Cultivating Critical Thinking Systematically
In Critical Thinking: Concepts and Tools, Richard Paul and Linda Elder have put together a miniature (and I do mean miniature) guide book that provides some very insightful material for the serious individual striving to be a critical thinker. They define critical thinking as, “the art of analyzing and evaluating thinking with a view to improving it” (Paul and Elder, 2). The onus is on the individual to master this art. The authors inform that critical thinking is, “self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. Since most human thinking is “biased, distorted, partial, uninformed, and prejudiced” the authors indicate that the objective is to make a concerted effort to develop problem solving and communication skills, as well as, to seek to eliminate egocentrism and sociocentrism (Paul and Elder, 2).
The authors make it clear that critical thinking must involve the application of Universal Intellectual Standards to the Elements of Thought in order to ultimately cultivate Essential Intellectual Traits (Paul and Elders, 19). This is a section DMINLGP6 students should especially take note of as we devise our Module Learning Plan and Program Learning Plan, and prepare to embark on the extensive and intensive research this program requires. The authors go to great lengths to spell out the importance of these three aspects in the critical thinking process.
First one must have knowledge of the role of each of the Universal Intellectual Standards before applying them. The standards consist of clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, logic, significance, completeness, and fairness (Paul and Elder, 8-9, 19).
One must also have an understanding of The Elements of Thought processes to which the standards are applied. The thought processes are: purposes=goals and objectives; questions or problems at issue; information=data, facts, reasons, observations, experiences, and evidence; interpretations/inferences=conclusions, and solutions; concepts=theories, definitions, laws, principles, and models; assumptions=presuppositions, axioms, and taking for granted; implications and consequences; and points of view=frames of reference, perspectives, and orientations (Paul and Elder, 3).
One eventually arrives at a stage of critical thinking that incorporates The Essential Intellectual Traits of Humility, Autonomy, Integrity, Courage, Perseverance, Confidence in Reason, Intellectual Empathy, and Fair-mindedness (Paul and Elder, 14-15).
On page six, in “Using the Elements of Thought” in writing a paper etc., the authors pose several questions the writer should ask, most of which I had not considered, even while attempting to propose program learning plans. This really opened my eyes to the complexities and intricacies in producing quality work and how much my analytical and critical thinking skills were wanting. In the plan for my programs I have been so busy trying to come up with an action plan, I never even asked myself the basic questions outlined by the authors. All of which are vital to critical thinking leading to good research. Such as:
“Purpose: What am I trying to accomplish? What is my central aim? My purpose?”
“Question: What questions am I raising? What question am I addressing? Am I considering the complexities in the question?”
“Information: What information am I using in coming to that conclusion? What experience have I had to support this claim? What information do I need to settle the question?”
“Inference/Conclusions: How did I reach this conclusion? Is there another way to interpret the information?”
“Concepts: What is the main idea here? Can I explain this idea?”
“Assumptions: What am I taking for granted? What assumption has led me to that conclusion?”
“Implications/Consequences: If someone accepted my position, what would be the implications? What am I implying?”
“Points of View: From what point of view am I looking at this issue? Is there another point of view I should consider?”
What does the critical thinker look like according to Paul and Elder?
They state, “Critical thinkers are clear as to the purpose at hand and the question at issue. They question information, conclusions, and points of view. They strive to be clear, accurate, precise, and relevant. They gather and assess relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively. They think open-mindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing as need be the assumptions and implications. They come to well reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards” (Paul and Elder, front matter).