UWO students’ critical thinking skills disappearing

Katheryn Bermann

UWO students and their parents agree: this generation is losing its ability to think critically about information and media. Jeff, a parent of a UWO student, said kids today take things at face value without fully considering them. “They see [things] on TV and think [they] have to be right,” Jeff said. Being unable to critically consume media would seem to be a definite impairment during a time when new technologies and methods of communication are being released practically daily, yet that appears to be exactly what’s happening. “Kids don’t [think critically] anymore,” another parent, Mary, agreed. Students are aware of this disconnect. Danica Kulibert, a psychology graduate student, said she knows it’s beneficial to be able to see multiple sides of an issue but stated that she doesn’t think people seek out those different opinions on their own. “I think it’s a skill that needs to be taught,” Kulibert said. Professors appear to be cognizant of this, as most list some permutation of “develop critical thinking skills” as a goal for their students. But is this actually happening? “No, they’ll only do it if they want to,” Kulibert said. So what’s stopping them? “Most kids go to college out of necessity,” Mary said. Indeed, the cost of living has risen exponentially since the previous generation. Mybudget360.com makes this startlingly clear with their comparison of the price of various products in 1938 with their price today. It also illustrates that this trend unexpected: a new house was estimated to cost about $65,000 in 2013, but the actual price is about $246,000. A college degree seems necessary in order to get a job that allows students to make ends meet. Some students may view college as exactly that: something they have to do, not something they want to do or something that’s fun. This leads to apathy. Apathy is such a pressing problem that Hannah Edwards was motivated to start the Fight Apathy Campaign, whose goal is to raise students’ awareness of political and civic issues around the country. There seems to be more to the problem of why students are not actively trying to develop critical thinking skills. If apathy truly is the reason, where did it come from? “Critical thinking is the result of a certain value system,” Jeff said. “And that system is established long before college.” He went on to say that parents pass on certain values to their children, intentionally or unintentionally. If parents never encourage children to think critically about what they see and hear, it’s little wonder they lack those skills as adults. That doesn’t mean those skills can’t be taught. “We have to [think critically] as grad students,” Kulibert said. A quick inspection of the coursework required of grad students undoubtedly supports her statement. Graduate students are expected to come up with in-depth questions while reading research articles, summarize the content of five or more research articles in a brief paper, and seek out opportunities for independent work, among a vast number of other tasks. Thriving as a grad student without having the ability to think critically would be all but impossible. But of course, grad school is not for everyone, and students with four-year degrees are quite capable of being successful in the real world. How do you motivate people to think critically, something they’re not required to do and something that will inevitably take valuable time and effort? “That’s the million-dollar question,” Kulibert said.