|News from the Archives…by Linda Elder|
In 1989, in the program for the Seventh International Conference on Critical Thinking and Education Reform, Richard Paul opened with these comments:
Ironically, humans are not simply the only “logical” animal, they are also the only “illogical” animal. They are the only animal that uses meanings – ideas, concepts, analogies, metaphors, models, theories and explanations – to make sense of things, to understand, predict, and control things. They are also the only animal that uses meanings to negate, contradict, and deceive itself, to misconceive, distort and stereotype, to become dogmatic, prejudiced and narrow-minded. Humans are the only animal whose thinking can be characterized in terms like clear, precise, accurate, relevant, consistent, profound, and fair: they are also the only animal whose thinking is often imprecise, vague, inaccurate, irrelevant, superficial, trivial, and biased.
Critical thinking makes sense in the light of this paradoxical dichotomy. Humans ought not simply trust their instincts. They ought not believe unquestioningly what spontaneously occurs to them. They ought not accept as true everything taught as true. They are not born with intellectually sound standards for belief, for truth, for validity. They need to cultivate habits and traits which integrate these standards into their lives (p. 1).
In the last three decades, much has been discovered about animals and their thinking, including the fact that, seen from a certain light, they are very often quite “logical” in their orientation to the world. Still, Paul’s comments about the dichotomous nature of human thought and action are as relevant today as ever. How do we effectively deal with the fact that on the one hand we can be rational, reasonable creatures while on the other, irrational and unreasonable? One and the same person can be logical, open-minded and empathic in one setting while close-minded, selfish and unreasoning in another. This question has always been at the heart of the work of the Center and Foundation for Critical Thinking.
Throughout the 1980’s, Richard Paul was teaching courses at Sonoma State University as Professor of Philosophy and deepening his understanding of critical thinking and the barriers to the development of human thought. As he worked with an increasing number of teachers and faculty at all levels through his work at the Center for Critical Thinking, he began to see the need for broader outreach. Thus the Center began offering professional development programs in critical thinking and developing materials to help teachers better foster critical thinking in instruction. In 1990, the Center, in conjunction with PBS, developed a video series entitled “Critical Thinking Forum 1990: Educational Reform for the Year 2000 and Beyond.”
The same year, along with his colleagues, Paul developed Critical Thinking Handbooks for all grade levels. And the book that would become a critical thinking classic was published, Richard Paul’s anthology: Critical Thinking: What Every Person Needs to Survive in a Rapidly Changing World. The forward to this book was written by Gerald Nosich. In this forward Nosich says:
What Richard Paul presents us with in this book is a massive, and massively different, vision of what education should be. It is a vision fundamentally different not just from contemporary practice in our schools but from our present-day educational ideal. The breadth of vision, and the specific details of working it out, are what distinguishes Paul’s book from other books either on education or on critical thinking…it is important to see that critical thinking, in Paul’s hands, is not exactly a species of thinking; rather it is a species of living. It is living, in Socrates’ phrase, an examined life, a deeply examined life. To become a critical thinker is not, in the end, to be the same person you are now, only with better abilities; it is, in an important sense, to become a different person (Paul, 1990, p. ii). Readers may be interested to know that Gerald Nosich served as Assistant Director of the Center for Critical Thinking in 1991-92, on sabbatical from the University of New Orleans. Parts of his early book, Reasons and Arguments (1982), was used by Richard Paul in his Sonoma State critical thinking classes in the 1980's. We have some interesting archive audio tapes of Paul’s classes to prove it.
Nosich, G. (1982). Reasons and Arguments. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Paul, R. (1990). Critical Thinking: What Every Person Needs to Survive in a Rapidly Changing World. Rohnert Park, CA: Center for Critical Thinking and Moral Critique.