Ming the Mechanic:
College and Thinking

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 College and Thinking2003-11-25 11:48
by Flemming Funch

Article in Christian Science Monitor about whether college teaches you to think or not.
While pondering a problem in a plant biology course at Ohio University one semester, John Withers suddenly realized something unusual was going on: This class was actually requiring him to think.

Thinking is presumed to be the bread and butter of higher education. Beyond simply getting a diploma to land a job that pays well, the promise of sharpening thinking skills still looms as a key reason millions apply to college.

Yet some say there is a remarkable paucity of critical thinking taught at the undergraduate level - even though the need for such skills seems more urgent than ever.
And then there some good examples of professors and classes that actualy seem to be doing the right stuff.

Years ago when I frequently was interviewing and hiring computer programmers I noticed that a large percentage of people with computer science degrees had gotten their ability to think and solve real problems completely destroyed, if they had it to begin with. I.e. the majority were unable to write a simple program to solve a simple problem, and unable to even think systematically. Rather they tended towards having a very impressive resume, and an inclination towards having many interesting things to say. But when I actually gave them a test, it was surprising how poorly most people did. Kids fresh out of high school were usually significantly more able to solve a real problem than somebody with a masters degree in computer science.

But if they could both learn about a lot of stuff AND actually develop their ability to be creative and think critically - that would really be something.

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25 Nov 2003 @ 12:27 by dang @ : thinking
This point is made in de Bono's books (probably all of them, as he seems to write one book many times!) People assume that exposure to various facts and knowledge will somehow create the ability to think as a matter of course. That always upset me about math classes in school-- they never delved into the underlying processes which allowed the great mathematicians to make these discoveries in the first place. I still maintain that only a small fraction of people who have completed the highest levels of college calculus would be capable of proving that the square root of 2 is irrational.

I took a test for a programming position with the city of San Antonio. I believe I aced the exam, which was a non-language-specific logic test. They were very quick to call me back, but during the actual interview, I was practically laughed out of the room by the 4 interviewers for having the audacity to apply for a programming job without a college degree. I brought a cdrom with me with examples of my work, but they weren't interested. The few questions that were asked of me had nothing to do with my ability to perform the job description, but rather were those sorts of social questions such as, "give us an example of when you've worked on a team and what you've learned from it." I would not say that such considerations are unimportant, because obviously one can't have all sorts of intra-office friction and some detached guru programmer sitting in the corner, not deigning himself to speak with the others. But in my experience in two really bad interviews, the focus was always on my [lack of] education, and never on what I could actually bring to the job.

My personality these days is such that I don't see myself ever applying for such a job again-- I think there are more tolerable ways of making money than submitting to that sort of judgement-- but if I were to do it again, I would be much more of a salesman about it, and I'd quickly turn the conversation around to what concrete benefits my presence would bring to the company, instead of letting the discussion devolve into a game of "whose-knowledge-was-the-most-expensive?"


25 Nov 2003 @ 15:53 by phil jones @ : high school kids vs. masters grads
I wonder if the difference between high-school kids and masters graduates isn't just one of age and energy?

Maybe the kids just have less of the first a lot more of the second?  

26 Nov 2003 @ 00:55 by vaxen : No phil...
it is a matter of 'dogma.' Here is a little quote I found at [link] Tom Beardens' site.

"In short, the scientific community fiercely enforces dogma, suppresses innovation, and has denied the U.S. the very defense we need to survive against our pressing enemies who have not been so scientifically dogmatic."

Thanks dan. Thinking is NOT a part of contemporary American 'Educational method.' However conformism is for this breeds the kind of acceptance of 'dictates' which Dan confronted in those interviews. All true Education comes from self application. In a sense it is a re-membering of that which we already know and intuitively perceive. The 'Good Old Boy' style of 'Formal Education' breeds good little bots which go crazy somewhere along the line and can easily be disposed of in a variety of interesting ways. George Bush is a primary example of 'American Education.' So is the 'White House' club. These men know how to follow the dictates of the truly powerful and when they question those dictates, which they very rarely do, they lose their 'positions' of prominence.  

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