In a very thought-provoking speech, G. Graff describes the prevailing separation of teaching of individual disciplines in closed classrooms (“courseocentrism“), and how this impedes the development of critical thinking skills.
“underlying the great diversity and difference in the substantive content of today’s academic intellectual culture lies an important area of common ground with respect to its fundamental practices” … “we would not have gotten very far in the university unless we had mastered the fundamentals of reading, analysis, and argument, of summarizing others and using them to define our own ideas, that comprise what we now call “critical thinking skills.””
He observes that only the high achieving minority of students are able to synthesize the disparate views on their own, while the struggling majority are confused by the “mixed messages” they get from their different teachers:
“No wonder students often come up and ask, “Do you want my ideas in this paper or just a summary of the reading?””
He suggests that these struggling students would profit from coordinated teaching. I doubt that harmonized content would help much, instead of growing the connections on their own (and therefore I agree with Siemens’ connectivist reply).
However, I do not underestimate the described obstacles. Under the permanent pressure of grading and assessment, and being at the mercy of contradictory teaching styles, there is not much energy left for drawing connections. As long as the measurement mania and grading pressure cannot be relieved, it would already help a lot if teachers were at least aware of their styles, so they would not mistake them for the one, true academic skillset.
The article is rather long but continuously interesting because it offers numerous additional insights. It is another voice in the debate about whether critical thinking is independent of subject expertise.
And it plausibly shows how delicate the local ecosystem of the different subject experts is. How they have problems with “arguing out” their differences, although they review each other’s articles. How “the professional issues [they] care most about” are “too risky for home consumption.” And how it is often only at remote conferences that they discover common interests.
Perhaps, once they discovered the ongoing “conference” of scholarly blogging, they might appreciate the valuable role of one subject’s expert being another subject’s fruitfully participating layman.