Don’t get out of practice

By Audrey Kolb

Often when we head off to college, those loved ones that are invested in our education often urge us to finish our degree as quickly as possible and with as few breaks as breaks as possible. The reason for this concern is that, for various reasons, very few students return to school once they leave the academic world. Though few that do return, find it challenging in ways that they might not have expected.

As a New Resources Student, I expected to have difficulty integrating with classmates due to age and cultural differences. I expected that I might have a little trouble getting used to the different social views that Pitzer embodies, compared to my life experiences. I expected to be out of practice in my study habits and test-taking abilities, despite taking a few classes at a junior college to “break myself in.” I did not, however, expect to find that I was out of practice of critical thinking.

Reflecting back, few jobs I’ve had since entering the working world have actually required me to think critically. Working a cashier or waiting tables rely on basic math and reasonable social skills. Bartending requires more memorization and artistic flair. Office jobs require a solid knowledge of the alphabet and the ability to type quickly. Yet, none of these basic, common jobs require us to really think.

In my Psychology of Morality class at CMC, we are reading, The Righteous Mind, by Jonathan Haidt. In the book, Haidt points out that humans are able to form cooperative societies partially based on our ability to hold others accountable. He points to the research of Phil Tetlock, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who defines accountability as the expectation that one may be called on to justify oneself, and from that justification one will receive either rewards or punishments. How does accountability tie into critical thinking?

According to Tetlock, when people do not have a sense of accountability, they will typically rely on intuition alone to make decisions. They will often be lazy and be prone to errors. On the other hand, when people know that they will be held accountable for their thoughts and actions, they will use reason to think systematically, and respond to evidence more willingly.

When sin school, we are constantly being questioned about our opinions on all sorts of subjects. If we agree with a theorist, the professor wants to know. If we question another, we must justify our reasoning. This is a practice we engage in every time we attend a class or complete an assignment. However, in the working world, often we are not called on to think objectively or critically about subjects. We can fall into the trap of not holding ourselves accountable, making us lazy in our thoughts. We see this type of thinking often on forums such as Facebook, where everyone is an expert on everything, but few have little evidence to back up their opinions.

I wish now that I had been aware of this fallibility in the working world, and how easy it would be to fall into this trap. There is so much I could have done while out of school to ensure that I kept myself accountable, and to keep thinking critically. Teaching others, having discussions with others with inquiring minds, or even keeping up a blog are all easy ways to keep your brain in shape. Our culture is geared towards lazy minds. Very little is expected from common people—Hollywood blockbusters are evidence of that. Continuously challenging our brain and holding it accountable will keep you sharp, capable, and less likely to be part of the herd of sheep.

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