The Kids These Days, Part 784

| Tue Jan. 18, 2011 2:35 AM EST

Yet another new study purports to show that kids these days are just a bunch of slacker goofballs:

An unprecedented study that followed several thousand undergraduates through four years of college found that large numbers didn't learn the critical thinking, complex reasoning and written communication skills that are widely assumed to be at the core of a college education.

....Forty-five percent of students made no significant improvement in their critical thinking, reasoning or writing skills during the first two years of college, according to the study. After four years, 36 percent showed no significant gains in these so-called "higher order" thinking skills.

....Howard Gardner, a professor at Harvard's Graduate School of Education known for his theory of multiple intelligences, said the study underscores the need for higher education to push students harder. "No one concerned with education can be pleased with the findings of this study," Gardner said. "I think that higher education in general is not demanding enough of students — academics are simply of less importance than they were a generation ago."

Look: this might be true. I wouldn't be surprised. But how can anyone with higher reasoning skills claim that this demonstrates the declining importance of academics unless the study compares today's students to those of a generation ago — which this one doesn't? Without that, do we have any special reason to think that graduates of the Class of 1980 showed more progress in "higher order" thinking skills than today's kids? I don't think so.

Still, aside from the report's shocking finding that lots of students try to fill up their schedules with easy classes, there's a bright side to all this: "Students devoted less than a fifth of their time each week to academic pursuits. By contrast, students spent 51 percent of their time — or 85 hours a week — socializing or in extracurricular activities." According to David Brooks, this is perfectly suited to making them into the supergeniuses of tomorrow.

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