Free Markets, Free People

critical thinking


Higher Education: Here’s a surprise

OK, I’m being facetious in the title.  Well, at least for those who’ve been paying attention.  For the rest, this may actually come as a surprise:

Political activism has drawn the University of California into an academic death spiral. Too many professors believe their job is to "advance social justice" rather than teach the subject they were hired to teach. Groupthink has replaced lively debate. Institutions that were designed to stir intellectual curiosity aren’t challenging young minds. They’re churning out "ignorance." So argues a new report, "A Crisis of Competence: The Corrupting Effect of Political Activism in the University of California," from the conservative California Association of Scholars.

My guess is, and I think this would be easily substantiated, that the U of C system is just an example of the problem, not the sole problem.  (The study is here.)

Of course the left has a ready answer for all of this:

UC Berkeley political science Professor Wendy Brown rejected that argument. (Yes, she hails from the left, she said, but she doesn’t teach left.) The reason behind the unbalance, she told me, is that conservatives don’t go to grad school to study political science. When conservatives go to graduate school, she added, they tend to study business or law.

"If the argument is that what is going on is some kind of systematic exclusion," then critics have to target "where the discouragement happens."

So, other than “stereotypes are us”, Prof. Brown has no real explanation.  Because, of course, unless all “conservatives” go to business and law and none to political science (which we know isn’t true), the problem isn’t about who does or doesn’t got into grad school, but who gets hired by universities, isn’t it?   And most people with a modicum of common sense know that most people who hire have a tendency to hire people like what?   Like them.

And anyway, it appears its not really about learning or acquiring skills such as critical thinking:

At the same time, grades have risen. "Students often report that all they must do to get a good grade is regurgitate what their activist professors believe," quoth the report.

Hardly an atmosphere (akin to a “hostile workplace”, no?)in which a “conservative” would feel comfortable and certainly not one in which a critical thinker would be welcome.

Peter Berkowitz took a look at the study and concluded that the result was much worse than imagined:

The politicization of higher education by activist professors and compliant university administrators deprives students of the opportunity to acquire knowledge and refine their minds. It also erodes the nation’s civic cohesion and its ability to preserve the institutions that undergird democracy in America.

[…]

The analysis begins from a nonpolitical fact: Numerous studies of both the UC system and of higher education nationwide demonstrate that students who graduate from college are increasingly ignorant of history and literature. They are unfamiliar with the principles of American constitutional government. And they are bereft of the skills necessary to comprehend serious books and effectively marshal evidence and argument in written work.

In other words, they’re indoctrinated and not taught to think critically.  And, per the study, they’re actually ignorant of “the institutions that undergird democracy in America”.  That would, in part, explain their ‘shock’ at the validity of the arguments against ObamaCare (so there’s your example of the point).

Granted, this is but one study, it’s by a conservative group and there may be a bit of confirmation bias concerned on my part, but I’d love to see the left really document an actual challenge to its substantive points instead of doing what they usually do – wave it away.  While it may be one study by a conservative group, it does note that which Berkowitz points out – “numerous studies” of the system demonstrate the facts listed, i.e. an increasing ignorance of history and literature, unfamiliarity with the principles of American constitutional government, lacking skills necessary to comprehend serious writing, marshal evidence and argue their point effectively.  Or, in other words, think critically.  Wait, isn’t that what universities are supposed to teach?

Start there.  Explain.

HT: Instapundit

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Bubble-headed nonsense from the left about income inequality

I

’m not sure what else to call it but it does indeed seem a fitting example of a discussion we recently had here about colleges failing to teach critical thinking.

Think Progress (of course) has a blog post headlined with “Income inequality in US worse than Egypt”.  Never let a crisis go to waste, huh?

First you are asked to believe that it is “income inequality” which is leading the pack of reasons the country wants Mubarak gone.  If not, what’s the purpose of the headline?

Secondly, there’s the equivalence this writer makes between the US and Egypt.   My guess Pat Garafalo has never been to Egypt (or perhaps even out of the US to a nation in which “poor” actually means poor) so he has no frame of reference in his comparison.  Its all about income inequality, that’s always "bad" and that is the leading reason for unrest, or so the reasoning, such that it is, seems to conclude.

Usually “income inequality” isn’t even on the radar screen when these sorts of things happen.  The grievances are more focused more generally on “freedom”, “liberty”, “oppression” and/or “democracy”.  You may, as you have in the case of Egypt, even hear “economic opportunity” as a reason.

