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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

College is now a 'what to think' place, not 'how to think' for yourself

"Professors here teach how to think, not "what to think," college tour guides claim. Don't believe them, writes Caitlin Flanagan in The Atlantic. Many "professors are going to tell you what to think, and you’re going to backfill that 'truth' with research of your own."


In her new book, On Thinking for Yourself: Instinct, Education, Dissension, she recalls how her father taught her how to think for herself by asking one question: "And what is the best argument on the other side?"


"I had learned the style and the rhetorical turns of making a great case, but I didn’t know the first thing about fortifying it with facts, reason, logic — or the best argument of the side I was treating in such a cavalier way," Flanagan writes.

A teacher should never do your thinking for you. She should give you texts to read and guide you along the path of making sense of them for yourself. She should introduce you to the books and essays of writers who disagree with one another and ask you to determine whose case is better.

Just as professors should introduce students to ideas the professor thinks are wrong, students should confront obnoxious speakers, not "pound on the doors of lecture halls and pull fire alarms," she writes.


Book the largest auditorium, and make sure he's broadcast live on the campus station, Flanagan suggests. "Tell him the only requirement for his visit is that he engage in debate with a student — and then track down the young woman or man who owns this subject. And the professors who can help him or her to make the strongest possible case."



The college classroom should be "a place to train young minds toward a yearning for knowledge and a taste for argument -- to be intellectually curious — even if what they wind up discovering challenges their most cherished convictions," writes Stephen L. Carter in the New York Times.


In the early '70s, when Carter was a Stanford student, William Shockley, the Nobel-winning physicist began arguing that racial differences in I.Q. are primarily genetic. You could call it old-fashioned white supremacy, except that he thought Asians were smarter than whites.


"Student protesters argued that Shockley shouldn’t be allowed to teach; on more than one occasion, they disrupted his classes," writes Carter. "But I didn’t want to see him punished. I wanted to see him refuted."


He got that chance when Shockley debated the issue of I.Q. and inheritance with Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, one of the world’s great geneticists, in Stanford's largest auditorium. The geneticist "made mincemeat of Shockley’s arguments — which is the way that academic disagreements should be decided."


I covered that debate for the Stanford Daily. Two black professors participated too, but I can only remember Cedric X, a psych prof, who insisted the Nation of Islam patrol the auditorium. The other was a historian, I think.


Shockley had a chance to have his say, probably convincing no one. But, later, "debates at Harvard (1973) and Yale (1974) were canceled because of student protests," Carter writes.

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m_t_anderson
Feb 05

Academics gonna academicize. Wouldn't it be simpler to teach some street smarts? Like asking "What's the catch? What's in it for you?" Or even some lawyer smarts, like "Qui bono?"


But n-o-o-o! We gotta pimp it all up and call it "critical thinking," which is just vague enough to get hijacked by every ideological nutjob with a personal crusade. No wonder colleges and universities are losing respect.

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superdestroyer
Feb 05
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A good rule of thumb is that for people whose first instinct is to ask "where's the catch" do poorly at math. They cannot see the path to the answer because they are looking for the catch. They are the same people who fail at man on the street questions because their first instinct is to avoid the catch rather than answer a simple question.

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JK Brown
JK Brown
Feb 04

Schooling, especially colleges and universities have reverted to the historical norm for teaching, the seminary for some belief system. The modern belief system in the West is Wokeism. But knowledges is no longer held captive in the university library but is easily available off campus. The classroom and professor are no longer the place to be challenged to develop your thinking. Nor is it possible to openly talk to other students to train your thinking. It all collapses into accusation and cancelling. But the podcasts are a place to observe and learn how to develop arguments.


Through most of history, education was by word-of-mouth and dependent on memory. Books were expensive and scarce so that in essence the teacher held…

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superdestroyer
Feb 05
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And how much "wokeism " is mentioned in economics, computer science, biology, engineering, or accounting classes. Try looking up what universities actually do these days instead of repeating weak memes.

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superdestroyer
Feb 04

A question to ask ever student is "what is the basis for believing, doing, or saying something?" Students need to develop opinions, courses of actions, or ideas based on something other than their gut or what the headline they read easilier in the day.

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