats not what I said. Thats comparing apples and oranges. I would bet my bank account your are Jewish, and you are religious in the eyes of this Jew, regardless if you are as religious as your father. I dont doubt the talmud is intellectually interesting, but the reality is those that are studying it ARE religious. Even the koreans you keep referencing; even if they aren't religious at all, they are in the minority for those studying the Talmud that way.


> the reality is those that are studying it ARE religious. Even the koreans you keep referencing; even if they aren't religious at all, they are in the minority for those studying the Talmud that way.

"All those who study it are religious, except those that aren't, but they don't count anyways"


> Just like the Bible and the Coran

Keep in mind that the Talmud is different from the Torah.

As I understand it, the Torah are the five books allegedly inspired by God; the Talmud is that, plus all the commentary, which is where all the critical thinking and analysis takes place.

> Starting by the fact that all of it is based on the assumption you believe in Yahweh.

Keep in mind that it's totally possible to apply critical thinking skills while starting out with totally different axioms.


Strictly speaking, The Old Testament or Jewish Bible (Tenach) is made up of three parts 1) the 5 books of Moses [Genesis, ...], 2) 5 scrolls [Ruth, Ester, ...], and 3) the 12 prophets [Isiah, ...]. A Torah Scroll is the 5 books of Moses.

In Jewish tradition, there is the written part of the law (Tenach above) and the oral law which was given to Moses by God, but not intended to be written down but be passed down orally from generation to generation. By tradition, Moses told it to Joshua. As Judaism became more spread out and Jews more dispersed, they started to write down the Oral Law which with many commentaries became The Talmud.

The Talmud helps to explain passages written in Tenach. For example, "an eye for an eye" does not literally mean an eye, but rather the monetary value of an eye for an eye.

The Talmud is a book of process and ones learns the critical thinking skills by studying the Talmud. There is also of course the content which is learned.


You ever studied Talmud? Or even seen a page? Doesn't seem like you know what it's about. It's mostly case law. Some of the law is religious, much of it is not (torts, civil, criminal law).


Agreed.

Critical thinking isn't a subject, it is a framework. It seems foolish to allow a framework of non-critical thinking to take root for 13 years then expect a few classes to tear down and rebuild those habits of thought.

Further, arguing edge conditions and inserting plausible falsehoods that must be discovered or synthesis of ideas into unfamiliar areas is just more engaging and fun then accepting happy-path truths as a given and reciting them or performing well understood synthesis.


Honestly, it begins in math education, and very early. Math is a field entirely founded around and dedicated to solving problems. Yet, its foundation concepts are often taught as formulas and rules. It's the perfect place to start introducing problems and allowing / leading students to work through them. I'll copy-paste another comment I made a while ago:

"This is the consequence of not teaching domains of problem-solving through actual problem-solving. You see the same thing in math. I had an excellent practitioner of this method for AP calculus. I learned limits by attempting to find the area under a curve using ever-shrinking rectangles, until we got to pushing them to zero width. And now, 15 years later, I still remember the concept. I don't necessarily remember how to do any particular problem involving limits, but I know what limits are and when they apply to a problem."

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11966570#11970303


The best introduction to logic and critical thinking I ever experienced was in a high school english class. In particular, understanding the various informal fallacies (hasty generalization, post hoc ergo propter hoc, argumentum ad populum, etc...) was extremely influential in turning me into a young rationalist.


Have a professor for a parent or convert to Orthodox Judaism, got it


I've read that many yeshiva students in New York City Orthodox communites [1] lack English skills. What is the percentage of yeshiva students who are well-prepared enough to just skip college and take the LSAT?

1 https://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/01/nyregion/new-york-city-qu...


Plenty. Nytimes likes profiling extremes and making them look normal.


I totally agree. If the K-12 system doesn't do something about this, colleges aren't going to be able to do much to fix it.


What law schools admit people without an (undergrad) college transcript?


Cardoza and at least one case of Columbia. I'd guess there are others.


Every time a college sucks article gets published I think the same things:

Look at the college enrollment rates since the 1960's. Look at the tuition rates since the 1960's Look at the distribution of majors since the 1960's

Then precede to look at the labor market. It all becomes very clear. There's millions of great young people roaming the halls of colleges who are not engaged in higher learning. Great young people who would develop critical thinking skills from work, family and good on the job training.

Many of these young people are told from an early age that college is a must in order to get anywhere. Whether that's true, I can't answer with confidence. I waited to go to college. After high school I decided to work, pay bills and taxes. In my late 20's I went back for a CS degree and am productive and happy now. Had I gone right out of high school I would have wasted a lot of time and money.

Is there even a solution to this issue outside of the family? Is the focus and quality of k-12 in the wrong place? Is it a mixture? Who knows?


I went to college directly out of high school and wasted my parents money. It felt impossible to break this to my family that I was leaving school.

After leaving school, I worked for ~4-5 years before I started taking classes again. After landing my first internship as a developer, I've been working as a developer and completing a CS degree f/t ever since. My parents were sold a lie, but I was a fool to buy into it.

The punchline being that I don't even need the degree to work as a developer. However, the subject matter is enjoyable and it's better to leave some doors open for future options (masters, phd or whatever).


> Had I gone right out of high school I would have wasted a lot of time and money.

Why is that, if I may ask? For me personally, my goal was to graduate with a CS degree as soon as possible right after high school so I could start my much higher paying full time engineering job as quickly as possible. I noticed you also majored in CS, so I wonder what I might have overlooked?


Since I had a similar experience, to add another response to your question, in my case it was a lack of direction and maturity.

I knew the outcome I wanted, but had no real motivation to work for it. And I lacked the coping skills I needed to overcome emotional a psychological challenges presented by college life.

