Students understandably cope with this cognitive dissonance by giving each of their teachers in turn whatever he or she seems to want. Students learn to be free-market capitalists in one course and socialists in the next, universalists in the morning and relativists after lunch. This tactic has got many a student through college, but the trouble is that, even when each course is excellent in itself, jumping through a series of hoops doesn’t add up to a real socialization into the ways of intellectual culture.
What the most successful college students do, in my experience, is cut through the clutter of jargons, methods and ideological differences to locate the common practices of argument and analysis hidden behind it all. Contrary to the cliché that no “one size fits all” educational recipe is possible, successful academics of all fields and intellectual persuasions make some key moves that you can emulate:
1. Recognize that knowing a lot of stuff won’t do you much good unless you can do something with what you know by turning it into an argument.
2. Pay close attention to what others are saying and writing and then summarize their arguments and assumptions in a recognizable way. Work especially on summarizing the views…