In their book The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking: Concepts and Tools, Dr. Richard Paul and Dr. Linda Elder not only make a case for the need for critical thinking, they give practical tools to help us get there. They offer a great working definition, “Critical thinking is the art of analyzing and evaluating thinking with a view to improving it.” Their frequent use of matrices, such as the one labeled “Universal Intellectual Standards” is very helpful. These matrices or charts give us practical tools to evaluate where we currently are, where we need to be, and how to get there.
As we enter on this journey toward a doctor of ministry degree, there comes the realization that our audience is changing. We are engaging more and more with critical thinkers who will ask the hard questions. We cannot present a problem, an idea, or a solution to a body of critical thinkers unless we first approach the topic critically. This little book will be very helpful in evaluating resources for research and in formulating an academic response. (I wish I had bought the hard copy rather than the Kindle edition).
These practical step-by-step methods of thinking critically based on moving through templates and asking key questions could also be a useful leadership tool. Imagine a decision making board that could process tough issues in a logical way. Frequent practice with the tools presented could help this process become more natural or even second nature. This could be intimidating for a leadership board, but the overall benefits would be huge.
One last thought about Critical Thinking:
The “Three Levels of Thought” listed by Paul and Elder
present a challenge to progressively incorporate critical thinking into our lives. While I agree with this on an intellectual level, might there be a place in which being “selectively critical” is desirable? The danger in critical thinking is that we often lose patience with others who do not think this way. We can even lose the ability to mentally “check-out” and enjoy the parts of life that do not require critical thinking. When I am with critical thinkers, I find that we can approach any topic from a logical, critical point of view and enjoy the process of evaluating the snot out of it and presenting it in a better way. When I am with other people, I need to put critical thinking in the closet and just enjoy the moment. For example, I often find that the only way I can enjoy many popular movies with my wife and daughter is consciously become an “uncritical” thinker. When I begin to evaluate “that which shall not be evaluated”, I become a nuisance.
 Dr. Richard Paul and Dr. Linda Elder, The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking: Concepts and Tools (Foundation for Critical Thinking, 6th ed., 2009. Kindle Edition), Location 41.
 Ibid., Location 96-146.
 Ibid., Location 92