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Thursday, 11 March 2010

When it's the only tool you have...

Ask just about any university what skills students are supposed to get out of their program, and I bet you'll get the same responses. Problem solving. Critical thinking. Analysis and argumentation.

That's all well and good, I suppose. These are useful skills to have; I do not argue that point. I do take issue, however, with the be-all end-all status that they seem to have taken within our society.

We all know the saying that when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. when the only tool you have is problem solving... suddenly everything looks like a problem. With critical thinking, it looks like something that needs to be deliberated. Something to be analyzed. Something to argue about.

Yes, it's good to have these skills when you need them. When there is a problem, I like being able to solve it. But maybe if we didn't see everything through these lenses we wouldn't have to solve quite so many problems.

Example: One of my roommates happens to be an engineering student and therefore all about the problem solving. This girl can turn anything into a problem. Like, you know in A Charlie Brown Christmas, when Linus says "Charlie Brown, you are the only person I know who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem!" ? Yeah, she makes me feel like that. Cookies are a problem because if you bake a number not divisible by three we can't divide them evenly. No friend, cookies are never a problem.

Another example: As anyone who knows me is well aware, I have the worst kind of trouble with making decisions. Because I always way overthink the issue, and see the pros and cons of both sides of the matter. I could (and sometimes do) deliberate what to make for dinner forever. This is what your critical thinking skills have done for me, education system. Thanks a lot.

If only university would teach us kindness and love and compassion instead...

1 comment:

Loud said...

I was thinking about this post today, and it occurred to me that "instead" might not be the right word to end with. After all, if love and compassion are all you have, all your problems will start to look like....teddy bears or something.

I think that's the worst argument I could possibly give to try and convince someone that something's a bad idea, you know.

At any rate, I think that a heart without a mind is empty, and a brain without a heart is cold. Why couldn't university teach us love and compassion as well?

I mean, love and compassion are things that ideally our parents and kindergarten teachers try to instill in us because we can learn these things long before we're truly capable of becoming paralyzed by our dinner options, let alone things like complex public discourse.

And sure, some people take to these early lessons less avidly than others. I'm gonna sidestep the "nature versus nurture" argument which this invites and say that perhaps some people just need a reminder as to the finer points of being human*. On the other hand, if the vast stores of knowledge available to a University student aren't already giving them new respect for being human (endowed with senses and reason and the ability to cook themselves dinner), what CAN you do for them?

*Specifically, I should say, one who isn't a jerk.