The Critical Importance of Learning to Think Critically


On February 9, 2011, NPR reviewed the recently released book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses by sociology professors Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa. The NPR review summed up the conclusions of the authors:

[The study] followed 2,300 students at 24 universities over the course of four years. The study measured both the amount that students improved in terms of critical thinking and writing skills, in addition to how much they studied and how many papers they wrote for their courses.

Richard Arum [said] that the fact that more than a third of students showed no improvement in critical thinking skills after four years at a university was cause for concern.

“Our country today is part of a global economic system, where we no longer have the luxury to put large numbers of kids through college and university and not demand of them that they are developing these higher order skills that are necessary not just for them, but for our society as a whole,” Arum says.

Part of the reason for a decline in critical thinking skills could be a decrease in academic rigor; 35 percent of students reported studying five hours per week or less, and 50 percent said they didn’t have a single course that required 20 pages of writing in their previous semester.

According to the study, one possible reason for a decline in academic rigor and, consequentially, in writing and reasoning skills, is that the principal evaluation of faculty performance comes from student evaluations at the end of the semester. Those evaluations, Arum says, tend to coincide with the expected grade that the student thinks he or she will receive from the instructor.

According to the Washington Post, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) studied more than 700 top colleges and universities around the country, enrolling over 6 million students, and found that students can graduate from college without ever having exposure to composition, literature, foreign language or American history. They found that less than five percent require economics and less than a quarter have a substantial literature requirement. Less than a third require U.S. government or history, or intermediate-level foreign language.

It’s stunning but true: students are graduating from American universities without the ability to think, without the skills that will enable them to succeed beyond the college level, and without exposure to the cultural inheritance that has made our civilization great.

Regents Academy is not a university, and we don’t propose to do what a university can do. However, when reading about the anti-intellectualism and lack of rigor on American college campuses, it strikes me that the classical Christian education provided at Regents is part of the answer to the problem. Classical education in the early years lays a strong foundation, teaching students how to think and how to learn. And Christian education is really the only true education because it is the only worldview in which truth is a unified and coherent concept.

We can all be thankful that our children are being taught how to think and how to think Christianly at Regents Academy.

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