Students in the course were also asked to design a class to teach how to create résumés and cover letters.
In courses like these, students are forced to think not just about the subject matter, but also about how to find relevant information, how to organize and consider that information, and how to structure and present what they find—all important critical thinking skills.
Now consider the second path: one taken by students who have learned to evaluate all information that they encounter, and who understand the need to adjust previously held views in light of new data. The travelers on those paths, while perhaps heading in the same direction, will have very different experiences.
Unlike the roads of Robert Frost’s poem, our two paths are not equal.
The CLA tests are administered to incoming freshmen and outgoing seniors at more than 200 public colleges and universities.
The results are typically not published, but this year The Wall Street Journal filed a public records request and was able to get details on the results at a number of colleges and universities that administered the test between 20.Those results show wide divergences between schools, but they don’t necessarily explain why some schools perform well while others do not.The Journal looked closely at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, which saw the largest improvement in critical thinking skills between freshmen and seniors.The second annual State of Critical Thinking survey from Mind Edge asked respondents to complete a brief quiz requiring them to use digital literacy and critical thinking skills.In 2018, respondents scored lower on every question compared to 2017, and 52 percent of last year’s respondents received a failing grade.Educators need to provide students with the critical thinking skills they will need in college and to navigate the garden of the forking paths that is their—and our—future.While the CLA illustrates the difficulty in preparing students for this path, it should also serve as a clarion call to action for America’s educators.Both professors and students at Plymouth State noted that classes at the school provide little direct information about critical thinking; instead, they provide a framework for critical reasoning that leads students to ask the right questions and seek out information on their own.Essentially, critical thinking is baked into many different courses, rather than being the formal subject of any one course.Obviously, when a student’s proposed solution is based on false information or faulty logic, the instructor needs to step in to provide corrections and guidance.Indeed, providing appropriate guidance in critical thinking needs to become a central part of the college value proposition.