DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Critical Thinking Skills

Written by: on October 20, 2016

Critical Thinking Concepts & Tools, Richard Paul & Linda Elder

“If we want critical societies we must create them.” (Paul and Elder, p. 23)

schools critical thinking“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 critical thinkingThinking: 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,

This is a goal worth pursuing. I will keep this important goal in mind throughout the rest of my academic career and beyond.

unhappy school kidHowever, 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 Dr. Linda Eldercurriculum. 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.




About the Author

Mary Walker

8 responses to “Critical Thinking Skills”

  1. Great post Mary! Yes it is so important to teach and foster spiritual communities that allow for critical thinking to take place. Our faith is tied to critically thinking and struggling with questions each and every day. It is not based on our own understanding but collaboratively with the Holy Spirit. As we discern together with Him we are able to gain a deeper sense of meaning and understanding that we would have otherwise missed.

    Especially when it comes to Scripture it is imperative that we do not just read it literally (although there is nothing inherently wrong with that) but we should read it critically and think through the Purpose of what we are reading. Begin to ask the necessary questions and continue forward in analyzing and evaluating the text.

    I do believe this book is a great resource to have. Despite my early thoughts of dislike, I have grown fond of Elder 🙂

  2. Mary Walker says:

    Thanks for the encouragement, Christal. It seems sort of dangerous to suggest that it’s not ok to read the Bible literally. People get nervous. But there are too many people who claim that they are reading the Bible literally who disagree with others who make the same claim. The answer – you said it -The Holy Spirit. When we come to the Bible HUMBLY and seek God’s wisdom for us He gives it to us. As sisters discussing the Word together we will find ourselves in unity.

  3. Mary your thoughts have drawn us to our spiritual development. Many believers are challenged in reading the Bible as a book because of our early teachings that it should be respected and treated with reverence. This has resulted in believers believing only the Pastor, priest, etc., can understand the Bible.
    I attend a How to Study the Bible class which open my eyes and improved my relationship with God. I shared that thought with my church years ago and I can say this year they have provided a class. Churches need to expand their view to included teaching their congregation how to study the bible a well as teaching them the text.

  4. Jim Sabella says:

    Mary, I enjoyed your post. You make several excellent points. One that stand out to me is when you say, we are leaders, teachers, etc. We are working to be better thinkers.

    “But what about the people that we will be ministering to?”

    What an excellent reminder of why we are doing what we do. In the end, it’s about us, but it’s about other too. May I never lose sight of the fact of why I am studying. Thank you Mary!

  5. Bible plus critical thinking skills- well-said Mary. As a former educator, I can relate to your husband’s plight of not teaching critical thinking skills in education. Such a good point too about Christians learning critical thinking skills. I think we as women would be playing a very different role in the American churches if this was the case. Your research question sounds fabulous! I can’t wait to read your research paper and your curriculum.
    How do you think we teach critical thinking skills to adults who never learned them? This has always been my struggle in working with people who are entrenched in a way of thinking and behaving.

    • mm Katy Lines says:

      You ask a great question, Jennifer. “How do you think we teach critical thinking skills to adults who never learned them?” It seems like the method of critical thinking described and explained by our authors is best suited for classroom or formal teaching. How can we as leaders influence and informally guide adults to think in this way? My hope is that our learning experience in this program will give us some of those tools.

  6. mm Katy Lines says:

    Thanks for reflecting on this, Mary. I’m sure your husband has seen many changes in his tenure in education. Let me offer you a bit of hope for our country’s education standards. My two boys (one recently graduated, one a high school freshman) both attend(ed) English/Language Arts classes in an ordinary public high school where “Socratic Seminars” are the norm. After reading a text, they break into small groups to work on questions (“which character does the author intend for us to sympathize with & why?” “what is the author trying to communicate with us, the readers?” etc). They then discuss these with the larger class. This gives me hope that at least some schools still see value in teaching critical thinking. Now on the other side, as someone who works in a university, I hear my colleagues bemoan the lack of critical thinking in their students. So there’s obviously still a need for teaching it.

    Finally, I love your question about motivation: “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?… For me it will be very important to teach critical thinking with the Bible because we care for, love, and serve one another.” Yes! Thanks for the important reminder.

    • Mary Walker says:

      Thank you for your reply, Katy. I’m really happy for your boys. It is a hopeful sign.
      However I still keep coming across stuff like this from a Philadelphia education article:
      “Less than half (of college students) could identify New York and Ohio on a U.S. map. … The percentage of college grads who can read and interpret a food label has fallen from 40 to 30. They are six times likelier to know who won ‘American Idol’ that the are to know the name of the speaker of the House.”
      Well, I guess it just gives us lots of work to do!!

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