Working a job (and getting fired, and working another job, and so on) prepared me much better for completing college than my K-12 education did.

If I'd waited until my late 20s, I'd have been much better off!

Worse, my father (who somehow got much smarter as I got older), anticipated this and told me so. So of course I did the opposite of what he recommended.

I was a CS major, originally, though not a very good one.

Obviously, each person is different and handles life differently. But for me, a few years not in school would have been a much better solution. I wound up behind my peer group career-wise regardless. Better to do it at lower cost.


I was totally disengaged from school socially and academically. I went and worked in a kitchen so I could buy a van, guitar and amp at 17. I spent my 20's touring around North America and Europe within the underground crust/punk community. I worked at record stores and DIY labels. All of it has been a great learning opportunity and helped me develop on the fly critical thinking and problem solving skills. It helped me appreciate the value of the dollar and what not having a place to live is like. It also taught me how the private sector works, networking and selling products in a limited market. I learned vast alcohol consumption causes problems when trying to do all those things, and not having your shit together is costly. However, the big thing is I learned all of that without being crippled with student loans, in fact I came out of it with savings, and capital.


Wow, that's a great story! College definitely isn't for everyone, and I'm hearing more and more of other people with stories just like yours.


Specially true in India. Here, you will almost never see someone from decent economic background not going to college. I was little reluctant about going to college, but if I decided that I am not going to college, social pressure would have been tremendous.


The problem isn't critical thinking skills. You can get together any 5 jokers and ask them 'what's the best way to build a backyard patio?', and they'll all start stroking their chins. But when thinking critically interferes with some sort of strong emotion, or pre-conceived belief system, then forget it. It doesn't matter how much education you have, if entertaining a particular problem causes your amygdala to start firing then your ability to think critically is out the window.


> It doesn't matter how much education you have, if entertaining a particular problem causes your amygdala to start firing then your ability to think critically is out the window.

Thinking critically is, by definition, the ability to not hold beliefs and opinions too deeply or too personally. This is a learnable skill, and is one facet of intellectual maturity.


In which case there are levels of it because there are issues that I can discuss to get an emotional response from almost anyone, especially if they think I'm arguing the issue for some reason other than to measure their emotional reaction.


So the problem is indeed critical thinking skills. We must be able to critically identify devices and experiences that emotionally compromise us and lead to illogical action.


I've got social anxieties, I've critically identified the devices and experiences that lead to illogical action. From a distance I can be cold and calculating, once I get close to that situation, though, the only thing going through my mind is 'nope, nope, nope...'


The idea is to recognize emotionally compromising situations and either remove yourself from them until you can think clearly, or to let someone you trust stand between your judgment and action.

This is almost always achievable when there is will to do so, whereas emotionally regulating yourself while making decisions may be too difficult.


Ah the glorious cognitive biases we have.

I believe you're referencing the Backfire Effect coupled with cognitive dissonance of your views being a part of your identity. Plus a generous helping of the overarching Confirmation Bias[1].

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias


Cognitive bias pretty much sums up the whole of the tech industry these days. Educated fools who never apparently strayed from the tech courses to ever consider philosophy, history, or even a foreign language. But they sure do know what's best for us.


> It doesn't matter how much education you have

Critical thinking, on the contrary, can be learned.


Critical thinking is an important skill but I'd like to caution against this fixation on critical thinking thought in collage as some sort of beacon for society.

Critical thinking is something people develop over the years and it starts early IMO. It's not just a 4 year course. It's a whole approach to the world around you. There are many critical thinkers in my experience outside of collage. And I don't see it a problem as such.

Also it doesn't matter how good a critical thinker you are we all have blind spots and biases that makes it impossible to be critical thinkers in all contexts. Will need to look at the study to see how it's actually measuring the critical thinking skills.

Many of those who do learn critical thinking first when they get to college end up getting such a aha moment that they think critical thinking is the same as constructive thinking and should be applied to everything.

You often meet them in the big companies or management. Many of them like to play the devils advocate poking holes in everything around them but aren't able to come up with solutions themselves.

In my view critical thinking is best learned by reading philosophy and seeing how philosophers historically either improved or created new theories. Because here critical thinking and constructive thinking goes hand in hand. If you read the right progression of philosophers through time you end up understanding how they didn't just critique but put forward their theories which could then be critiqued.

In my view critical thinking without constructive thinking is as big a problem as no critical thinking.


> In my view critical thinking without constructive thinking is as big a problem as no critical thinking.

I disagree. I see critical thinking as a prerequisite for constructive thinking. Without the ability to identify problems, you can't offer solutions.

I and many fellow students in grad school went through exactly this evolution. First, you are taught to be critical and skeptical of everything. But at some point, you realize you can't get anything done in your own research if you are constantly skeptical of everything, so you learn how to find "good enough" solutions to tough problems.

So WRT society, I think it could use a healthy dose of critical thinking, because it suffers from the same problem. People can't identify good arguments, so they don't know they even need better ones.


Well by definition it can't be a prerequisite.

Constructive thinking must have come first otherwise there was nothing to think critically about :)

Joke aside:

Critical Thinking isn't going to save the world. It's a fallacy in the same line of; if only people were more rational or more logical.

It has it's uses but it also has it's mis-uses.


>Critical Thinking isn't going to save the world

true, but why is

>if only people were more rational or more logical.

a fallacy? we can see pretty clean data that show more education = better societal outcomes...


Rationality and logic is used for bad things too.


I agree, the study of philosophy is arguably the cornerstone of critical thinking. I didn't get to spend much time in college between deployments, but by far the most useful classes I was able to take were philosophy classes. Philosophical debate forces you to truly consider your positions and opinions.

