History major is no assurance of critical thinking

The number of students majoring in history has dropped more steeply since 2011 than any other undergraduate degree (“Fewer Students Are Majoring in History, But We’re Asking the Wrong Questions About Why,” Time, Dec. 6).

There are several explanations for the trend, but none more convincing than the cost-benefit analysis.  In short, students are rightly asking if a history major will enhance their earnings potential. There was a time when possession of a B.A. in any major distinguished the holder when entering the job market.  But today that’s no longer true.  What matters far more is one’s major.

Defenders of the history major maintain that students develop writing skills and critical thinking skills, which are vital in getting a decent salary.  The only evidence I’ve seen to support that argument is The Concord Review, which publishes research papers by high school students. College professors, on the other hand, complain that their students are unable to write a coherent essay, as I wrote about recently.

How to explain the disparity between the two?  Will Fitzhugh, publisher of TCR, says it’s the result of students being required to read extensively.  Unfortunately, too many college students have never done so.  As a result, they not only lack factual knowledge about their subject but also lack the wherewithal to express themselves in writing.

I wish that college professors would make TCR required reading for their history courses.  Doing so would be far more effective than lecturing about how to demonstrate critical thinking.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)

2 Replies to “History major is no assurance of critical thinking”

  1. History majors no doubt read and write more in college than science, math, engineering or computer science majors — would bet that history majors, as a result, are better writers. Not clear how much better they are. Gut reaction is that a history major is not much good for anything except getting a job as a history teacher.

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  2. Labor Lawyer: History professors and other professors in the humanities complain about the inability of students to write a coherent essay. I’ve long believed that the only way to improve is appropriate practice followed by feedback. But professors rely almost exclusively on lecturing, which does little good.

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