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I’m impressed with the thoughtful comments posted following my first entry. Let me jump right in see if I can advance this discussion without simply offering up the equivalent of Reader Andrea Villa’s “uh huh uh huh,” a delicious and all too accurate observation.

The ability to sift, analyze, and reflect upon large amounts of data is crucial for communicators in today’s information age. But are critical thinking skills being taught to today’s students at the undergraduate level? What should we teach tomorrow’s journalists? And how is this critical thinking translated into the words and images that convey precise meaning and impact to the recipient of the information?

Critical thought certainly receives considerable lip service on many campuses. Critical thinking is assumed to be part of a traditional, first-rate education with a well-rounded course of study in the arts and letters, sciences, and so on. I’m deliberately avoiding use of the term “liberal arts education” because of the baggage carried these days by the word “liberal.”

Journalists need to approach information from multiple perspectives, exercise evidence-based reasoning, and reflective judgment. Then they must translate the results with clarity and precision and communicate through words and pictures.

Based on what, exactly?

This is why I’m not a big fan of getting an undergraduate degree in journalism, and I’ve advised students for years to get a minor in journalism and study something else, almost anything else. When you have a journalism degree, what body of knowledge have you acquired to you write about? Journalism?

It’s my opinion aspiring journalists should be majors in economics, political science, history, sociology, psychology, any of the physical or natural sciences, literature… you get the idea. These are the subjects where critical thinking resides, where individuals learn to be good learners and question perspectives.

We’re often so focused on the workplace that education becomes strictly vocational. Producing a group of very competent technicians who can’t come to a reasoned conclusion consistent with the facts and who struggle to communicate it anyway isn’t going to serve us well in the long run.

I’ve learned and forgotten more technical methods for delivering information than I ever dreamed. But the coursework I took in linguistics, Shakespeare, history, and statistics taught me to observe, challenge, think, reason, and come to a conclusion … and then to visualize, compose, write and express myself clearly and thoughtfully, based on my judgment seasoned by the perspective of greater thinkers who have gone before me.

Are “J-Schools” making certain their curriculum turns out critical thinkers and not just technicians? Seems to me they’re caught up in the competing need to turn out employable students who can use a computer and run a camera.

In an upcoming entry, I’ll explore why it matters more than ever to teach the proper use of a semi-colon, the difference between “effect” and “affect,” and how to diagram a sentence (is there anyone out there who still knows how to do this?). Stay tuned …

— GAYLE FALKENTHAL

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