The Arrogance of Universities

Posted on June 25, 2011


“A university degree is not meant to prepare you for a job but to teach you how to think critically”

WTF! is my response every time I hear this or a version of this statement.  This mentality seems to be really bad in archaeology and/or related areas of study. The first problem with this statement is the arrogance that one thinks they or a university are the only ones who can teach “critical thinking”. This absurdity is surpassed by the notion that one can teach “critical thinking” and does so at a university. I have yet to see any definitive study that can show that filling in multiple choice answers on a test leads one to “think critically”.

All of which are redundant problems as “critical thinking” is an abstract thought which no one can define. It is like saying that we teach awesomeness, what? That statement makes no sense and nether does the notion that “we teach critical thinking”. A long time ago someone was asked to justify their job or place in life and they answered, “oh, I teach critical thinking”. Not understanding the response and not willing to seem stupid by ask what that is the questioner let it slide and we have been letting it slide ever since.

The second problem I have with that statement is that it is always used to justify why universities do not teach the practical skills needed to be an archaeologist. Again, we have let this justification slide in the humanities even though no other area does. Would a doctor say to his patient, “no, I don’t need to know how to fix your heart because I can conceptualize how it works.” You want your architect to know how to draft and your computer engineer to be able to write code but some how an archaeologists does not need to know how to record a site or identify artifacts.

Alright, maybe 80% of students who study archaeology are never going to be an archaeologists but that is a short sided view. In the US the price of university have tripled, above inflation, in the last several decades. Since, the US government has kept records the average increase in cost of university has always been above inflation. The cost of a undergrad degree is about to triple in the UK. You are quickly running out of people who can afford to flutter away 4 years and tens of thousands of dollars on a degree that will not get them a job.

It’s time to adapt and stop spewing out nonsensical statements.

Do you, the reader, have a different opinion?