No, “income inequality” is one of those terms the left likes to use as a sort of euphemism for “capitalist exploiters” – a part of their perpetual war on business.  “Capitalist exploiters” include any corporation and most business owners.  Of course they can’t use “capitalist exploiters” without revealing their game (and being dismissed out of hand), so “income inequality” has to do.   The implication, of course, is if we just took the money from those capitalist exploiters and spread it around (because, you know, those folks collect it and bury it in a coffee can in the back yard or stuff their mattress with it), all would be lovely.  

The fact remains that economic opportunity is lacking in Egypt not because of “capitalist exploiters” but because of government oppression and favoritism. 

Somehow though, and certainly there are problems with government intrusion here, what has gone on in Egypt is relevant to what is going on here and the proof is “income inequality”.  Make the connection for heaven sake – what’s wrong with you?

Garafalo takes a wave at trying to sound fair about his point, but remember, to swallow this whole you have to believe two things – one, that economics is a zero-sum game, so if the rich are getting richer the poor must get poorer and two, there is no opportunity for the poor to better their condition.  The rich are just making it worse and worse for the poor by earning taking more than their “fair share”.

Anyway, Garafalo says:

The Gini coefficient is used to measure inequality: the lower a country’s score, the more equal it is. Obviously, there are many things about the U.S. economy that make it far preferable to that in Egypt, including lower poverty rates, higher incomes, significantly better infrastructure, and a much higher standard of living overall. But income inequality in the U.S. is the worst it has been since the 1920′s, which is a real problem.

Using that, I’d have to guess that the former Soviet Union and it’s bloc of Eastern European satellites had very low Gini coefficient scores, wouldn’t you?

See, this is “equality” for equality’s sake.   It’s nonsense.  It is the turning of a concept from a positive to a negative.   We have all been promised something very profound in the country – equal protection under the law and equal opportunity to pursue “happiness”.  Yet it is something the left constantly and consistently pushes as a different message.  It doesn’t just want equality in opportunity – it want’s equality of outcome.

That’s why you continue to see long boring posts written about the subject of “income inequality”.  It is how the left justifies further intrusion by government and taking from those who “have” to give to those who “don’t have”.   It’s about time we made it clear that other than the leftist chorus, no one else is buying into their preaching.

Oh and the big finish to the Garafalo piece?

Yale economist Robert Shiller has said that income inequality “is potentially the big problem, which is bigger than this whole financial crisis.” “If these trends that we’ve seen for 30 years now in inequality continue for another 30 years…it’s going to create resentment and hostility,” he said. But tax and spending policies that provide adequate services and allow for economic mobility — along with a robust social safety net — can head off trouble that may come down the road.

“Bigger than this whole financial crisis”.  It will create “resentment and hostility”.  There may be “trouble … down the road”.

Really?

Have you freakin’ people looked around you and figured out yet how well everyone – in comparison with most of the rest of world – live here?   This constant refrain from the left is as tiresome as it is wrong.  It’s nonsense on a stick.  But you will continue to hear them whine about it for the foreseeable future because it is a way for them to justify taking your money for their purposes and sounding noble about it.

~McQ


College students not being taught critical thinking skills–does that surprise you?

A recently published study has found that many college and university students aren’t taught critical thinking skills while enrolled in their course of study. The study "followed 2,322 traditional-age students from the fall of 2005 to the spring of 2009 and examined testing data and student surveys at a broad range of 24 U.S. colleges and universities, from the highly selective to the less selective."

What they found was that about 45% of those students showed no significant improvement in their critical thinking skills during the first two years of enrollment.  After 4 years, 35% showed no significant improvement.

The study is unique in that it is the first time a group of students was followed through their college careers to determine if they learned specific skills.  As might be expected, academia is not at all pleased with the results.

"These findings are extremely valuable for those of us deeply concerned about the state of undergraduate learning and student intellectual engagement," said Brian D. Casey, the president of DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind. "They will surely shape discussions about curriculum and campus life for years to come."

The students involved in the study were tested using a standard test used to measure critical thinking ability:

The study used data from the Collegiate Learning Assessment, a 90-minute essay-type test that attempts to measure what liberal arts colleges teach and that more than 400 colleges and universities have used since 2002. The test is voluntary and includes real world problem-solving tasks, such as determining the cause of an airplane crash, that require reading and analyzing documents from newspaper articles to government reports.

As noted a significant number of students were unable to break out fact from opinion, make a clear written argument or "objectively review conflicting reports of a situation or event", the study found. In fact those students who fell into this category had a tendency to be swayed by emotion and political spin.

