by Robert M. Woods
Despite decades of “critical thinking,” the anecdotal and statistical evidence is that Americans in general, and Christians in particular, have an aversion for thinking. In a recent article, the evidence is that many, if not most students, simply do not want to think. In truth, the students are merely mirroring the broader culture and the entire university ethos. The article highlights the essence of the Socratic method and why most fear and disdain it by saying that “It is an interpretive discussion of a piece of text during which the professor says very little…the professor chooses a rich piece of text and plans an interpretive question as he opens the discussion…in general, it is a guided dialogue.”
It surprises my Freshmen when I tell them that the modern university is among the most anti-intellectual places on the earth. Think in terms of Socrates. The university is that place where lots of people are certain that they know lots of things. This certainty is a formula for disaster. Usually by the half-way point through their Junior year, they believe me. After a few semesters of sneers and jeers from fellow students and not a few faculty, they long for a community of thinkers.
Again, one need not despair. While most schools put the phrase “critical thinking” in the course syllabus and then pride themselves with T/F, fill in blank, and multiple choice tests all the time dodging numerous opportunities of genuine thinking, there are schools, classes, professors, assignments, and exams where questions force the students to think through the issues and ideas. There are a few places where a few students are actually conversing with one another, their professors, Great Books and Great Ideas. Happily, those who yield to the Socratic way are changed. There is no going back once you have experienced true learning.