The most important college course I took had nothing to do with my psychology major or my interest in organizational behavior and what makes workers happy. It was during my sophomore year that I signed up for Critical Thinking 212, a small class of 15 at the University of Michigan where we sat around the table and talked.
The professor challenged us in every class on what we read and wrote. He wouldn’t accept quick answers but made us dig deeper in developing our thoughts and arguments. His written comments on my papers were typically longer than what I turned in!
Looking back, it wasn’t my favorite course and I didn’t earn an A, but it shaped how I looked at problems and how I developed a point of view. That one course (with the cute blonde girl I was afraid to talk to) helped me question rather than blankly accept. It changed me because it forced me to become a critical thinker, something I didn’t learn in high school English or in many classes where I simply memorized and regurgitated fact after fact.
As we are entering graduation season and our kids are moving on to the next level of teaching institutions, from elementary school to a graduate program, I have a lot of concern for the next generation and the fortitude that will be required for them to succeed in a hypercompetitive work force. The competition for jobs isn’t just from the kid from Omaha but now includes the kid from Mumbai and one from Shanghai. If this is new territory for you, I suggest you read The World is Flat by New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman.
I’m glad I’m not alone in my concern. A recent opinion piece in USA Today written by Lionel Beehner, a PhD candidate at Yale, drives home the point: “I can’t help wondering whether all these go-getters are missing something fundamental about college: how to think, reason and write on one’s feet.”
Beehner is teaching some of our best and brightest undergraduates, and those Yalies worked like dogs to get accepted, growing into serious overachievers in their high school years. Now that they “made it” to a top institution, it looks like they are actually missing it. Reading this commentary from an insider who is charged with the higher education of these high-potential students is indeed a cause for concern for those of us attempting to counsel and guide our K-12 students on college and career choices.
On a much more positive note, I came across more commentary on critical thinking from Samantha Tritsch, a new graduate from my alma mater in Ann Arbor. Her piece on The Huffington Post was originally published in Consider, the online version of a magazine I helped launch nearly 30 years ago. (As a side note, to see something still around that I was part of from its humble beginnings long ago is indeed satisfying.)
Far from cliché, Samantha’s candid piece is a testament to how every college student’s experience should turn out. Samantha credits the skills gained in critical thinking and their role as having “adequately prepared me for what is to come.” To that, all I can say is “Let’s go, blue!”
Usually, I try to close each blog with a connection to your place of work or business. This time I wish to focus on your conversations with nieces, nephews and friends’ kids about their plans, hopes and dreams.
Rather than ask my kids “How was school today?” (to which they reply, “OK”) or “What did you learn today?” (with a typical response of “nothing much”), I like to spark them with something like “What questions did you ask today?” This is a great conversation starter; try it in your own home. That single inquiry has led to many interesting dinner table discussions in ours.
The next generation needs our help in knowing that it is safe to be “dangerous” and challenge the status quo. Younger folks need to be learn to think critically so that they can indeed change the world. For example, you might ask them “What do you think about … ?” And I encourage you to take it one step further and follow up with “And why do you think that?” That simple conversation can do more to stimulate a young mind than most classroom courses; our future depends on it.
» Comments (0)