Monday, September 25, 2017

Post-Modern Deconstruction Replaces Critical Thinking in Humanities

Why College Graduates Still Can’t Think

...I found that puzzling, until one helpful reader clued me in: “I share your view of what critical thinking should mean,” he wrote. “But a quite different operative definition has a strong hold in academia. In this view, the key characteristic of critical thinking is opposition to the existing ‘system,’ encompassing political, economic, and social orders, deemed to privilege some and penalize others. In essence, critical thinking is equated with political, economic, and social critique.”

Suddenly, it occurred to me that the disconnect between the way most people (including employers) define critical thinking and the way many of today’s academics define it can be traced back to the post-structuralist critical theories that invaded our English departments about the time I was leaving grad school, in the late 1980s. I’m referring to deconstruction and its poorer cousin, reader response criticism.

Both theories hold that texts have no inherent meaning; rather, meaning, to the extent it exists at all, is entirely subjective, based on the experiences and mindset of the reader.

Thomas Harrison of UCLA, in his essay “Deconstruction and Reader Response,” refers to this as “the rather simple idea that the significance of the text is governed by reading.”

That idea has been profoundly influential, not only on English faculty but also on their colleagues in the other humanities and even the social sciences. (Consider, for example, the current popularity of ethnography, a form of social science “research” that combines fieldwork with subjective story-telling.)

Unfortunately, those disciplines are also where most critical thinking instruction supposedly occurs in our universities. (Actually, other fields, such as the hard sciences and engineering, probably do a better job of teaching true thinking skills—compiling and evaluating evidence, formulating hypotheses based on that evidence, testing those hypotheses for accuracy before arriving at firm conclusions. They just don’t brag about it as much.)

The result is that, although faculty in the humanities and social sciences claim to be teaching critical thinking, often they’re not. Instead, they’re teaching students to “deconstruct”—to privilege their own subjective emotions or experiences over empirical evidence in the false belief that objective truth is relative, or at least unknowable.

That view runs contrary to the purposes of a “liberal arts” education, which undertakes the search for truth as the academy’s highest aim. Indeed, the urge to deconstruct everything is fundamentally illiberal. Heritage Foundation’s Bruce Edwards calls it “liberal education’s suicide note” in that it suggests the only valid response to any idea or situation is the individual’s own—how he or she “feels” about it.

Unfortunately, such internalization of meaning does not culminate in open-mindedness and willingness to examine the facts and logic of differing views. Rather, it leads to the narrow-minded, self-centered assumption that there is a “right” way to feel, which automatically delegitimizes the responses of any and all who may feel differently.

All of this has a profound impact on students and explains a great deal of what is happening on colleges campuses today, from the dis-invitation (and sometimes violent disruption) of certain speakers to the creation of “safe spaces” complete with Play-Doh and “adult coloring books” (whatever those are—I shudder to think). Today’s students are increasingly incapable of processing conflicting viewpoints intellectually; they can only respond to them emotionally.

More to the point, that explains why employers keep complaining that college graduates can’t think. They’re not being taught to think. They’re being taught, in too many of their courses, to “oppose existing systems”—without regard for any objective appraisal of those systems’ efficacy—and to demonstrate their opposition by emoting.

That may go over just fine on the quad, but it does not translate well to the workplace.
When feminism gets its fingers into STEM, civilization will collapse on rubble of civil systems designed by privileged emotions... if it doesn't collapse into tribal wars based on privileged emotions first.

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