Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Is there more to thinking than … well, just thinking?

Written by: on September 5, 2013

I am not a critical thinker, at least, according to the definition given by Paul and Elder in their book “The Miniature Guide to Critical thinking: Concepts and Tools (loc.32, Kindle ed).  The authors state, “Critical thinking is the art of analyzing and evaluating thinking with a view to improving it.” The book is chock-full of concepts and practices for critical thinking; however, not one of the ideas or concepts should be considered as a beginning point for those of us who have not practiced critical thinking.  For an example: the authors cite eight standards for intellectual thinking (loc.96). The standards together present a framework for evaluating the quality of thinking; each standard builds on the previous. It is, however, unreasonable to think one could begin by seeking the first standard, “clarity in thinking” and somehow build to the final standard of “fairness.” What is the foundation for critical thinking on which the authors build a systemic process (loc.255) of critical thinking?

The beginning point for critical thinking is inherent in the definition. For my own understanding, I have extracted two thoughts from the definition: explicit and deliberative. This involves actively engaging the concepts of critical thinking. In fact, in the example stated above, the authors indicate that if the standards are to be learned (I take this to mean understood and applied), “…they must be taught explicitly” (Ibid, emphases mine). A deliberate approach to critical thinking implies being intentional; it is taking a premeditated approach to understanding thinking and thought processes. Critical thinking requires commitment and hard effort.

The authors do not embrace the concept of “reflection.” I have always favored the concept of reflecting. Of course, reflection is thinking, but I define reflection in this instance as a passive form of thinking as compared to the active form of critical thinking. Throughout the text it is possible to allow reflective thinking to move alongside critical thinking in parallel concepts. This was especially important to me as I tried to relate my own perceptions of reflection and faith in the context of critical thinking and reason.  There is a relational connection between reflective and critical thinking. The relational nature comes through in the author’s view of critical thinking as an art form. In this sense, thinking is a creative expression; it is an adaptive skill that can be improved, sharpened, and honed to near perfection.


Critical thinking asks appropriate questions. Paul and Elder present concepts that help to know when we are asking good questions. Effective problem solving requires the leadership to ask questions that fit the context and lead to appropriate problem solving methods and reach the correct solution (loc.219). Often the questions we ask are inappropriate or we might not know the question to ask. Good questions help to narrow and define with specificity the area or concentration for research.  The authors define elements that are important in assessing quality research (loc.233). Clearly defined questions are the core of the assessment. They must be relevant and applicable to the research being done or the problem being explored.

There are various templates in the text that appear to be good applications of critical thinking in the context of research. This is especially true in cross-cultural applications. The template, “Analyzing and Assessing Research” (loc. 233) is particularly applicable for research where sociocentric thinking is prevalent. Critical thinking (asking appropriate questions) will validate research that deals with cultural nuances and mores (loc.279). This particular template provides the framework for doing an assessment.

There is one other template I have found to be immediately valuable in our research course of study. The authors provide a useful “Template for Analyzing the Logic of an Article” (loc.150), or a book/chapter.  I have already combined this template with the one provided in the class materials, “How to Read Using the SQ3R Method” (LGP4 Dmin Mod1 archive) and I am using the pooled template for course reading assignments. Since I am new at this, the “jury is still out” on how effective the template will be. The proof will be in how explicit and deliberate I can be in applying these templates as critical thinking tools.

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