Back a hundred years ago, when I was in college, all the guys who were doing the best in the classes I took all seemed to be Viet Nam veterans going to school on government grants. They tended to stand out because they were older and far more experienced than their classmates. It seems unlikely that they were brighter, but they were fundamentally different in terms of focus and perspective in ways that seemed obviously helpful to them.
Some aspects of human potential, probably including skill sets like critical reasoning and the other things referenced in the recent study on the critical thinking and reasoning abilities of college sophomores, cannot really be tapped into until all of the mental connections have been made. Nothing happens in the human mind until the infrastructure is in place, and other recent scientific findings have included a better understanding of brain development, which turns out to be a longer-winded process than it was previously understood to be, going on into a person’s 25th year.
We probably send kids to college too early for the outcomes we hope to get.
Or is it that we expect colleges and universities to do for their enrollees what parents and society as a whole has been unwilling or unable to do?
Writing as a parent of teenagers, who spends a great deal of time in the company of high school-aged kids, we are not exactly paving the way for a bright future by funding a culture based on consumerism, media, and pursuit of leisure-time pleasures. Have you seen what teens watch on television these days?
While there is plenty of parental blame to be allocated for allowing teenagers to be exposed to the type of media they seem to like – “Jersey Shore” being a prime and egregious example, along with “The Hills” and “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” – one may be reminded of another study from a decade ago that showed that peer influence out-trumps parental influence when kids hit their teen years.
Reservoirs of intellectual discipline to be found within the local school system seem few in number, and so kids are left to the standards and mores of their friends, and within loosely-knit social groups the most valuable currency is the common denominator. We dumb down to get along.
As an old guy with way more years of experience in the work place than I like to recount, I cannot report that these feeble-minded university graduates are entering a workforce of extraordinary rigor, anymore than that experienced in their university incarnations. Modern workers are becoming more and more narrowly defined as operators of the software applications they run, which is not exactly an exercise in critical thinking. Quite the opposite, the challenge is to follow the routine, if you can find where the operations manual is being kept, providing that one has been written.
It is difficult for me to assess the future of young people who are sub-performing to our expectations of them even as they are still coming to mental maturity.