Because I use a whole lot of technological tools--way above the average faculty colleague, and way more than the typical student--students and faculty alike might not think of me as a die-hard traditionalist. But, that is who I am.
In my traditionalist approach to higher education, it is actually not the content per se that I am interested in. Instead, higher education, especially at the undergraduate level, is, to quote Andrew Delbanco, channeled via this essay by Joseph Epstein:
“show me how to think and how to choose”Yes, I want students to demonstrate how they think and how they choose, and my hope is that through the readings, my observations, and class discussions, they will learn how to think. I jokingly mention in most classes that all the courses I teach are the same--that I say the same things in all my classes. I am not sure how many of them understand when I tell them the course itself is a front, a facade, because students might find it boring to register for courses called "Thinking 101," "Thinking 102," and so on. We, therefore, package them in different flavors, from "Philosophy 101" to "Physics 101" to "Art History 101."
But, I suspect that I am in a tiny minority who believe that it is all about thinking. I try as much as possible to stay away from describing it as "critical thinking" because I don't believe that there is any place for any un-critical thinking in a classroom. When Descartes famously declared "Cogito, ergo sum" note that there is no "critical" used as a qualifier for the "thinking" that defined Descartes' existence.
Thus, I mean it when I tell students that a major itself does not matter, unless they are interested in a vocational education, where content is king. Not that there is no thinking involved in vocational education; there is. But, a major in electrical engineering is, after all, about the content of electrical engineering.
With every passing year, I am, therefore, increasingly appalled at how much faculty colleagues and other advisers routinely advise students to pick a major on which they plan to have a career, and to get all the other university requirements out of the way as soon as possible. Getting everything else out of the way is often about whatever feeble form of the liberal arts that continues to exist in our curriculum.
It has been years since I gave students any kind of in-class, timed, closed-book exams. Because, they are less about thinking and more about one's ability to recall from memory. As Epstein writes:
[Quickness] of response —on which 95 percent of education is based—is beside the point, and is required only of politicians, emergency-room physicians, lawyers in courtrooms, and salesmen. Serious intellectual effort requires slow, usually painstaking thought, often with wrong roads taken along the way to the right destination, if one is lucky enough to arrive there. One of the hallmarks of the modern educational system, which is essentially an examination system, is that so much of it is based on quick response solely. Give 6 reasons for the decline of Athens, 8 for the emergence of the Renaissance, 12 for the importance of the French Revolution. You have 20 minutes in which to do so.I routinely tell students that the worst of all these practices is the exam in which students have to bubble in their responses on scantron sheets. "I feel like puking when I see a scantron sheet" is typically what I tell them.
As I get older, the more I find bubbling in to be contrary to the goal of "thinking." Even if students arrive at the correct answer, I would like them to show me how they thought that through. When students arrive at an incorrect answer, it is all the more important to me that students show how they messed up so that we might begin to point out the errors in their ways. It is all about the thinking, yes.
The result is that when students come in to my classes, and during discussions when I follow up on their observations with something like "you say that because ....?" I find that most are simply stumped. It is not their fault, however, that they have never been questioned about the thinking. They have only been through classes where they are expected to echo the words from the textbooks or the teachers' notes and lectures.
It is a crime that faculty (and universities) talk the liberal arts talk, but essentially do everything they can to kill the liberal arts because they themselves do not believe in it:
The profession of teaching, like that of clergyman and psychiatrist, calls for a higher sense of vocation and talent than poor humanity often seems capable of attaining. Yet there was a time when a liberal arts education held a much higher position in the world’s regard than it does today. One of the chief reasons for its slippage ... is that so many of its teachers themselves no longer believe in itThus, I begin yet another year in which I will witness Caesar being stabbed yet again by his own friends.