Paul and Elder are so passionate (and confident) about their guide for critical thinking skills, they encourage students to “get in the habit of carrying it (A Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking) with you to every class”. The guide is sponsored by the Critical Thinking Foundation which is a “non-profit organization that seeks to promote 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.” Two very practical pieces of information in this guide are the template for problem solving and the guidance for analyzing and assessing research.
The most profound section in the guide, however, is Paul and Elder’s section on “Envisioning Critical Societies”. Having just completed the compilation of resources and the review of them (research topic refugee resettlement in the U.S.) for an annotated bibliography, I’m struck by how much of a critical thinking deficit we (citizens of the U.S.) have in attitudes and behaviors around the refugee population. For example, Paul and Elder discuss the following key attitudes/behaviors as essential in a critical society:
- closed mindedness is systemically discouraged and open-mindedness is systemically encouraged;
- social values must include intellectual integrity, intellectual humility, intellectual empathy, confidence in reason, and intellectual courage;
- children are taught that rights and needs of others are equal to their own; and
- a multi-cultural world view is fostered.
Essentially, “if we want critical societies we must create them”. To be clear, critical societies are not racist, sexist, or homophobic. Critical societies are multi-cultural, open-minded, expert problem solvers. If we are such good critical thinkers in the United States (and I believe the U.S. believes they are), why have we allowed the advocacy, acceptance, and perpetuation of attitudes of prejudice and discrimination towards refugees (and many other races, ethnicities, and cultures)? How can “we” reverse the trajectory of close-mindedness and recognize the value of diversity? As a country that was formed by immigrants and refugees, it’s time to denounce egocentric and sociocentric thinking and expect higher leveling thinking behavior.
Howard Doughty, author of a Review Essay on The Limits of Critical Thinking, is a bit critical of Paul and Elder’s system of critical thinking,
“Official critical thinking, in this framework, merely amounts to a short-hand and rather nebulous version of inductive reasoning. Its only firm point is that no factors (especially those related to power relations among thinkers, and between thinkers and the rest of society) are permitted to intrude into the grammar of inquiry. Their advice is purely formal and procedural. It is a restatement of the scientific method in a manner intended to be applicable to non-scientific problems and accessible in various versions to pupils in grade five and to people pursuing a Ph.D. As a prescription that is supposed to apply to “all thinking,” it is intended to relate equally to moral, aesthetic and interpersonal as well as commercial, botanical and, of course, educational issues. It singularly fails to do so in the former cases, because it is incapable of rendering normative judgments in strictly empirical terms. It is a one-size-fits-all guide to thinking, and it simply doesn’t fit.”
Doughty brings up a fascinating point in his review which discusses the power differential. He believes that critical thinking is just “another form of ideological thinking” with its own set of contradictions. Essentially Doughty does not believe that Paul and Elder’s universal template will work without consideration of the social context – specifically power relations among thinkers, between thinkers and the rest of society. And he may be right… critical thinking and decision making hinges on how those in control choose to interpret and implement socially acceptable decisions.
Doughty’s review makes me question if critical thinking is just a social construct. Social construct, according to dictionary.com is “a social mechanism, phenomenon, or category created and developed by society; a perception of an individual, group, or idea that is ‘constructed’ through cultural or social practice”. Just like the United States creates acceptable social rules and expectations for refugees, stakeholders in power have been creating acceptable social rules for all of us (the choice to accept, fund, and enforce decisions made by critical thinkers who must stay in the social zone for “our” everyday lives) since the inception of this country.
Our challenge as researchers, Christians, and socially conscious individuals is to examine our ability to engage in critical thinking at home, at work, and at school. It’s crucial to question our own socialization and how it impacts our thinking and interpretation of family, community, church, work, and educational policies, interactions, and decisions. After all, it would be an injustice to walk away from reading Paul and Edler’s A Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking without further questioning! Happy thinking!
 Paul, Richard & Linda Elder (2014). A Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking, Concepts and Tools. 7th ed. Thinkers Guide Library.
 Paul, Richard & Linda Elder, A Miniature Guide, 2014
 Paul, Richard & Linda Elder, A Miniature Guide, 2014loc287
 Doughy, Howard A., “Review Essay, The Limits of Critical Thinking”. The Innovation Journal: The Public Sector Innovation Journal, Volume 11(3), 2006, article 11.
 Doughy, Howard A. Review Essay, 2006