Critical Thinking Concepts & Tools, Richard Paul & Linda Elder
“If we want critical societies we must create them.” (Paul and Elder, p. 23)
“Critical thinking” is a term we hear frequently these days as a form of training which will herald a new day in mass schooling. It certainly will, if it ever happens. No common school that actually dared teach the use of dialectic, heuristic, and other tools of free minds could last a year without being torn to pieces.” (John Taylor Gatto, 1991)
My husband is an educator. He has been an elementary school principal and teacher, industrial trainer, Bible study teacher at Oregon State Penitentiary (17 years), and is an elder and teacher at church. One thing he has lamented no matter where he has taught is the lack of critical thinking skills in students. How can we as communicators respond to this?
First, I’d like to say that I am sure we have all found out how much good information is packed in the small booklet we read for this week, “Critical Thinking: Concepts & Tools” by Richard Paul & Linda Elder. Of course it is a distillation of over thirty years of work in the study of critical thinking, but it was very helpful and engaging. This is definitely a resource that will stay on my desk throughout my studies (and probably for good). Some reflections:
There were places where the authors were summarizing what we just read in Dr. Rowntree’s book about learning to study. Just for the fun of it, I filled in the “Template for Analyzing the Logic of an Article” using chapter 3 of Rowntree’s book. For example: 1) The main purpose of this article (chapter) is – understanding your situation will put you in a position to make better decisions and take action.
…… This template along with the others in the book are very useful tools.
I had a slight moment of unease as I read through the “Essential Intellectual Traits” (pgs. 14,15). It put me in mind of our “chat” with Mary last week. I raised the concern about whether or not it was slightly disingenuous to cite a book (in a paper) that you only read a small portion of. Does the reader get the idea that you read the whole book and trust that you know what you are talking about? More to the point, will the professor be really impressed? Responses from Mary and my colleagues put my mind to rest. (Thank you all!) At this level the important thing is to be sure we give credit to all sources of information. It’s not my responsibility what the reader thinks.
Back to the quotes at the beginning of this post. I really appreciate that the authors have devoted their lives to promoting “essential change in education and society through the cultivation of fairminded critical thinking – thinking which embodies intellectual empathy, intellectual humility, intellectual perseverance, intellectual integrity and intellectual responsibility.” (From “The Critical Thinking Community” website, http://www.criticalthinking.org).
This is a goal worth pursuing. I will keep this important goal in mind throughout the rest of my academic career and beyond.
However, like the former New York city teacher that I quoted above, I am worried that teaching critical thinking skills will be an uphill battle given today’s education in the public schools. Just Google “Education in America” and you will see article after article about the dismal test scores. Why does it matter to us?
We are going to be leaders. We are communicators, preachers, teachers, counselors, ministry directors, and writers. We are all highly educated. We are honing our critical thinking skills. But what about the people that we will be ministering to? They will come with all different levels of learning. How can we use these skills as we do our ministry?
For me specifically, it will involve building critical thinking skills into the curriculum I will be writing. My research problem is – “Why are women still being underutilized in church ministry?” One reason is the lack of teaching in church, from the pulpit or church history books about the women who have done significant things since creation. Briefly, I hope to erase the ignorance by building a curriculum around women in the Bible and history.
I want to involve students in the learning process in my curriculum thereby teaching critical thinking skills at the same time. The handy charts, diagrams, templates, and summaries in this book will be very helpful.
Dr. Elder has written extensively on the subject of critical thinking skills and curriculum. She believes that some blame for the dismal failure in public schools is due to the fact that teaching colleges do not have courses in critical thinking skills, much less courses teaching how to embed them in curriculum. She will be a good resource for me.
One other thing I would like to add – as Christians we have the motivation to learn critical thinking skills. We study to present ourselves “approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). The Critical Thinking Community group has good intentions, but how else will they motivate people besides appealing to their (debatable) desire for a better world? How many people are only concerned with just getting by day to day and don’t have those deep thoughts? For me it will be very important to teach critical thinking with the Bible because we care for, love, and serve one another (Rom. 12:10; Gal. 5:13, 6:2; Eph. 4:2, 32; I Thess. 3:12, 5:11; Heb. 10:24, and many other places).
So, maybe it was a little book, but it was huge for me.