I fear that too many of my students have done exactly that.
Increasingly, I’ve found myself addressing these big-picture, take-home points explicitly.
Like most educators, one of my central aims is to impart critical thinking skills— to help students make sound decisions in a confusing world of conflicting information, sales pitches, and smooth-talking politicians.
Though critical thinking is universally regarded as a pillar of higher education (including by employers seeking college graduates), results show that students are not developing their critical thinking skills to the extent we expect.
For their 2009 book, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, Richard Arum and Josipsa Rocksa followed a little over 2,300 college students through their first two years of school.
They found “a barely noticeable impact on students’ skills in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing” and “no statistically significant gains [in these skills] for at least 45 percent of the students.”These students may be learning things, but they’re not becoming better thinkers or writers.’s free newsletters."data-newsletterpromo-image="https://static.scientificamerican.com/sciam/cache/file/458BF87F-514B-44EE-B87F5D531772CF83_source.png"data-newsletterpromo-button-text="Sign Up"data-newsletterpromo-button-link="https:// origincode=2018_sciam_Article Promo_Newsletter Sign Up"name="article Body" itemprop="article Body"For the past couple years, I’ve been working as a science communicator on two fronts, as a freelance science writer and a community college Earth science instructor.I’ve seen, from many angles, the difficulty people have understanding and assessing scientific issues.I think there is an enormous amount of untapped value in a broader model.I envision a course that incorporates many facets of critical thinking. They should learn a bit about cognitive science to understand some of the biases and mental shortcuts we all subconsciously employ.Scientific literacy and critical thinking skills are seen as natural side-effects of studying a science. I don’t think it reliably works that way, especially for students who expect to struggle with and be bored by science classes from the outset.It’s easy to sit through a class, memorizing some facts and working through assignments with minimal effort, without ever actually engaging with the scientific process that created this knowledge.(How can you think at a high level without the awareness that there are wayward tendencies in your thinking machine that sometimes require troubleshooting and maintenance?) They should study some of the tools of rhetoric so they can identify the art of persuasion at work, particularly when they’re being targeted by it.For decades, there have been pushes to teach these skills formally, which have ebbed and flowed with the educational tides.The Association for Informal Logic & Critical Thinking and the Foundation for Critical Thinking, for example, have long been advocating for better critical thinking instruction.