(PHIL 140 affiliation)
Assignment 5: Responding to Reasoning Gone Adrift
This semester you have been encouraged to practice the principles of sound critical reasoning, which include
exercising intellectual skepticism and honesty, using validity claims, identifying logical fallacies, addressing
counterarguments, and balancing rhetorical appeals (see pages 1-14 in the
Writing 140 Course Book
assignment will provide you with an opportunity to showcase what you have learned by demonstrating these
sound critical reasoning skills in your own writing while critiquing the critical reasoning of others on the sorts of
issues you have studied this semester in your Social Issues affiliation.
When surveyed about the current state of teaching and learning in our universities, f
aculties rank critical
reasoning as the primary goal of a college education.
Accordingly, efforts are being made to determine whether
or not students actually gain proficiency in critical reasoning over the course of their academic careers.
such study is
being conducted here at the University of Southern California, where preliminary data indicates
students’ critical reasoning abilities
do significantly improve between their freshman and junior years of
Though the population is limited to USC and the findings are tentative, this study suggests that students
are indeed learning, thinking, and writing competently about the complex issues facing our world.
Other studies suggest, however, that improvements in collegiate critical reasoning may be minimal or even
Derek Bok, former president of Harvard University, claims that “
many seniors graduate without
being able to write well enough to satisfy their employers. Many cannot reason clearly or perform competently
in analyzing complex, non-technical problems” (8).
A recent study corroborating Bok’s claims, conducted by
sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, concludes that, in fact, “higher-education institutions are currently
Based on the data, Arum and Roksa believe that there is “barely” improvement in
students’ “complex reasoning and writing during their first two years of college,” with almost half
“demonstrating no appreciable gain in these skills” (54).
In any case, the fact that critical reasoning is being called into question within academia—a purported bastion of
reasoning—raises larger concerns about the quality of critical reasoning in our culture as a whole.
reasoning practices are under question in an academic context, where they are explicitly taught and supremely
valued, then they are even more suspect in lay contexts (e.g. the media, social networks, political organizations),
where social issues are discussed or debated with a much less pronounced commitment to critical reasoning.