Let’s Put Some Money on Introduction to Philosophy

Here’s a bet I’d like to make: a good introduction to philosophy course will do more to increase students’ critical thinking abilities than a good course in logic or critical thinking.

Here’s what I think I’d need to get this bet off the ground:

First, we’d need a stable student body and a randomly selected assortment of students. I offer my own university and our required course in Logic as a possible set of human subjects for our researches.

Second, we’d need a stable measure of critical thinking. The Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking test used by employers is probably a stealth IQ test, while the Collegiate Learning Assessment is valid when applied to individual performance, only at the institutional level. Something like the British A-levels in critical thinking might be appropriate. For now, I think the CLA is good enough: we’re testing an institutional approach, after all! So: the second step is to institute pre- and post-testing on the Collegiate Learning Assessment.

Third, we’d need to split students randomly into a control group, getting the best critical thinking and logic instruction available, and a test group, getting good philosophy instruction with a few papers. I usually run my intro classes with three papers: an analysis paper where they’re tasked with reconstructing an argument, an opposition paper where students take up a position they oppose and defend it against objections, and a synthesis paper where they try to offer a novel argument based on the semester’s readings. (It’s about fifteen pages total.)

So, here’s my bet: the students in the test group of sections of Introduction to Philosophy would beat the students in the control group in the Logic sections on the CLA score-improvements at the end of the term.

Who’s in?

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