College did nothing for me as far as IT skills go, but it did help teach me to teach myself.


Nietzsche somewhere wrote as much, that the value of a philosophical theory was not the theory itself, but its ability to be used as architecture for others to build the theories that come after it.


Reading philosophy is valuable but most people are passive when they read. Critical thinking is a skill that develops through practice, debate.


Sure but we were talking about learning in collage here so you would never just read something but exactly debate it after you read it.

I was fortunate to have a 24 year old high school philosophy teacher a real wiz "kid" who was able to teach how to approach philosophy teaching so it doesn't just end up as ethics class of opposing opinions.

He had me write my high school master assignment about Frege and Wittgenstein.

Anyway don't disagree debate is important but sometimes the arguments are book length long and the only way to respond is with another book.


it took me a while trying to figure out what you meant by a collage of critical thinking.


Haha sorry about that. College of course :)


The thing that most struck me after signing up for a few college courses this past semester for the first time is how little emphasis there is on actually learning the material. Especially in math classes. The entire focus is on passing a test. It seems like the entire system is just set up as a means of "testing" whether you already know enough to pass a given course, rather than the focus being on learning and developing new skills.


I have attended several different colleges, and my kids have all attended different colleges (than the ones that I've attended) and from that sample we discovered great variation in both the quality of the teaching and the focus of the teaching. From our limited data set (3 private liberal arts, 1 private "top ten", 3 different community colleges) the small private liberal arts colleges all had some classes that were taught by professors who cared that the students really understood the material, the community college classes were mostly taught to the exam, and my experience at USC was the big 'survey' classes (like EE101, CS203, etc) were generally taught to the exam (specific learning skills were 'taught' in the lab sessions) but the more specialized classes (like EE450 engineering calculus) were more focused on developing skills at using the material in your future life.

Bottom line is that it is really hard to generalize about colleges because colleges can be so different.


Can confirm that your experience at the top ten school applies to Purdue Engineering and Technology majors. First year starts out slow with mostly 100+ people classes (accounting had 1,100! 550 in the room at a time), but after that they get specialized and you normally find the more personable professors in the higher numbers since there are normal size classes of maybe 10-50.


Same here in Germany. Our CS faculty admits some 300-400 students who are sitting together in one lecture hall in the basic courses (math, algorithms, logic, information theory, electronics), with tutorial sessions for about 30-40 students per room. The specialized lectures in later semesters have 10-30 students and only one tutorial session.

I've found the smaller lectures to be much nicer since it allows engaged students to discuss the subject with the lecturer more freely. (Of course, it depends on the lecturer, i.e. if he/she allows questions and counterpoints from the audience, but most lecturers do.)


This is certainly true within the CS department at Purdue. There are some really passionate professors (Gustavo for my fellow boilermakers), however they're typically only involved in the upper level courses. It'd be easy to look at the first two classes in the program and assume that was the norm, but things really change as the degree continues to specialize through your 4 years.


I had to take a semester of philosophy last year and I had the same reaction you did. In fact, this might be quite sinister, it almost seemed like my professors didn't even want me to learn.

One section of the course was on Feminism and my professor started off the section by saying that if you're not a feminist you shouldn't come to the lectures. In fact, this was the perfect overture to a grueling 6 months of my professor soap boxing her political opinions instead of the actual critical thinking skills I thought I would be getting out of the course.


If "learning and developing new skills" isn't the exact same thing as test preparation, then the test needs to be fixed.

Good tests matter. Teaching to the test is the same thing as teaching the material needed, given that the test is decent.

Direct any complaints toward poor-quality tests.


Tests are the anti-cheat device though. Or at least it's easier to keep tests honest than coursework.


I remember the moment I unlocked the critical thinking I do have.

It was 7th grade, and I was in a home-ec-like class. The day before we had learned how to order from mail order catalogues (showing my age there). This day the teacher passed out magazines, told us to pick an ad, and then find 5 ways it was misleading.

Easy, right? Sex, money, Fame, these associations are in a bunch of ads, and everyone knows about them. But it turns out that 5 is a pretty high number for some ads. You had to really look. And even that didn't change anything for me.

Then we presented to others. And one girl showed an ad for Bayer, and said "4 out of 5 doctors recommend. Who picked the 5 doctors?".

My mind was blown. I think it was the moment where I considered myself a good judge and then was shown a point I had never even considered. I had thought all about having careful wording on the survey, not mentioning any negative results, but I had never considered that the very basis of it could be manipulated to the point of meaninglessness.

I think that moment of fundamental distrust, in both what I'm being told, as well as in my own certainty, did the trick.

Perhaps too well - I'm hypersensitive to being manipulated. I rejected any career that involved deliberate group manipulation, such as military, law enforcement, and legal. I recognize that EVERYTHING is manipulative to some degree and can't be avoided, but I try to avoid anything that does it very explicitly, so I can't for example, watch most documentaries. The moment the vocal pacing and background music starts something in my brains starts shouting "YOU ARE BEING MANIPULATED!" and I try to fight that manipulation, which is largely impossible so I generally end up turning it off. Ditto political speeches (I'll skim the transcripts, thanks), most anything out of marketing, etc.

I don't really think we can "teach" critical thinking, but we can provide opportunity for it again and again. I think our school system in the US (no experience elsewhere) is very poorly set up to do that, be it college or pre-college.


Side story about the 4/5 recommendation, this one for toothpaste: apparently Colgate would just ask dentists to list every type of toothpaste they recommended, and 80% of those doctors wrote down Colgate as an option, thus the "four out of five dentists recommend Colgate" ads.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1539715/Colgate-gets-...


