“Thinking About Critical Thinking”
In the final comments on critical thinking, Paul and Elder make a powerful assessment. In the final paragraph on page 4, they postulate that, “Critical thinking is, in short, self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. It requires rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use.” Although what they have put forth in this brief read is most helpful, it is not new. In this post, I specifically want to address the requirement of rigorous standards of excellence.
It seems that across the board most people are looking for short-cuts. We have witnessed that in the financial arena, which is my tent-making endeavor. In late 2007 and early 2008, these short-cuts became quite evident to the American public, and then to the rest of the world as one “Big Bank” after the other were found to be over leveraged in sub-prime mortgages. In short, these securities were the quick way Hedge Funds and other large financial institutions realized financial windfalls both for themselves and their deep pocket investors. In the end however, just as it happens with all Ponzi schemes, someone has to be left holding the bag. As a consequence, across the globe, entire economies are still reeling, and trying to regain some economic balance, all because we relaxed the rigorous standards of financial excellence, in the name of a short-cut. Hopefully, we have self-corrected and learned many lessons from this. Chief among these should be that achieving profits for the few, while jeopardizing the future of many should never be permitted through compromising standards of financial excellence.
Another important discipline that I find people freely taking short-cuts in is the area of preaching. For example, when I hear some of the sermons of the “Rock Star” preachers on television today, I almost don’t recognize the message of the gospel in what they preach! Yet scores of people today want the prosperity that they are promised by these celeberties, in exchange for simply naming and claiming or just having to visualize the material goods they desire into existence. This is an easy gospel to preach, for it demands nothing, no discipline, no obedience to Christ, no sacrifice. Moreover, it is the preferred gospel of the masses for that reason. However, absent from this brand of preaching is the discipline of rigorous study, whereby one gets down to the business of historical analysis, exegesis and hermeneutics. I believe that in the discipline of preaching the gospel with divine authority, this is the hard work that the authors intended, and also the rigorous standards of excellence demanded of all preachers (including myself) by the scriptures i.e. 2Tim 4:1-4. Yet it seems to me that we’ve settled for the short-cuts.
Finally, even in the academic arena I find that I am looking for a short-cut. I seek how I can save time or another example, is that I search for ways that I can accomplish two or three tasks within one study session. While I don’t believe that seeking to save time or being more efficient with the use of one’s time is bad necessarily, I do have to question myself and ask whether or not I am at all times demanding the level excellence that is required to do the hard work of critical thinking.
I appreciated the reminder from the authors on many levels and found it to be a helpful nudge not to allow my thinking to be “left to itself.” Rather, I choose to propel myself in life, through self-corrective thinking and challenging my point of view by doing the hard work of critical thinking and pursuing rigorous standards excellence.
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