June 3, 2021

"Several studies suggest education is detrimental to critical thinking. As students progress through their degrees, they get better at supporting their own arguments..."

"... but don’t improve at looking for evidence that might undermine their opinions and help them come to a more balanced point of view. I did my undergraduate degree at Oxford, an institution which obsesses this country’s elite. While the university undoubtedly rewarded many highly intelligent students, I also came to believe the other principal factor for getting ahead was a bland adherence to the academic value system of hard work and a consuming preoccupation with grades.... For some reason, I spent most of a term studying 17th-century sermons. That is a wonderfully eccentric use of a 19-year-old’s time and one of the reasons I hope English degrees flourish for ever but I hesitate to assert that it buys me the right to feelings of moral or intellectual superiority."

From "Academic intelligence is absurdly overvalued While previous societies admired courage or manual dexterity, we judge only on exam results" by James Marriott (London Times).

If you, like me, wondered what's in 17th-century sermons, here's a big page of links to English sermons from the 17th century. Lots of John Donne sermons here. Sample:

If I were but mere dust and ashes I might speak unto the Lord, for the Lord's hand made me of this dust, and the Lord's hand shall re-collect these ashes; the Lord's hand was the wheel upon which this vessel of clay was framed, and the Lord's hand is the urn in which these ashes shall be preserved. I am the dust and the ashes of the temple of the Holy Ghost, and what marble is so precious? But I am more than dust and ashes: I am my best part, I am my soul. And being so, the breath of God, I may breathe back these pious expostulations to my God: My God, my God, why is not my soul as sensible as my body?


Ann Althouse said...

Alex writes:

"Our ancestors understood that one needed all three. Intelligence and dexterity without courage are wasted. Courage and intelligence without dexterity leads to incompetence. Courage and dexterity without intelligence leads to foolhardiness and arrogance. This was why previous generations encouraged physical activity as a part of a proper education; strengthening the body enhanced the mind, and courage was found in stepping into the arena, or out into the wilderness. One couldn't be a proper scholar without being, in some way, an athlete."

Ann Althouse said...

Chris writes that this is his favorite John Donne quote:

"God made sun and moon to distinguish seasons, and day and night, and we cannot have the fruits of the earth but in their seasons; but God hath made no decree to distinguish the seasons of His mercies; in Paradise, the fruits were ripe the first minute, and in Heaven it is always autumn, His mercies are ever in their maturity. We ask our daily bread, and God never says you should have come yesterday. He never says you must again to-morrow, but to-day if ye will hear His voice, to-day He will hear you. If some king of the earth have so large an extent of dominion in north and south, as that he hath winter and summer together in his dominions, so large an extent east and west as that he hath day and night together in his dominions, much more hath God mercy and judgment together; He brought light out of darkness, not out of a lesser light; He can bring thy summer out of winter, though thou have no spring; though in the ways of fortune, or understanding, or conscience, thou have been benighted till now, wintred and frozen, clouded and eclipsed, damped and benumbed, smothered and stupified till now, now God comes to thee, not as in the dawning of the day, not as in the bud of the spring, but as the sun at noon, to illustrate all shadows, as the sheaves in harvest, to fill all penuries, all occasions invite His mercies, and all times are His seasons."

Ann Althouse said...

policraticus writes:

"I am put in mind of Jordan Peterson's observation that the hardest people to treat with psychoanalysis were people with the highest IQ and the most advanced degrees, precisely because they were so good at arguing their point and justifying their positions, no matter how irrational they became. Which brings us nicely back around to Chesterton and his reflections on the hyper-logic of the insane.

"I love that you pulled out that passage from Donne. It nicely illustrates how no 19 year old who spends a term reading 17th c. sermons should end up concluding that they have any moral or intellectual superiority. If only."

Ann Althouse said...

" It nicely illustrates how no 19 year old who spends a term reading 17th c. sermons should end up concluding that they have any moral or intellectual superiority. If only."

Yes, he wrote "17th-century sermons" as if to say "something very obscure," but what I saw, looking quite casually, was manifestly great.

Ann Althouse said...