There is/was a whitening toothpaste called Rembrandt. In a competitor's ad they made the claim, "Even Rembrandt can't beat it!". They wanted you to hear that it was better than Rembrandt, but they were actually saying it was equivalent.


Now I'm very interested why 20% wouldn't write down Colgate. Did they know something the others didn't?


They probably just forgot about it.

If someone asked you to write all the brands of X that you've ever used, can you remember all of them, especially if they were nearly equivalent in quality and use case?


I might forget about Aquafresh or Close-up or something, but I'm pretty sure that I would remember Crest and Colgate- especially if I was a dentist. It's like leaving Honda off a list of reliable cars. Hard to believe it's an accident for any reasonable sample size.


All I know is that I buy the cheapest multi pack at costco once a year. My teeth are fine. :D


Are you a dentist?


Nice story.

My moment was something my father used to say. I realized how bad i am (still) naturally at critical thinking.

There is a 50% chance of rain today. Until i was in college i really believed that this meant 5 of the 10 weatherman voted yes for rain and 5 voted no.


> I rejected any career that involved deliberate group manipulation, such as military, law enforcement, and legal

There's dozen of us. Kudos to you for your choice.


> Results of a standardized measure of reasoning ability show many students fail to improve...

The irony of this sentence is painful. The entire reason most colleges fail to improve reasoning - something everyone has known for a while now - is because of standardization and industry-oriented training. They've transformed into advanced trade schools, caring more about selling products (graduates) than producing well-rounded, capable leaders. The entire idea of a standardized test is to produce the very metrics they use to sell those products.

And you know what the worst part about it all is? They are using the old college model (4-year baccalaureate programs) to do what could be done just as effectively in about two years. So they aren't even good at what they are TRYING to do.


I used to make fun of the idea of coding bootcamps. Then I started a PhD in computer science and realized only 30% of CS students actually engage with the theory courses that would differentiate them from boot camp grads. At this point I'd be more inclined to hire a philosophy grad from a small liberal arts school who went to a boot camp than a CS major from a big school, at least I know there will be a capacity for abstraction and decent writing skills.


I went to MIT, and I'm pretty sure everyone already had critical thinking skills. In fact, I just assumed that's part of what the admissions office was looking for.

> at least a third of seniors were unable to make a cohesive argument, assess the quality of evidence in a document or interpret data in a table

Is this what defines critical thinking? Because if these are the skills they want to teach, they should just explicitly teach them. Philosophy taught me a bit about arguments, but it wasn't writing class. In writing class we wrote, but they didn't teach structured arguments.

Personally, I loved solving logic puzzles as a kid, and I'd read. Also my mother raised me to think carefully and objectively. I don't ever remember being taught "critical thinking" at school though - not in college or anywhere else. I'm not aware of any workplace that teaches it either.

Maybe that's why we're screwed!?


It seems that no one is really sure what job college should be doing. It's this massive bundle of so much everything that no one knows what's going on but we all keep attending almost no matter what the cost.


I really think you hit the nail on the head. The critics of college and the proponents of college are both right - to a certain extent.

But therein lies the true problem - no one is really sure about what college truly is, at least we can't agree on it anymore at any level from the student level all the way to the business level. The system has evolved and devolved to a point where it has strayed far beyond it's original intents.

However even despite this uncertainty, we continue participation in the system blindly without asking questions and taking into account modern context.

I think systematic educational progress is closer to the pace of social progress than the pace of technological progress. It's incredibly complicated with tons of actors that keep the current system rolling and not enough inertia yet to push it in a different direction.


I've always wondered if going to college immediately at 18 is the wisest of choices. Personally I worked numerous jobs until 30 and earned my bachelors in history and political economy. I always appreciated each class and all that was offered while everyone else around me being way younger were recovering from the night of partying before. I know how I was at 18, I was tired of high school and ready to just explore the world. I did and when I went to college it was on my own dime and when it felt right.

Granted what was learned would be considered soft, nothing that could really show in the coding world.. and I get it.. you go to get technical skills to get a good job. To me though if this is what college is about then perhaps we should aim for more of an apprenticeship type set up like Germany. Liberal arts colleges can exist still, but it'll be to teach for a more mature crowd able to pay out of pocket and not being something made almost as a requirement. That's not to say you need a college degree to succeed.. I was already set up in my career at the time without any college experience. Considering now I'm trying to start an aquaculture company I probably should of majored in marine biology... then again.. I really didn't become passionate about over-fishing until I took a political course on it. Shrug.


Critical thinking skills are not taught because they teach you how to question authority, and that means criticizing parents, teachers and the system.

Socrates already tried doing that and was accused of corrupting youth (and got him condemned to death)


critical thinking also incentivizes discontent, generally speaking.

better not to ask the difficult questions


Epictetus (134 BC) explained very well how to deal with that:

http://classics.mit.edu/Epictetus/epicench.html

It's a short but amazing read. On can't believe it was written 2151 years ago :) Let me know if you liked it, I'm curious!


Ironically (maybe not?), the biggest dispute I ever had was with a philosophy prof over his condemnation of a student's contrary interpretation of montesquieu.


Many comments here are about the value of higher ed generally and are fascinating to read, but I'm interested in critical reasoning particularly, and this study doesn't surprise me.

(1) Critical reasoning is rarely taught directly, especially to students who don't major in or take a philosophy course.

(2) Even when critical reasoning is taught directly, it's poorly taught. Compare an introductory text on critical reasoning from fifty years ago with one today. You will find that the former feels like it's written for a user of reasoning (which is as it should be written) and the latter is written for explainers of reasoning (colleagues or future academics, I guess?). Jargony, technical, prolix, etc.

