html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: Most things could happen.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Most things could happen.

I’ve long thought that what college teaches you is critical thinking. I think that because it is the difference I see in my friends who go to college and my friends who don’t go to college. I’ve seen smarts and work ethic vary on either side of the college divide, but critical thinking, that instant on hearing something where you tilt your head and think 'does that sound right to me?', I see that in people who go to college and don’t see it in people who don’t*.

I’m usually to the far end of the critical thinkers, but I got one-upped this weekend. A new friend was talking about finding a job in math when he graduates. “But that’s three years from now,” I said, “anything could happen**.” “Well,” he paused “not anything anything. I mean, you only need one thing that couldn’t happen…” We laughed and agreed on “most things could happen”, which is what I’m going to say from now on.

*With the marked exception of anyone in the town of Santa Cruz, where they have abdicated critical thinking altogether. Far as I can tell, critical thinking, or indeed, any assertion of fact, might cause someone somewhere in the world to be hurt, so they no longer include those in their conversation. Instead, their sole topic is how events made them feel, which in addition to being an “I” statement and not a reflection on anyone else, is incontrovertible. I sit watching them, hoping my face is still pleasant and neutral but fearing that people so attuned to feeling can read every bit of my scorn for their utter lack of thought. They are pretty, though.

**I decided anything could happen the night I met my Uncle Akbar. I went to the wedding dinner for my Mom and her new husband and he introduced me to his brother, my new Uncle Akbar. I wasn’t opposed or anything, but I do remember thinking “I never thought I would have an Uncle Akbar.” I decided that if one could get an Uncle Akbar at age 26, there was just no use having expectations for the world. Anything could happen. I also went from having one first cousin to having thirty-five first cousins in a couple years, but it looks like I am back down to one first cousin. She was my favorite anyway.


Anonymous Mitch said...

So miss "you must play a sport during puberty to be an elite athlete in that sport" is swearing off "anything can happen" because it's not nuanced enough?

9:41 AM  
Blogger grant said...

Don't tell me Uncle Akbar is also an Admiral...

10:09 AM  
Blogger Megan said...


I used to be dogmatic and make sweeping assertions about entire disciplines or towns. Now, however, I am openminded and flexible. I was corrected and I can genially adopt a new mindset. Besides, it is funnier.


No... is that a pop culture reference?

10:18 AM  
Blogger bryn said...

I believe that he's referring to admiral ackbar in star wars trilogy

11:02 AM  
Blogger Dizzy said...

Oh! You just explained why 1) Since moving to a college town, I always have that reaction of, 'Why are people being rude here? Why can't they just BELIEVE one stupid little thing I tell them? If I'm wrong, tehy'll find out later. But it's not like arguing about it NOW does ANYTHING." 2) Why people keep thinking I don't read or understand big thoughts.

I'm from Kentucky. If someone announces that the sky is green, all a Kentuckian will do is smile politely and say, "That is so interesting that you noticed that." Then, later in teh conversation, they may mention that they have always thought of the sky as blue. But they know that some people consider it green. Or they may just drop it.

It's not that they can't think critically. It's that, as you pointed out, the point of a conversation is to make sure everyone feels good and to express how much you like each other.

I miss it. And even though I still sometimes recoil a bit when some grad student is all, "YOu saw a movie with Antonio AND Ryan Phillipe? I don't beieve they ever worked together...." I have learned to enjoy arguing about things. (I had to practice in teh blogospher first, though).

6:37 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Aw hon, that has to be a hard transition, to go from people with a goal of tending people in the conversation to people with a goal of accuracy in a conversation.

Sadly, I don't think I have the skills for the first.

7:43 PM  
Anonymous Peter said...

The question is, does college teach critical thinking, or are the sort of people who go to college also the sort who are good at critical thinking?

8:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Intellectual / academic cultures don't exactly have the goal of accuracy in conversation. Thinking is a fun game, conversation a great chance to play it. The interesting assertion can be more important than the accurate one.


8:31 PM  
Anonymous Thelonious_Nick said...

I know what you mean. I notice that a lot of really smart people who for whatever reason don't end up going to college end up having fairly peculiar and obscure ideas. Examples from people I have known: string theory, ascribing to the federal government far more power to interfere in their daily lives than it actually has, B. Clinton as murderer, plots against Christianity in America.

5:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I spend my working day exclusively with fellow graduates – lawyers – and conversation consists almost entirely of the listener ignoring the main content of what is said because they’re speed-scanning it for any element that can be questioned or contradicted. It’s charmless, it’s exhausting, and it’s not one bit Socratic. Dizzy, I think I’d like to go and live in Kentucky for a while, it sounds lovely.

7:14 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

7:14 anonymouse:

I've seen that too and you are SO right. Constant overanalysis is no fun either.

8:48 AM  

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