And lately I've noticed students not seeming to get the idea of evidence, of supporting claims they want to make with empirical data or rational argument. I'm obviously going to have to spend more time explaining the need for, and value of, such things. But I wonder why this seems to be more of a problem now than it used to. It probably is partly me not explaining well enough what I'm looking for, but I don't think it can be just that. Students appear to be so used to not reading, not thinking, and just asserting their opinions that to some of them it simply goes without saying that this is what you do in an essay. It's not just that they haven't taken a philosophy course before and think that that's what philosophy is. So what's going on?
I can think of several things. One is that some courses are probably not very demanding because Chad must be entertained at all costs. Another is that many of my students have political loyalties that are not conducive to rigorous academic work. I have conservative students who are extremely intelligent, knowledgeable, and hard-working. But a lot of conservative politicians and propagandists discourage intelligence and knowledge (no doubt some liberal ones do too, but the problem is not equally distributed across the political spectrum), and I think the results are showing. And then there's this by Karen Swallow Prior:
But in the past decade or so, I have found that students are seldom if ever held accountable for or even actually expected to read the assigned texts. Years of their so-called "reading" is spent "making connections" between themselves and text or the world and the text, but the foundational step of actually reading the words on the page is neglected often to the point that actually reading the assignment isn't necessary: Students become skilled at responding to leading questions that solicit merely their opinions or experiences. And they apparently get decent, or even excellent, grades for doing so.And not to criticize a book I haven't read, but it might not be a good sign that there is a popular textbook called Everything's an Argument. I wonder how many students are being taught that whatever they write is inevitably going to be an argument. Or that there is no such thing as truth. Or that there can be no reasoning about matters of value. Not just no mathematical proof (although they seem to have more faith in empirical evidence than logical demonstration), but no reasoning at all. At any rate, these seem to be extremely common beliefs. There might be versions of these ideas that are worth taking seriously, but the common undergraduate versions are not so sophisticated. It's almost as if the entire value of a philosophy course might consist in partially undoing the damage done by other courses. It's also as if I'm just a grumpy old man, of course.