(3) Too many professors in the humanities are influenced by a conception of argumentation-as-narrative rather than argumentation-as-truthseeking, or deny there's a distinction or that the latter is possible. Quality of indirect/incidental critical reasoning education is not what it used to be.

(4) STEM education overemphasizes formal logic. Most of our daily reasoning that's worthy of being called "logic" is informal logic.

Outside of university is more important, but things don't look great there either, for reasons everyone here is already familiar with. Echo chambers. Loss of nuance as deliberation is framed in terms that can easily be liked/hearted/shared/retweeted. Curious what, if anything, folks here think could be done to turn things around.

[Edited for clarity.]


I agree with 1-3, but about 4 - I think that's mostly a stereotype about STEM, not the real thing. First, most STEM education doesn't feature that much of formal logic, if any at all. Secondly, actual experience in STEM is probably the best way to internalize that reality is fuzzy and messy (and a good education will teach you that math has tools for handling exactly that, known as probability theory).


I actually agree with both points. I wasn't clear but I was referring to experiential learning, not the explicit curriculum. I agree about actual experience - nothing could replace it but I do think there are things that could accelerate the learning process.


I want to extend what you're saying- STEM gives the illusion of experience with formal logic to those within it. There is a reason why the Salem Hypothesis exists.


>STEM education overemphasizes formal logic.

Few people with STEM degrees have taken a single course in formal logic.


I think your point (4) has substantial problems. I mean, as other commenters have already noted, hardly anyone in STEM studies formal logic. But OK. Let's suppose you mean "informal formal logic" -- not actual formal logic, but that sort of essential sense of how predicate logic works, that it becomes a backbone of much of your thinking. Math teaches that, as do subjects which are essentially math; but does the rest of "STEM" teach that? I'm not sure that's even true. Many quantitative disciplines look terribly sloppy from my point of view.

But let's get to something more interesting. Your point (4) appears to implicitly making the claim that learning formal logic (or rather, "informal formal logic") doesn't help much with informal logic. I don't think that's right at all. Learning that sort of formal logic is a great way to learn informal logic, and I think this works much better than the other way around. Doing any sort of serious math, you will learn how an argument really works, how to take it apart. Largely you will learn this from the numerous errors you and other people will make. ("Oops! I swapped the quantifiers!") You will see contradictions presented to you and have to find the mistake. I think it's easier to learn to spot errors in this setting, where you can say certainly what's right and what's not, and then move to the fuzzier setting.

Like, the arguments I see most people making most of the time are so bad, and they'd be better if they had experience with actually finding holes in arguments, and learned to apply this to their own. Well, that's what a mathematician does. In an informal setting, of course, almost everything is potentially a hole -- and so of course you learn to explicitly lay out your assumptions, ask the reader to bear with you or spot you an inference, and otherwise explicitly acknowledge where you're making a jump.

Because really, the worst errors in informal reasoning also pop up in formal reasoning. The biggest problem I typically see with people's arguments is equivocation. That's something you learn to spot doing math! And because terms in math are overloaded, you learn to break things down, to say, "OK, we've got 'continuous' in this sense, and 'continuous' in that sense...". Learning to spot equivocations and break down concepts would help people a lot.

My experience is that mathematicians, being familiar with this sort of thing, are in fact better at informal logic than most people, by a substantial amount.

I mean, I know there's the idea of the engineer who attempts to perform (informal) formal logic on e.g. politics, taking various statements as axioms and writing down the conclusions, without noticing that the terms used in the axioms aren't used in a consistent manner, or that the axioms are ill-specified, or that the terms don't connect to anything we actually care about, etc., and coming to ridiculous conclusions. And it's possible some forms of STEM teach that, this taking of imprecise things and treating them as if they were precise, because such people certainly exist (they're easy enough to find on the internet). But my experience is that a mathematician instead learns to notice equivocations, notices imprecision, and to actually do the work of taking things that are ill-specified and making them well-specified (when possible).

Basically, pretty much all the advantages people talk about for learning philosophy, to me seem to come up in math as well. The one big exception, I think, is learning not to take texts at face value, to wonder what the author is trying to accomplish by writing this. A math paper may contain errors, but you can typically assume it's a good-faith effort at truthseeking. Whereas that is something that's definitely necssary in other fields.


Thank you very much - and to 'foldr and 'TeMPOraL as well. Yes, I was referring to the logic/reasoning education/experience that one tends to gain in "STEM" - as an example of study outside of the humanities, which I had mentioned in point 3. Not direct/explicit study.

>Your point (4) appears to implicitly making the claim that learning formal logic (or rather, "informal formal logic") doesn't help much with informal logic.

No. My point is that formal logic isn't sufficient, not that it isn't valuable or necessary. It is indeed very valuable and necessary.

>Doing any sort of serious math, you will learn how an argument really works, how to take it apart.

Your "really" there is presuming the thing in dispute, which is what is a "real" or paradigm case of argument/logic. Is it artificial formal language/symbols, or how people actually talk? In the vast majority of circumstances in which we are called upon to reason, the materials we must work with are natural language arguments. At the very least, study in informal logic is useful for understanding what's different about natural language argument; what can go wrong when converting it into formal expression; etc. As you noted, a good mathematician makes even natural language arguments precise "when possible". That requires knowing when is it "possible"; what can and can't be expressed in formal terms; whether some concepts (like democracy, art, etc.) are essentially contestable, which I presume presents difficulties for formalized expression; when is inconsistent nomenclature worth stopping and resetting over; how does one do interpretation; what can go wrong with interpretation; etc. And here's an important one: When are we better off without precision? (For example, would we be better off as a society if the meaning of "cruel and unusual punishment" could be expressed w/ mathematical precision? Some norms are valuable because they facilitate debate rather than settle debate.) If a good mathematician has a sense for all of these things, that sense is no doubt strongly aided by foundation in formal logic. It would also be aided in different ways by foundation in informal logic, but my sense is informal logic is relatively neglected.


