“What ‘Learning How to Think’ Really Means,” ranks high on my list of required reading for those of us who love to debate the status of higher ed in the US. Barry Schwartz, writing for the Chronicle of Higher Education argues in favor of a system that can teach students the skills required of their desired careers, while also developing the virtues to make them decent human beings. Drawing clear connections between these virtues and long-term success, Schwartz makes the case that it is often these virtues that differentiate people in the working world.
My first thought reading through Schwartz’s list of virtues (love of truth, honesty, fair-mindedness, humility, perseverance, courage, good listening, empathy and wisdom) was how closely it parallels the essence of the frames from the new information literacy standards: Authority Is Constructed and Contextual, Information Creation as a Process, Information Has Value, Research as Inquiry, Scholarship as Conversation, and Searching as Strategic Exploration. In an academic sense, this seems obvious, but it doesn’t always translate to the business community, despite the fact that we are moving more and more into a knowledge economy where such abilities are more important than ever and simple answers to complex problems rarely exist.
In the same way we see faculty speak to the lack of student research skills upon their arrival at college, business leaders also lament a skills gap of recent graduates entering the workforce. If it were as simple as saying, “not enough applicants are proficient at coding with Java,” I think we could all imagine the solution would be fairly straight-forward. But of course it’s more complicated than that: what graduates lack are foundational critical thinking skills, the ability to learn how to learn. Schwartz writes, “Workplaces need people who have intellectual virtues, but workplaces are not in a good position to instill them. Colleges and universities should be doing this training for them.” I couldn’t agree more and would emphasize the point by comparing the ease of learning a second language in one’s twenties versus picking up that language as a child. Schwartz reminds us that, “Aristotle argued that virtues are developed through practice,” to which I would add that it is better to begin that practice sooner rather than later.