Universities: Vaccinators against Shallow Thought

Sometimes I come across this opinion.

“Dion, it’s been over a decade since you left university: don’t you think your knowledge is out of date? How dare you presume to lecture other people with knowledge that isn’t current?”

This complainant has really missed the point about university. University is never about the facts or any particular arrangement of knowledge. University is about hopefully instilling within the student body various methods of critical thinking.

What’s critical thinking? At the most basic level, critical thinking is an active engagement with whatever you happen to be reading: not just what is being said, but why and how.

For instance, when I read an article, I tend to skim it, then check who wrote it.

Do I know the author, their history, their political and social allegiances?

I then re-read the article closely in the light of any bias I may have discovered.

Are their arguments logically consistent and backed with evidence? Have they used any rhetorical tricks or sleight of hand?

Are they talking about a subject I know little to nothing about? In this case I am compelled to go and learn more about the topic: generally through a variety of non-web sources, then use more critical thinking to arrange my thoughts and opinions on the subject. For instance, when I was recently asked if I knew anything about pre-Christian Germanic cultural values I replied no, and then hit Amazon for a variety of texts on that very subject.

Finally, I am also lucky to possess an excellent memory, so I can usually catch discrepancies between different articles the same author has written sufficient to allow me to Google both and check.

This–to me–is the opposite of the uncritical sound-bite consuming (and excreting) of the canaille. It is also different from–in my experience–high school and work-related education: where the sole requirement of education is the facts that they push in is the facts they want pushed out.

Is it possible to develop critical thinking without attending university? Of course: in the same way that attending university does not necessarily mean that you will develop critical thinking skills. But most universities are like a huge critical-thinking indoctrination camp: it is your best place to become inoculated with the vaccine against the lazy consumption of swill disguised as information.

Does this make me a better person? Not necessarily. What it does make me is more aware, and surely that is something to be desired.

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2 comments on “Universities: Vaccinators against Shallow Thought

  1. […] It was my observation that far too many people happily vaunted the claim on face value because it aligned with their world view or what they would like to see be truth. This is a traditional case of confirmation bias, where we accept claims presented to us because they confirm our disposition. Admittedly, much of what I will speak about is scarcely new, but considering a significant number of the people I saw posting are people with levels of university education, they should be exemplars of scepticism rather than victims of a media cycle. Education, particularly higher education, is (as a friend of mine put it) vaccination against shallow thought. […]

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