We need thinking, even more than STEM
Alan Kay kindly forwarded to me this link. It’s a column by Stanley Fish that builds on the new book showing how little students learn in the first two years of college. Fish’s point is that what’s needed is students learning to think, and whether they’re doing science, mathematics, and technology is not the most significant bit. Liberal education may be better for achieving that goal.
Now it’s clear what is going on here. Obama is developing his major theme: we need innovation to catch up with China and other advanced societies. And it is perfectly reasonable to tie innovation in certain fields to the production of citizens who are technically, mathematically and scientifically skilled. But is that what’s wrong with American education, too few students who acquire the market-oriented skills we need to compete (a favorite Obama word) in the global economy and too few teachers capable of imparting them? Is winning the science fair the goal that defines education? A dozen more M.I.T.s and Caltechs and fewer great-book colleges and we’d be all right?
Quite another account of what is wrong is offered in a new book by sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa. The book’s title is “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses,” and its thesis is that what is limited — in short supply — is learning that is academic rather than consumerist or market-driven. After two years of college, they report, students are “just slightly more proficient in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing than when they entered.”