Critical thinking. In my opinion, it’s the single most important thing (after learning to read) for people to learn. It’s what allows us to make informed decisions, objectively analyze information, sift opinion from fact and learn to incorporate the nuances of life. Develop empathy, compassion because we understand (at least the facts of) all sides, whether we agree with them or not. Not just so we can make sensible charts and see patterns, but critical thinking also feeds imagination, promoting innovation, new discoveries, and progress. The higher the level of educational institution, the more critical the thinking should become. And it’s something we’re seeing less and less of. There isn’t a whole lot of room and time left for teaching critical thinking skills when public schools are forced to spend the majority of their days teaching to (high stakes, homogeneous) tests and teachers are evaluated based on how their students perform on said tests, and how well they design a bulletin board. That leaves college, right?
On one side, we’ve got Bernie Sanders, who wants to eliminate tuition, and offer free education at public universities. I like Bernie, and I agree with much of what he has to say. I would absolutely support free tuition at public universities. It isn’t unprecedented in the US, California public universities were free to California residents until the 1920s, with a nominal fee for another fifty years. In New York the CUNY (City University of New York) schools were free (I think some, but not all) until the 1970s. If I were king, I’d make it free for in-state residents, still charge for room and board for other than low-income students, and place GPA restrictions on the free tuition, both to get it in the first place, and then to keep it once a student is in. (And no more bullshit with these “weighted” high school GPAs, stop penalizing economically disadvantaged kids from poor communities who don’t have the opportunity to take 23 meaningless AP classes.) I think these types of restrictions and minimum requirements would have to be in place to avoid degrees from public universities becoming meaningless.
And on the other side, we’ve got this. Excuse me a minute while I puke, will ya? In a nutshell, concealed carry laws will now allow students to carry handguns on campus at public Texas universities. Because of this, professors are being told to avoid sensitive subjects, drop certain topics from their curriculum, and limit student access to them. Putting aside the underlying facts regarding guns, gun violence, and gun safety (because we don’t want to get involved in too many high fallutin’ facts here, it’s just a blog, after all), there is no way to look at this and not see how very wrong it is. College. What’s the point of it, anyway? A liberal arts education was intended to provide students with (drumroll) critical thinking. Different ways of viewing the world, figure out how to solve complex problems, communicate effectively, provide you with the ability to think for yourself. I suppose liberal arts is definitely out with this now, huh? Well how about an applied degree in science, mathematics, law? Nope, sorry, because any and all of those fields of study may include sensitive topics and be offensive to personal beliefs, they can’t be studied.
To be fair–and possibly even demonstrate critical thinking skills–despite my left leanings I also think the extreme on the other side is a bunch of bullshit. Excessive trigger warnings and attempts to “protect” students from subjects they might find uncomfortable or offensive effectively muffle debate, discussion, and analysis. This warm and fluffy blanket of avoidance isn’t doing us any favors.
I believe in education. Power, reasoning, and opportunities grow from academic discourse, exposure to new ideas, and studying history. That said, I don’t believe everyone should or needs to go to college. Some people aren’t academically gifted. Some people aren’t good at sitting in a classroom. *that’s me* It doesn’t make sense to me when I see help wanted ads for receptionists that want college degrees. Way to penalize people who don’t go to college. Skills learned outside the classroom are important too, and many jobs and careers that make our society keep chugging along have nothing to do with a BA, BS, MS, etc. I do believe everyone who’s capable of doing the work and wants to go to college should have the opportunity to do so without trading a degree for homelessness, life on the pole, or forfeiting any chance of ever using that degree to get ahead in their chosen field because they’re so in debt from it.
Regardless of the path chosen, and regardless of whether you lean left or right, aren’t we all saying we’re frustrated because we want better, we want more? Downward mobility isn’t just about economic status. One by one we’re burying the tools we need along with our heads in the interest of…what? Ignorance, narrow-mindedness, and divisiveness.
I don’t care whether your classroom of choice is a traditional one, online, or in the corner bar at happy hour. What matters is that we insist on continuing to learn, listen to all the sides and all the facts, and grow.
We need knowledge. Progress. Problem solving. Opportunity.