What Do Our College Students Learn?

What Do Our College Students Learn?

I wrote a three part series (part 1) (part 2) (part 3) on the latest study showing that college students are not learning critical thinking skills. I pointed out that the study was another in a series of little publicized media events. In truth, the public, the colleges and the business world have little desire for critical thinking.

But what do students learn in college?

A faculty member once had a class of students who were not wealthy, not even close. Not all of the students in his class were able to afford textbooks. So, given a choice of textbooks for the next year’s class, he chose one that cost about seventy dollars. The next year, all of his students had the textbook. The very next semester the price of the textbook rose to one hundred and ten dollars. And then two more years slid by and it went up to one hundred and fifty dollars.

This is not an unusual situation with textbook prices. It is, in fact, the common, everyday experience of teachers and students in colleges and universities all over the United States.

Students may not be learning as much critical thinking as some would like, they may not get that much cultural literacy, and they may have only the vaguest concept of the term “civic duty”, but they do know about pricing. I get it in class essays, “You charge as much as you can get.” To them, it is an ethical rule – You must pursue the highest return possible under any circumstance. The students don’t know any other rule. The deeper philosophical concepts of just price and two thousand years of contrary philosophy are not factors here.

I believe I am a good teacher but there is no amount of teaching skill that can equal the cutting edge of another textbook price increase every year. They may not grasp the “statute of frauds” in my business law class but they understand the phrase, “what the market will bear” with perfect clarity.

What are we teaching our students?  Is there any lesson more naked about the nature of the American idea of free enterprise than what students endure each year at the bookstore?

James Pilant

 

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