According to an “unprecedented study that followed several thousand undergraduates through four years of college,” students aren’t learning “the critical thinking, complex reasoning and written communication skills that are widely assumed to be at the core of a college education.” (H/t to commenter quixote for bringing this to my attention.) How now?
Many of the students graduated without knowing how to sift fact from opinion, make a clear written argument or objectively review conflicting reports of a situation or event, according to New York University sociologist Richard Arum, lead author of the study. The students, for example, couldn’t determine the cause of an increase in neighborhood crime or how best to respond without being swayed by emotional testimony and political spin.
Arum, whose book “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses” (University of Chicago Press) comes out this month, 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.
But, wait, good readers! There’s an interesting small fact you find only when you read all the way to the end. Dig this:
Students who majored in the traditional liberal arts — including the social sciences, humanities, natural sciences and mathematics — showed significantly greater gains over time than other students in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills.
Students majoring in business, education, social work and communications showed the least gains in learning. However, the authors note that their findings don’t preclude the possibility that such students “are developing subject-specific or occupationally relevant skills.”
Greater gains in liberal arts subjects are at least partly the result of faculty requiring higher levels of reading and writing, as well as students spending more time studying, the study’s authors found. Students who took courses heavy on both reading (more than 40 pages a week) and writing (more than 20 pages in a semester) showed higher rates of learning.
I don’t have anything more intelligent to contribute here outside of “NO DUHHHHHHHHH!” Funnily enough, the AP story the Denver Post ran yesterday didn’t include as much description as to why students in the Liberal Arts were actually getting educated. (I guess no one wants to admit that what we do is labor, and that some of us work harder than others! That would prevent people from dismissing us all as lazy and “only” working 6, 9, or 12 hours a week.)
I’m bringing this article to my students’ attention the next time I see them. They need to understand that I don’t make them read hundreds of pages a week and write weekly papers for my health. It’s for their own good! Message: I care. There is no clicker technology, no 600-students-in-a-single-class, no video download to improve people’s analytical skills, friends. And, we’re crazzy if those of us in the Humanities, Social Sciences, and Natural Sciences don’t each of us send a copy of this article to our Deans and to the Provost of our universities.
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