On Doing Philosophy in Public (Pt. 2): The Loss of Critical Thinking Curriculum at State Universities


Recently, the California State University system set precedent in San Jose by deciding to restructure the critical thinking curriculum in favor of the paradigm of cheap schooling. This casts a great shadow on the hearts of Cafe Girls. We fully support, promote and believe in the power of critical thinking. Critical thinking is intellectually pleasurable, essential for being a participating member of political society, and important as a participating member of the Capitalist economy. "(1) One should and can critically think about critical thinking. Critical thinking without thinking about critical thinking is self-refuting!!! (2) The phenomenology of critically thinking with others is a source of intellectual pleasure. (3) Critical thinking is about inquiry and it is fundamentally a cooperative enterprise that is a necessary condition for good decision making." Dr. Anand Vaidya's, a philosophy professor of critical thinking at SJSU, analysis  of critical thinking is closely related to the mission of Cafe Girls. Born out the nexus of critical thinking and music, Cafe Girls has blossomed into a multifaceted venue for critical thinking (both on an emotional level through philosophy, music and art and through practical level through the Cafe Girls Blog). It is for this reason that we call attention to the recent decisions made at SJSU regarding the future of PHIL 57: Critical Thinking and Logic.

Now, it's critical for the public to understand the impact of the loss of critical thinking at universities. This, within the CSU, means that the teaching of critical thinking will be taken out of philosophy departments (who are highly equipped with professors learned on subjects of logic, rhetoric, argument identification, and fallacy identification; all subjects that comprise the realm of critical thinking) and put into "Critical Thinking through Writing" programs facilitated by English departments. A shift of this magnitude obviously will not focus on the essence of critical thinking but rather on effective writing; aimed, most likely, at boosting the scores for the Writing Skills Test (an exam aimed at quantifying student's writing ability). "What's the problem with this?" you may ask. Students will no longer be engaging with critical thinking as a "thing in itself" but rather as a utility function. Much the same way people use an object, let's say an iPhone, but don't understand the particulars that make up said object (i.e. the engineering, design, mechanical components of an iPhone).

This is a paradigm shift (a la Kuhn) within academia that has spanned decades. There was a period of time where students enrolling in universities had no other purpose but to enrich their minds (normally these people were wealthy). Several historical events (heavy immigration from Europe in the early 20th century, Civil Right's movement and the Women's Right's movement) and the popularization of our national ethos, the "American Dream", has given rise to a new paradigm in academia. Where a degree, and not necessarily an education, has become the ultimate utility function of the university.

After all, why would a working-class family send their child to college without the belief that somehow a degree will qualitatively improve the life of their child and possibly themselves (a la upward mobility)? Therefore, the focus has shifted from "go to college, get educated and find your path in society" to "go to college, enroll in a profitable major,  and get a job" (in which case, you'll have to pay off all your students loans before you enjoy your profits.) College has become an investment and very seldom is it still an enrichment. Within the larger paradigm shift of academia, the loss of critical thinking seems like a logical, capitalist step. 

Once again, cheap schooling has been chosen over enriching education.