An interesting finding of the study was that students majored in liberal arts courses of study were more likely to develop critical thinking skills than were those that majored in courses of study such as business, education, social work and communications.

Other findings were that students who study alone, rather than in groups, tend to develop critical thinking skills and that courses (such as the liberal arts) which require heavy loads of reading and writing also help develop those skills.

Obviously the answer, if the study is to be believed, is to increase the reading and writing workload of all students. The study found some obvious problems as it is today in many of the universities and colleges included:

The study’s authors also found that large numbers of students didn’t enroll in courses requiring substantial work. In a typical semester, a third of students took no courses with more than 40 pages of reading per week. Half didn’t take a single course in which they wrote more than 20 pages over the semester.

While it would be easy to fob this off on students seeking the easiest path to graduation, it is the school that puts the curriculum together and designs and approves the classes taught. The bottom line is the school is being paid handsomely to turn out graduates that can indeed think critically – a skill in high demand everywhere. Failing in that area at the percentages noted isn’t a student problem – it is a problem of academia.

The findings shot that colleges need to be acutely aware of how instruction relates to the learning of critical-thinking and related skills, said Daniel J. Bradley, the president of Indiana State University and one of 71 college presidents who recently signed a pledge to improve student learning.

"We haven’t spent enough time making sure we are indeed teaching — and students are learning — these skills," Bradley said.

Indeed.  And it appears a "back to basics" approach would be most appropriate to bring the students not being taught those skills up to the level they need to be when they graduate. That means tough courses which test those skills routinely. That also means more work for those teaching the courses.  The question is will colleges and universities take these findings seriously and do the work for which they are being paid? Or will it, despite the rhetoric to the contrary, remain as it is today, with universities and colleges turning out a high percentage of graduates for whom critical thinking is still an unknown skill?

~McQ


It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool …

Here is an amazing letter to the editor at a college newspaper from a person who gives himself the title of "academic professional". I’ve looked at it off and on for a couple of days trying to figure out how to excerpt it and talk about this, well, fool. As it turns out, the best way to present it is to present it whole since excerpting it only takes away from the totality of the nonsense this "academic professional" is spouting.

In fact, as I read it, I have to tell you that it immediately reminded me of another “academic professional” that visits the comment section of our blog fairly regularly.  The only difference I can see is the “academic professional” I quote below actually is a part of a major university instead of some backwoods school.  Other than that, either could have written this:

The vast majority of 9/11 observances in this country cannot be seen as politically neutral events. Implicit in their nature are the notions that lives lost at the World Trade Center are more valuable than lives lost in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine and elsewhere; that the motives of the 9/11 attackers had nothing to do with genuine grievances in the Islamic world regarding American imperialism; and that the U.S. has been justified in the subsequent killing of hundreds of thousands in so-called retaliation.

The observance at Saturday’s football game was no different. A moment of silence was followed by a military airplane flyover; in between, Block-I students chanted “USA, USA.” This was neither patriotism nor remembrance in any justifiable sense, but politicization, militarism, propaganda and bellicosity. The University is a public institution that encompasses the political views of all, not just the most (falsely) “patriotic.” Athletic planners should cease such exploitation for political purposes. They might at least consider how most Muslim students, American or otherwise, would respond to this nativist display; or better, Muslims and others that live their lives under the threat of our planes, drones and soldiers.

The overwhelmingly white, privileged, Block-I students should be ashamed of their obnoxious, fake-macho, chicken-hawk chant, while poverty-drafted members of their cohort fight and die in illegal and immoral wars for the control of oil. University administrators need to eliminate from all events such “patriotic” observances, which in this country cannot be separated from implicit justifications for state-sponsored killing.

David Green,

University Academic Professional

You can dissect that to your heart’s content, and it is still, on whole, some of the most misguided stupidity you’re likely to see this side of Maine. 

Of course 9.11 observances aren’t politically neutral.  That neutrality died the day we lost 3,000 people to Islamic jihadist extremists who had been at war with us for years.  How did this yahoo get stuck in time on September 10th, 2001 for heaven sake? 

That sort of absurdly out-of-touch idiocy permeates the entire little screed.  And if you want to see the definition of “non neutrality” at work, read this “academic professional’s” denigration of his student’s nationalism, patriotism and – yes, wait for it – color.