Can you recommend a text on critical reasoning? It's something I often feel I'm quite bad at.


These are good:

The Art of Reasoning: An Introduction to Logic and Critical Thinking (Fourth Edition) 4th Edition

https://www.amazon.com/Art-Reasoning-Introduction-Critical-T...

Reflections on Reasoning 1st Edition

https://www.amazon.com/Reflections-Reasoning-Raymond-S-Nicke...


Thank you!



Also these audio/video resources seem good:

http://www.wi-phi.com/front/Critical-Thinking http://argumentninja.com/podcast-episodes/

And "The Great Courses" has a number of courses on logic, critical thinking and argumentation.


The article is about college but what about the previous 12 years of school. Why don't students learn critical thinking during those years. 12 years of school and students lack learning skills, critical thinking skills and what burns me most high school graduates don't have a marketable skill they can use to get a job if they have to start working.

Last year's election focus on some very irrelevant subjects yet our graduates aren't ready for the world they have to face. School reform should be a hot subject yet it's not at the top of the list. Start up jockeys take note the US school system is ready for disruption. I hope it happens soon.


Yeah, I think this one of the great oversights of the higher ed discussion: the near collapse of much of the public school system "outcome profile". Sounds like we're trying to bandaid that with a declining uni system, too.


The mandatory Jordan Peterson link:

"Why You Go To College" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ANtPUg37f04


I mostly agreed with what he was saying until he made that non-sequitur about "postmodern neo-Marxism." Universities are just giving the students what they want: a piece of paper that allows access to the job market. Most modern university students do not appear to want an education and neo-Marxism has nothing to do with that shift.


This is a cynical view of what students want. I think you're underestimating the influence that professors have over young developing minds. There is an intellectual war being waged on university campuses, and students are being used as cannon fodder.

Postmodern Marxists have virtually taken over humanities, and have been extending their reach outward through the soft sciences for some time now. I would argue that this is directly related to the lack of critical thinking skills developed in universities.

Postmodernists view logic and rational thought as tools of oppression used by white males to subjugate women and minority groups in Western cultures. This became a convenient philosophy for Marxists who could no longer rationally defend communism after its repeated failures in the early 20th century. And this is the philosophy being pumped into the minds of students.

Hence, you see students of these far left academics violently shutting down free speech across university campuses. They have nothing to gain from rational debate. Their feelings and subjective interpretations trump any form of reason or critical thinking.

Jordan Peterson would argue that what young people really want (and what would be good for them) is responsibility. Because responsibility gives an individual a sense of purpose and moral agency. And currently, these values are mainly being cultivated by the right side of the political spectrum, which is why I think you see younger generations shifting towards conservatism.


> Universities are just giving the students what they want: a piece of paper that allows access to the job market. Most modern university students do not appear to want an education

Please not generalize - this is not the case in some other countries.


If people had critical thinking skills they wouldn't be taking out outrageous loans to pay for often worthless degrees.


Good luck finding a job without a college degree.


Lack of a degree didn't seem to be a problem for the electrician I had working here this morning. I can't imagine him being forced to drive for Uber.

A quality education is a very good thing. I am proposing that many people are not critically evaluating what constitutes a good education and how much debt their education is worth.

People are paying their money, expecting a qualification and a job and perhaps that isn't what education is supposed to be about but as long as colleges are making money perhaps that is the best we can expect from many of them.


Could always work for me. I tell applicants to leave off their education credentials and to show me their previous work history and projects.

Hired a dropout who ended up producing sports science research that probably could have netted him a Ph.D.

We're out there hiring.


> Hired a dropout who ended up producing sports science research that probably could have netted him a Ph.D.

Is there any way he could turn that into actual Ph.D.? I ask out of curiosity, because many people do things in their professional lives that are equivalent of achievements in academic work, and I wonder if there's a way to turn former into the latter.


He/she can start publishing papers. Basically that's the only important thing to become a researcher/scholar. (You can be an independent scholar, so not associated with any research institute/university/group. But of course being in a group helps a lot.)

And then various universities and doctorate schools have various requirements for a PhD.

There are doctorate schools that don't require undergrad degrees or anything. And some don't require completing courses if you have enough publications. So in theory it's possible to just do a couple exams and a thesis (which can - and usually is - just a bit more in depth aggregation and exposition of your previous research).

Is it worth it? Well, sure, if you want to have a PhD, but that part is much easier than producing great scientific papers, so if the person in question has good ideas and a sort of constant "scientific output", then why not?


>There are doctorate schools that don't require undergrad degrees or anything.

AUT in NZ (as I said in another comment) seems to be one. Do you know of others to investigate? Within 2 years I should have at least 5 peer-reviewed papers published in open journals [PlosONE/PeerJ] (and probably 1-2 in closed, "elite" journals... something I'm opposed to but... business...), and I wouldn't mind looking into it.


It seems that admission requirements are ... very formal nowadays, but also (higher) academia is all about who knows who. So if you have a good reputation "in the field", getting into a PhD program would be a matter of asking.

Also, usually young/child prodigies were able to skip undergrad and go straight to a PhD, but that's a bit different.

See also: https://academia.stackexchange.com/questions/17841/phd-witho...

https://www.quora.com/Can-one-earn-a-Ph-D-without-having-a-B...


Potentially. We've obtained IRB approval for some other studies we are working on. His particular research will almost certainly go into another paper and he'll be credited with multiple published works, and probably get cited quite a bit.

