Recently, I had a discussion with my 3rd year undergraduate class about my perception that students no longer feel confident in thinking for themselves. More and more I am getting question after question about lab times, or course readings, or detailed questions about assignments. Part of me wants to write this off as laziness, but there is an undercurrent of anxiety. Students are afraid to trust their own judgement.
A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed discusses the issue of students not thinking for themselves and suggests this is due to the policy of elementary and secondary education systems. The policy that says we will take tests to ensure consistency across schools, but inevitably compels educators to teach to those tests.
Teaching to the test means that the test is created first and guides what we teach students. If this is what they need to know to get the grade to get into university, that is what we will teach them. It has all become about content, and nothing about process.
Basic skills for critical thinking, rigorous reading, high-level writing, and working independently have been lost.
At what point can you teach and encourage thinking for oneself? Is 3rd year of an undergraduate course too late?
What happens when these students are the leaders and there is no one to tell them what to do? Is it that somewhere in between they’ll develop the ability out of necessity and begin to use it? Will they become a generation of reassurance seekers checking in with each other and not knowing who has the correct answer? I suspect it is the first, but is that the most efficient way to get there?
If everyone just took a second to think of what they would do, even if they do ask for guidance after, the more often their guess matches what is told, would they eventually build the confidence to act on their own decisions? Too many questions I know.