October 15, 2018

Truth vs useful knowledge: Teaching business students *How to Think*

I’m teaching Alan Jacobs’s book How to Think to my business communication students this semester. Communicating and thinking are inseparable, and I’ve always tried and struggled to integrate critical thinking into my course. Previously, I’ve tried using John Lanchester’s How to Speak Money, in addition to assorted essays and excerpts, without much success.

But Jacobs’s book has gone much better so far, because it does something that the other books haven’t: it meets the students where they’re at, in a social-media environment that is shaping their habits of thinking and communicating in ways none of us fully recognizes or understands. We’ve had some encouraging discussions so far trying to sort out these influences and develop the oblique strategies necessary to fight them.

I also recently finished Jacobs’s other recent book, The Year of Our Lord 1943. I’m glad I read it when I did, in the midst of teaching How to Think, because YooL is like the teacher’s guide for HtT. This is especially true teaching it in the setting of a business school at a major public university. Few institutions have been more deeply formed by and reflect more clearly the triumph of technocracy. YooL helps me better understand my institution and my students.

It has also encouraged me in my ever-so-slightly subversive role as a humanist in a business school. I don’t offer extra credit, but if I did, I know now what the assignment would be: having students memorize Under Which Lyre.