Critical thinking is an important part of education at Alamo Colleges.
The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board mandates that we assess students’ work for their critical thinking skills. It’s easy to understand why.
Education is more than memorizing facts and formulas; education is about solving problems, understanding different perspectives, challenging values, and imagining and planning for a better world.
Unfortunately, a new course, EDUC 1300/PSYC 1300, which displaces three hours of humanities in the core curriculum, is to some degree inconsistent with our commitment to critical thinking.
EDUC 1300 is meant as a vehicle to teach Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”
The following “principles” underlie the habits: Be Proactive; Begin with the End in Mind; Put First Things First; Think Win/Win; Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood; Synergize; and Sharpen the Saw.
At best, these “principles” are clichés, and part of critical thinking entails challenging clichés.
For example, the idea that we should put first things first is vacuous. Consider also the idea of thinking win/win. We can find many situations where we can find win-win solutions — e.g. children can share a toy or take turns at a game; buyers and sellers can agree on a fair price. Other times, someone wins and someone loses.
Recent disputes about tenure and EDUC 1300 displacing three hours of humanities in the core illustrate the point. Furthermore, we can argue that we should adopt other “principles” such as this: Develop a healthy skepticism.
Thinking critically about Covey’s ideas will identify them as trivial, as having many exceptions, or as subject to being displaced by alternative “principles.”
Conversely, if the Covey “principles” are not challenged, then we are not thinking critically about them. In that case, the “principles” are presented as gospel to indoctrinate students.
It didn’t have to be this way.
We could have introduced leadership ideas in an across-the-curriculum initiative that included adding to some courses, learning communities and special presentations.
Such an effort could have led to discussions about different kinds of leadership. Consider Warren Buffett and Martin Luther King Jr., Jesus and Cesar Chavez, Jonas Salk and Golda Meir.
We could have discussed the psychodynamics of inspiration and revolt, leadership and evolution, decision theory and virtuous leadership versus the dark side of power. None of this would have cost us a penny.
Instead, we paid more than $700,000 to get Covey’s clichés/principles. Such a decision was misguided, and shows that Chancellor Bruce Leslie’s and the board’s choice was fundamentally flawed procedurally and substantively.
Alamo Colleges, San Antonio, and surrounding communities deserve better.
Charles Hinkley is the coordinator of the humanities department at Northwest Vista College.