Educational pedagogy has certainly gotten some things wrong over the course of the last few decades. Political and cultural agendas have not only influenced what is taught in many schools and universities but also how things are taught—and in many cases, the results have been disastrous.

There exists one pedagogical truth, however, that has been recognized for decades—maybe even centuries—and is not going to change: argumentative writing promotes deep critical thinking as well or better than any other educational activity. By argumentative writing I do not mean anything pejorative; rather, I mean writing in which the writer makes an argument, or a case, for a particular idea. Good academic arguments are understood to have the following elements: (1) a claim, or a thesis; (2) support for the claim or thesis; (3) evidence or rationale for the support; (4) a warrant, or premise—that is, what one has to accept in order to believe that the support is legitimate rationale or evidence for the claim; (5) support for the warrant or premise; (6) acknowledgment of potential objections to any of the previous elements; (7) counter arguments to those potential objections, or an explanation of why those objections are faulty; and (8) qualifying language, or language that calls attention to the limits of one’s argument. This last element may also be referred to as “intellectual honesty.”

Researchers have yet to pinpoint the nuts and bolts of how argumentative writing promotes critical thinking, but various studies demonstrate that argumentative writing is one of the most significant developers of critical-thinking skills. In fact, it may very well be the most significant developer. This reality is a big part of the reason that master’s-degree candidates are required to write theses and doctoral candidates are required to write dissertations. Argumentative writing develops and demonstrates expertise about as well as anything.

Enter artificial intelligence (AI) technology that writes papers for students.

In spring 2023, AI tools became available to students across the country—and in just one short year, student use of AI for academic work has become so pervasive that some colleges and universities have actually given up on trying to regulate it. That’s right—there are university officials who know students are using AI programs to write their papers for them, and they are turning a blind eye to the reality. Allow me to state the matter another way: colleges and universities are knowingly graduating students who are relying on AI to do their coursework for them.

While the cheating aspect of AI use is significant enough on its own, I would argue that the critical-thinking crisis that AI use will create is much, much more consequential for our society. In an age when cultural and societal problems are becoming more numerous and more complex, we need to do a better job of developing critical-thinking skills, not a worse job.

By robbing students of what is arguably the most certain way to develop critical-thinking skills, institutions that accept AI as “writing” are just as guilty of cheating: they are cheating their students, our communities, and our culture. Moreover, in much of the public’s—and the government’s—mind, education has become almost exclusively about skill acquisition and obtaining a piece of paper that is a means to an end; higher education for a higher education’s sake and the process of learning are not as valued as they once were. Allowing students to bypass the mental exercise of argumentative writing and all its aspects only exacerbates these problematic realities and further reduces the value of education.

A common refrain from many institutional leaders is that a college or university that fails to teach students to use AI “appropriately” will be left in the dust, and there is certainly some truth to this sentiment. For instance, Warner University’s Business faculty understand that a student going into the human resources field may need to know how to use AI in the workplace to generate a contract or a termination agreement. However, these examples and others like them are much different than assignments requiring students to think critically. These examples represent technological-skills assignments, and they are far different from assignments that require students to defend a position, understand the premises of their arguments, and anticipate and rebut opposing points of view. AI might be able to do those things for students, but students will not receive any cognitive benefit. A bachelor’s-level liberal arts education is about more than technological skills. It has to be, lest society and culture fall further and further into chaos.

I suspect that some colleges and universities have given up on regulating AI use because of the labor and difficulty involved in effectively and judiciously handling the wrongful student use of AI. To be sure, AI has created unprecedented challenges for institutions of higher education. Regulating AI use is arduous and unpleasant work. Warner University is committed to time-tested educational pedagogy, however, and we will not undercut it. We boast that integrity is one of our core values. If we allow AI to thwart the development of critical-thinking skills among our student body, then we are hypocrites and cheaters against our constituents. We will do the work.