He has very little interest in starting up Ph.D. work, same as me (we're both college dropouts). However, AUT in NZ has offered to examine work for their Ph.D. program which is remote and based solely on research contributed. We might look into that.

I have essentially no interest in dealing with the machine that is academia, so unless it's minimal work, I'll probably pass. My employee feels the same.


You can buy degrees that turn "work experience" into credits, but nobody respects them, so it's not really worthwhile unless you really just want some letters after your name.


Shrug. I don't really respect the letters or degrees that people have anyway. Only reason I would do it is to help my employees get better opportunities.


This guy should not be down voted.

For better or worse, College is the new high-school.

Of course a degree in of itself won't get you far but it's an easy filter that many companies use to quickly weed out candidates.

There are also other opportunities inside college (internships, friends, learning difficult concepts) that you realistically aren't going to find outside.

The value of a College degree depend heavily on how the individual leverages it but it's an important thing to have. Without what are you left with?

Retail/Sales, Warehouse work, Construction, Odd-jobs, Uber

That's the reality.


>The value of a College degree depend heavily on how the individual leverages it but it's an important thing to have. Without what are you left with?

Being a software developer with an impressive Github and set of independent work, the likes of which will impress the vast majority of good tech companies that need productivity and not papers to hang on a wall?

People that think that undergraduate degrees pass a "filter" are ones that are applying through open portals and hoping their resume is selected. Most of the good jobs in software development are obtained through networking in one form or another, in-person and online (Show HN is a good example, amongst millions of other ways to get your work out there).

More and more hiring managers are becoming like me. I blind your resume for education. I actively don't want it. I have found it to be a useless signal at best and a counterproductive signal at worst.


I also hire engineers and don't care about education. However, what you call networking is often bootstrapped by education and previous work experience. Very few people have "an impressive Github" out of high school that will actually impress good tech companies. However, if you have a bachelor from an average university, you will at least get some phone interviews.


> it's an easy filter that many companies use to quickly weed out candidates.

That's going to have diminishing returns though, and become a useless metric. It won't get that bad in our lifetimes, but in 70 years, for our great-grandchildren, maybe.


>It won't get that bad in our lifetimes

I think it will. It already has started. As I told the OP, I blind resumes for education. I started the practice when I built a Data Science team for a tech company and noticed that education signaling was negatively correlated with performance, and it was worse the more "applicable" the degree was in (CompSci grads were among some of our worst employees, while Mathematics and Physics grads did exceptionally well).

There's a lot of reasons for this, but I think one major one is that the company I worked for was a C or B- player at best in the market. Any good CS graduate worked for a real company, startup, or did their own thing, leaving us with a lot of people who just held a piece of paper and thought it was worth something.


> Good luck finding a job without a college degree.

I've a couple of them, but my degrees won't come to my rescue when I'm about to get fired for my poor performance :)


Never had a problem. I got into the US on an O-Visa and got an EB1 Green Card. I build a company from scratch to 80 people, I helped take another to IPO as part of the senior level and is now back building another kind of company.

All without a collage degree. Oh and where I come from it's even free.

Not that it's not helpfull but it's certainly not necessary.


I've never had a problem


Never had a problem; provable skills nearly always trump a degree in tech. What you mean is good luck getting a job with no experience without a degree.


Is it possible to flag comments? Yours provides absolutely nothing of value to the conversation.


I went to Boston University for undergrad. When I went, tuition and board were 46k, which I thought was absurd. Fast forward a decade and it's 70k. At this rate, in less than 10 years it will be 100k per year. How does any of this make sense?!?!?!?


Most students aren't paying that much. Sticker prices are often much higher than what students actually pay. The sticker price at Harvard is around $60k, but 70% of students receive financial aid from the University and of those students the average paid is actually only about $12k per year.

Some quick googling reveals that 52% of Boston University students receive financial aid, and the average award is about $30k per year.

What's happening is that only students from wealthy families are paying $70k a year, and they are basically subsidizing everyone else.


> What's happening is that only students from wealthy families are paying $70k a year, and they are basically subsidizing everyone else.

To be fair, this is what the system strives to. More and more schools are achieving an equitable balance (this is also why top unis are shifting towards need-based policies, as opposed to merit-based ones: your merit threshold for FA should be the threshold at which you accept students), but there are still kinks (IIRC students from farms are one notable demographic - their families tend to have high cashflow, because of the sheer value of the equipment and crops that they work with, even though their net income is incredibly low).

On the other hand you have schools like NYU that pretty much exist to strip their students of financial assets: they combine administrators who don't care for furthering their institutions as ones of education, but rather moneymaking tools, with financial aid offices so miserably incompetent that they presumably only exist so that they can claim to have such on marketing materials. (Apologies for the vitriol, but as a New Yorker I've always been ashamed of the school, and it embodies all too well so many of the things wrong with our higher education system.)


> What's happening is that only students from wealthy families are paying $70k a year, and they are basically subsidizing everyone else.

Not just students from wealthy families, but wealthy alums- the Ivies and other top schools have gigantic endowments. The annual returns on the endowments of Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, etc. are more than enough to fund tuition for every single undergraduate at those schools.


https://aap.cornell.edu/admissions/undergraduate/tuition-cos...

In 1997, it was roughly

$19,000 $4,000 $1,700 (the best plan) $1,000 etc.

I know that was 20 years ago, but even your $46k sounds outrageous to me. But someone who went to cornell 30 years ago would say the same about $25k of 1997.


It's reasonable if you think about the sticker price as the "max price". We let colleges do price discrimination, so why should they hold themselves to a smaller max price if there are people they think are willing to pay more? Then they discount it for people who probably aren't.