And then there’s the “stereotypes-r-us” portion.  “Overwhelmingly white, privileged … students”.  Wars fought by “poverty-drafted members of their cohort”.  “Illegal” (authorized by Congress per the Constitution) and “immoral” (yeah, can’t hit back when smacked in the face with a sledge hammer – that’s immoral) and all for oil.

All the leftist canards rolled into one can be found in it – yeah, be ashamed of your country, your military, your patriotism and yourselves you bastards because it makes “David Green, academic professional” uneasy.

How freakin’ ‘60s of the dope.

Tell you what, David Green, academic professional – instead of you telling everyone what they’ve done to offend you, why don’t I tell you what about you offends me.

Your very existence offends me. Your smug but ignorant arrogance offends me.   The fact that you don’t know the difference between grassroots patriotism and “nativism” offends me.  The fact that you have no idea of who makes up our military (although it comes as no surprise, really) offends me.  The fact that you clearly don’t know what the words “illegal” or “immoral” mean, but have no problem throwing them around like you do offends me.

But what offends me most is what you must be doing to the young minds which come under your power while attending your university.  If what you’ve written is any indication of how you teach, then your students or their parents ought to demand an immediate refund.  Because it is not only fact free, but shows absolutely no evidence of critical thinking.

One of the great things about America is everyone is free to express their opinion.  However, doing so is not without consequence, because then those who don’t agree get to express theirs.  My opinion of you, David Green, academic professional, is below that of the Congressional Democratic leadership.  And I provide the bottom side of their 8% popularity rating.

The good news for you is you are precisely where you belong.  Outside the academic ivory tower, facing the reality anyone else does, it’s my guess surviving for 15 minutes would be the high side of an estimate of how long you’d last.

Now, crawl back under your academic rock, where you belong, and hush.

~McQ


Liberal Blogger: Slavery and the Health Care Crisis

If ever there was a text book example of a false premise wrapped in an absurd ‘moral’ analogy, Glenn Smith at Firedoglake provides it:

The gravity of America’s health care crisis is the moral equivalent of the 19th Century’s bloody conflict over slavery. This is not hyperbole, though the truth of it is often lost in abstract talk of insurance company profits, treatment costs, and other cold, inhuman analyses.

Today’s health system condemns 50 million Americans to ill health and death while guaranteeing health care to the economic privileged. It cannot stand.

About 18,000 Americans die each year because they lack health insurance. That’s more than a third the number of lives lost in battle during each year of the four-year Civil War.

Heh … you have to love the attempt to wave off this hyperbole by simply declaring it isn’t hyperbole. But I would hope that it is evident to any rational thinker that the attempt here is to equate those who resist the intrusion of government into the realm of health to those who fought to retain the institution of slavery.

This is, instead, a plain old rant against capitalism and the free market cloaked in this absurd moral equivalence Smith invents. Seeing the liberal goal of government run health care being battered by real world realities, he’s decided he has to turbo-charge his argument for such change by defining down the horror of slavery in order to find a moral equivalence he can use as a bludgeon on the dissenters.

Don’t believe me? How about this:

Members of Congress without the moral clarity to recognize this equivalence will be condemned by history. Their spinelessness and lack of will when confronted with the power of the insurance industry is just as morally bankrupt as the American congressmen who bowed to Southern slave-owners.

The morally compromising efforts to pass health care reform that insurance companies might like is as insane as the compromises over slavery.

Or this:

The health insurance industry earns its profits from the denial of coverage and benefits. It’s not so different from the Southern plantation owners who earned their profit from slave labor. The latter had their economic justifications for their immorality. So do the insurance companies.

Of course, this sort of nonsensical thinking muddles important concepts that underlie the inalienable rights of man. Slavery was a violation of man’s right to his own life. Health care insurance is nothing more than a tool that helps pay for a person’s health care. Health care is not “unavailable” to those who don’t have it. More importantly, health care is not a right.

Whereas slave owners physically denied slaves the freedom to pursue their lives, insurance companies do not stop anyone from pursuing their own health care.

But – they have to pay for it because it entails the use of the time, abilities and services of others. That is what people like Smith really object too. Read the nonsense in the paragraph above and that’s clear. And, as many extremists like to do (like those who claim, for instance, that those who don’t agree on AGW are akin to Holocaust deniers), he chooses the most inflammatory but false “moral” example he can choose to demonize his opposition, counting on the dearth of critical thinking these days to win their point.

Unfortunately, it is more successful than I’d like to admit, which is why it is important to refute it immediately when it crops up.

~McQ