Pete writes:

"Why are exams allegedly so bad at measuring “critical thinking.” Is it the problem of the exam writer? Fix the exams! (I luckily went through engineering school where our exams definitely did measure critical thinking. That experience turned out to be a plus when I eventually went on to law school. )"

My hypothesis would be that the teachers themselves are not doing critical thinking and do not want students to do critical thinking.

Ann Althouse said...

Paul writes:

There is certainly a good point here, although I think it would be odd to not recognize how the past 50 years or technological change have reduced the importance of individual physical courage and dexterity.

Also interesting, I think, is the argument that up until the age of say, 21, it may not matter WHAT you study or learn, so long as the subject is difficult. By that I mean, perhaps the mind can be usefully trained for ALL purposes in ANY field, however impractical -- provided the field is difficult. The subject matter need not be useful. One example would be theoretical physics; not likely to be very useful, but very difficult. I think this is one reason hedge funds hire "rocket scientists" -- not because the physics is directly relevant to investing, but because the individual has shown commitment and intellectual mastery.

A (or an) historical example would be how English military commanders and ruling class politicians were, from maybe 1700 to 1930, put through an educational system which prioritized, almost exclusively....what? the study of the Latin and Greek languages, through memorization, recitation, translation and argument over text and meaning. About as relevant as Donne's sermons. None of them would even have considered being classics professors.

The English system worked this way not because any of these young men needed to read or speak Latin or Greek to command navies or effect political decisions in Parliament. Rather, simply because the subjects...are...difficult.

The view was, they trained the mind and taught future "doers" and "men of action" certain key habits -- how to master a difficult body of knowledge; carefulness with words; the importance of prior tradition, and equally, the importance of proposing changes to established prior interpretations. In my day, this was sometimes called teaching "stick-to-it-ness." In short, the system rewarded detailed immersion in a difficult area with centuries of prior interpretations to challenge or accept -- versus the spirit of "let's reimagine what a naval battle might look like" without knowing exactly what every important prior naval engagement did in fact look like.

Ann Althouse said...

Douglas writes:

"There are probably some interesting aspects to those sermons, even beyond their message. I understand that, back then, sermons in Great Britain were sort of managed as an element of the established Anglican church. So, there were actual books of sermons that were approved, loosely analogous to the Authorized Version of the Bible, also called the King James Version. When church services were held in the American War for Independence, the officer who officiated could then read the approved sermon."

Ann Althouse said...

Amadeus 48 writes:

And then there are the holy sonnets. Let's try this one:

Batter my heart, three-person'd God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv'd, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov'd fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

The seventeenth century in England was more than sending African slaves off to the Sugar Islands and the North American plantations. The culture was struggling to move from the Age of Faith to the Age of Reason. You get John Donne's sermons and sonnets.

Ann Althouse said...

Bart writes:

The Donne sermon reminds me of the following, from Epictetus (50-135 CE)

"Most of us would be seized with fear if our bodies went numb, and would do everything possible to avoid it, yet we take no interest at all in the numbing of our souls."

Ann Althouse said...

Brendan Kobe writes:

It's a bit worse than you suggest I fear. I'm working on a doctorate in business
and the leftward slant is unconscionable.

Opinion as fact.
Bias as neutrality.
Misinformation as information.

In terms of critical thinking. There isn't much. We are told out opinions don't matter until we are doctor. So we are *told* to find information that matches our line of thought. And sometimes discouraged when that answer does not match the assigned book.

My university proports to be a private Christian conservative university. Have a look at the diatribe in the current course, attached. All taken from Paul Gibbon' book Impact 21st century change management.

This problem is not unique or to this college.We have a business program that praises socialism. When a conservative program celebrates liberal thought. When a Christian university teaches globalism. We are in trouble.

Ann Althouse said...

LAG writes: "The problem with their critical thinking (aside from a general lack thereof), cannot be attributed to 'education', per se, but with the indoctrination program that passes for education today."

Ann Althouse said...

Mike writes:

"One of the harms that comes from prolonged education is that formal education not only rewards conformity to the academic milieu, it trains people not to think logically, Prof. A teaches from one perspective, so in his class the student echoes that. Prof B teaches a contrary POV, so in her class you repeat that back. Education has become training in echoing back rather than thinking independently.

"In contrast, those who end their education with high school or a four-year-degree learn more from the best of all teachers—first hand observation and experience."