One way it might make sense is in how much return you get for it over the rest of the years of your life. That's one "problem" with education; the payoff is very much later than the goods are delivered, and the goods are fairly expensive.


I remember looking up a list of the cost of tuition + room of colleges somewhere and there were at least 100 colleges that were > $55,000.


Not the biggest fan of higher ed, but why put this on the colleges? Why not the high schools? Eighteen was practically middle-aged in the 19th century. We just keep dropping that bar and infantilizing people so much that WSJ will be writing this about PhD programs in a few more years.


>Eighteen was middle-aged

That is possibly misleading.

By year 1500 the life expectancy of a nobleman in England who had reached age 20 was about 70--about the world average in 2017.

Infant Mortality rates were high back then, skewing averages, and during the Middle Ages they had the Bubonic Plague, skewing it even more...


Perhaps he was referring more to amount of responsibility at age 18 rather than % of lifespan?


Sure. It's possibly a misleading statement and that's all I said.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_education

> Thomas Jefferson proposed "establishing free schools to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic, and from these schools those of intellectual ability, regardless of background or economic status, would receive a college education paid for by the state."

> In the United States, the first free public institution of higher education, the Free Academy of the City of New York (today the City College of New York), was founded in 1847 with the aim of providing free education to the urban poor, immigrants and their children. Its graduates went on to receive 10 Nobel Prizes, more than at any other public university.

https://www.ccny.cuny.edu/about/history

> City's academic excellence and status as a working-class school earned it the titles "Harvard of the Proletariat," "the poor man's Harvard," and "Harvard-on-the-Hudson." Ten CCNY graduates went on to win Nobel Prizes.


All true, but left unmentioned is that a significant part of that was due to the open discrimination against immigrant groups by the prestigious ivy league that viewed them as inferior. CCNY benefited from that pool of excluded talent.



Thanks to AMP (pretty much the only good thing about it!) this works:

    curl -s https://www.wsj.com/amp/articles/exclusive-test-data-many-colleges-fail-to-improve-critical-thinking-skills-1496686662 | sed -n '/./{/<title/,/<\/title/p;/<p>/,/<\/p>/p;}' > wsj.html; open wsj.html



That doesn't work.


Why should we believe that their critical thinking evaluation is accurate?


The first critical comment!

A lot of anti-college head-nodding in the commentary here. It's not really that unexpected from a community that goes ga-ga over stunts like this[0]. The headline wreaks of Rupert Murdochian anti-intellectual pandering.

A great claim requires great proof, and when it's below the fold... what can ya do?

0. https://venturebeat.com/2011/11/21/peter-thiel-fellowship/


Of course, we all agree that criticizing the efficacy of the Higher Ed. academic-bureaucratic axis is de facto anti-intellectual.

Where else but Higher Ed. would we find intellectuals?!

I am also unclear that the headline "wreaks" anything.


>stunts like this[0].

It's a novel idea. Why does it offend you?


>muh Rupert Murdoch boogeyman


It took me a long time to really develop critical thinking skills. I'm still behind where I think I want to be. One thing I've noticed is spending more time on the right sites, like HN, has helped tremendously. Even if they aren't perfect. Another thing that has really helped is spending more time with critical thinking friends.

So what really makes the top colleges so great. Is it really just the professors and curriculum or is the real value in that more bright minds are all grouped together.


I've attended some top schools and some mediocre schools. The better schools stood out for:

1) more academically demanding (e.g. better organized course syllabi, sharper profs, harder homework, bolder more relevant projects, exposure to research-level problems, use of up-to-date tools & methods, fewer profs on autopilot).

2) smarter students who were more engaged, asked questions, had more complex side interests and hobbies, and thought outside the box. The social dynamics at top schools (esp. among techies) is simply a different world.

And usually, at the best schools, both the students and the school put little emphasis on intercollegiate sports.


I'm curious about what you've done to "develop critical thinking skills". I learned that kind of thing really young and I've always enjoyed puzzles and thinking, so it's not something I've had to work on.

And when I've seen others have problems with it, I've never seen them improve. I've watched them learn facts and processes, but never seen them actually learn how to think about new things that weren't given to them in a book or tutorial.

So... What's worked for you?


My wife, for one, did not grow up in an environment that encouraged critical thinking. In school she did the work and got 'A's, but admits that she never really questioned anything. And apparently her parents never tried to get her to ask deeper questions about the world.

She wasn't really interested in science, literature, math, or history. She wasn't really interested in anything having to do with education. It was just what she was "supposed to do". She remained in this state throughout most of her 20s.

In the last few years though, she has started homeschooling our daughters and has completely immersed herself in the liberal arts, as well as math and some science (she never had a good basis for understanding science and still struggles with it). It's almost like talking to a different person now.

She has read more books in the last year than she had in her entire life previous. She argues, what I would consider, well. She doesn't fall for the unreasoned ideas of bloggers and mainstream news anymore. It's pretty awesome.

Anyway, I'm not sure exactly what it is that any one person could do to develop these skills other than immersing themselves in whatever subject they're into and exposing themselves to all sides of an argument.

Also, I've realized that it helps to get out of your own head sometimes and just let all the information wash over you. Don't try to scrutinize every little thing immediately. Your subconscious will remember bits and pieces that you will use later.


"just let all the information wash over you" is one of the things that I think is required of someone that thinks well. I find that too many people either accept or (worse) reject information immediately without considering it. In that state, you either can't think critically about new information, or your old information, depending. I think the inability to look at "facts" and consider them unreliable is one thing that keeps people from being able to think well.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone learned something 20 years ago and absolutely refuses to accept that it might be wrong, simply because someone in authority taught it to them.

Authority means nothing in the end, and memories fail.


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