For the last month, I’ve been analyzing survey data collected as feedback to our student orientation on critical thinking. The qualitative answers vary greatly, but one theme emerges through a majority of the responses. These students are excited about active learning. They frequently say that they are looking forward to college because it’s so different from their high school classes.

Every time I read comments like these I feel satisfied to be a part of this program. Yet, I find myself wondering what the high school experience is like for these freshman before they start at UTC. If this orientation session is the first time they have encountered an instructor that facilitated critical thinking in class, what were they doing before?

Our department was created to account for a deficiency in our students critical thinking skills upon graduation. It’s our job to help integrate critical thinking into the college curriculum to turn this around. The faculty and the students are on board with the initiative, but unfortunately, it’s still an uphill battle.

Critical thinking doesn’t become valuable upon graduation from high school, or middle school, or elementary school. Critical thinking is a fundamental skill that should be cultivated in children from the moment they can talk.

It seems to me that people are hardwired for critical thinking. If you’ve ever spent time with a three year old you’re bound to hear this question. “Why?” In fact, you’ll hear this question until your head feels like it’s about to explode. This is when we angrily shout “Just because!”.

We’re frustrated with unending curiosity because it was taken away from us at the same age these children are now. We’re frustrated because we don’t have an answer and we don’t have time to consider one. Childhood offers endless hours of time to ponder life’s big questions. How do noses work? What’s creates the pictures inside my computer screen? Why don’t we have feathers like birds do?

College is a perfect place to promote critical thinking, but if we are really going to make an impact on the issue we need to start much earlier than the age of 18.

 

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