I was delusional in college. I thought, “When I graduate, I’ll be ready for the real world and set for life.”
The college offered a buffet of courses, and I was able to take any classes I wanted. As an 18-year-old, I took every shortcut I could to get my degree. My courses included California History, Sexual Education, and Theology.
On the last day of college, my family had a big party. My diploma had cost six figures, but it hadn’t gotten me ready for the real world.
Gradually, one thing became clear: the curriculum had not been designed to teach students how to evaluate evidence–reasons to think something is true.
For example, if someone claims that earth is getting warmer, then evidence in favor of that claim would include data that proves that earth is in fact getting warmer.
The Skill: Evaluating Evidence
Evaluating evidence is a skill, just like reading. And arguably, it’s more important: if you don’t know how to evaluate evidence, then you don’t know how to think on your own.
Since I didn’t have the skills to evaluate reasons, I accepted or rejected claims based on the beliefs of my tribe: Liberal-minded, college-educated young men. I outsourced my thinking, and simply repeated talking points from others. When people questioned my beliefs, and I didn’t know the answer—I pretended to know, and I memorized quotes and facts, so I could rattle them off and look smart. I was trapped in a cycle of self-deception: I believed myself to be well-informed and open-minded, but I wasn’t.
If you’re concerned with knowing and understanding what’s true, then you need to know how to evaluate evidence. You need to be able to do this for claims that your parents, children, and friends make; for every argument that you hear from politicians; for marketing campaigns, in math, in science—in any domain in which people say things that are either true or false. You can’t simply evaluate what they say on the basis of whether or not it sounds familiar because sounding familiar doesn’t guarantee truth. You instead need to evaluate what people say on the basis of whether or not it’s true. College failed me because it didn’t teach me how to do this very crucial thing.
Here’s a thought experiment. Imagine you buy something that costs you six figures, but when it comes time to use it, it fails. You’d be right to feel cheated. I feel the same way about going to college.
I have two questions:
(Q1) Why don’t colleges require their students to learn how to distinguish true from false?
(Q2) How do colleges get away with charging enormous amounts of money, and taking years of people’s time, without teaching their students how to evaluate evidence?
I have few theories about (Q1):
- Most professors themselves don’t know how to evaluate evidence. If they were going to teach it, they’d need to learn it first, and they’re just not up for doing the work.
- The professors are watering down the curriculum so they can attract as many students to their courses as they can.
- College administrators don’t want students to figure out that their college is failing them—at least not while they’re still in college.
What about (Q2)? How do they get away with charging so much for a product that fails? Incentives are a powerful tool for someone to get you to do something, and unfortunately, colleges’ incentives are misaligned. If someone gets a degree in journalism, and never gets a job, the college isn’t accountable in any way. They don’t get paid based on students’ success.
The harsh reality for many people is that college has taken your money, left you without a job—and possibly without the skills even to get one—and the college faces no negative repercussions. Instead of getting students ready for the real world, colleges water down the curriculum, so they can print as many diplomas as possible each year.
Not All Courses Are Equal
My knowledge of California history is something that I barely apply in real life. Sure, it’s good to know, but it’s something I could read about on my own, and… is it really more fundamental than my ability to think on my own?
College failed to teach me an important skill that should be applied in everyday life. I am not writing to complain about what happened, but I want to do something about it. I don’t want the education system to fail my kids or future generations.
I want to raise awareness about the lack of reasoning skills in colleges. Logic is the method to evaluate evidence. It is the study of principles of correct reasoning—a systematic way of evaluating the relationship between a conclusion and the evidence supporting it. Today, colleges are offering logic and making it mandatory for only a select few students, but it needs to be learned by everyone.