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Critical Thinking Blog by Drs. Linda Elder and Gerald Nosich



Drs. Linda Elder and Gerald Nosich, Senior Fellows of the Foundation for Critical Thinking, have regularly published new articles, essays, and various musings to The Center for Critical Thinking Community Online since mid-2019. As new entries appear, they will be announced below.

While a few (usually shorter) entries will be posted here in full, most complete posts - which can run multiple pages in length - will be found in the Community Online.



Entries from Previous Years


Entries from 2021

Don’t Be Fooled by the Words People Use: Look Underneath Words to Unspoken Realities - Linda Elder

Sep 08, 2021

We humans tend to have very little understanding of the role words play in how we experience reality. From the beginning of life, we are immersed in words, language, and ideas. For example, parents point to an object or person and say the associated word to the child—this is a chair. This is a spoon. This is Mommy, Daddy, baby, bad, good, nice, mean, ugly, pretty. With these, and many other, words we form beliefs. (“I am good.” “I have the best Mommy and Daddy.” “Some people are bad.” “These kinds of things are ugly or disgusting.”)

Because of our native sociocentricity, we often form our beliefs in accordance with approval or disapproval. We tend to uncritically assume the approved views of society. As we grow and age, we form ideologies, perspectives, and worldviews, based on the words and meanings we put together in our minds in their various configurations. These beliefs, based in words, form the fabric of our minds; they determine how we see the world, the assumptions we formulate, and the theories we use to figure things out.

We often choose words to serve our selfish interests or maintain our sociocentric viewpoint. The concept of doublespeak, which refers to the use of language to deliberately disguise or distort the root meaning of words, colorfully illustrates this point. Consider the following examples:

• The term collateral damage covers up the reality of innocent people being killed during war.

• Children in our country are taught . . .

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Reflections on the Nature of Critical Thinking, Its History, Politics, and Barriers, and on Its Status across the College-University Curriculum Part I (Part 4 of 8)

Sep 01, 2021

This article was published in the Fall 2011 issue of Sonoma State University’s Inquiry: Critical Thinking Across the Disciplines (vol. 26, no. 3) and was titled, “Reflections on the Nature of Critical Thinking, Its History, Politics, and Barriers, and on Its Status across the College/University Curriculum Part I.” (Part II was published in the Spring 2012 issue.) The piece was divided into eight sections:

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • I. My Intellectual Journey
  • II. Barriers to the Cultivation of Critical Thinking
  • III. Forms and Manifestations of Critical Thinking, Mapping the Field
  • IV. The Establishment of the Center and Foundation for Critical Thinking
  • V. Academic Departments, Faculty and Administrators Generally Fail to Foster Critical Thinking
  • VI Conclusion

The fifth of these appears below.

III. Forms and Manifestations of Critical Thinking, Mapping the Field

Philosophers claiming to teach students critical thinking in an authentic way owe the faculty at large a robust and intelligible conception of the diverse forms and manifestations of critical thinking and the manner in which those forms interrelate. With such a conception it becomes possible to account for the unity and diversity of critical thinking studies. Instead of fruitless argumentation as to which approach is “correct,” diversely oriented theoreticians can make clear why they have chosen a given approach.

A. Assessing Frameworks for Thinking Using Six Polarities . . .

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[FULL ENTRY] How Do We Think Critically About the Questions We Face Such as Whether to Get the COVID-19 Vaccination? - Linda Elder

Aug 29, 2021

Critical thinking enables us to reason with skill and responsibility through the issues, problems, and opportunities we face. Critical thinking helps us reason with discipline through significant questions. When we have developed critical thinking skills, abilities and characteristics, we recognize that every question we reason through requires that we achieve intellectual tasks specific to that question. But this is true only if we have internalized the concepts and principles embedded in a rich conception of fairminded critical thinking.

Once we have achieved understanding of a rich concept of critical thinking, and when we are actively committed to critical reasoning, we can effectively reason through questions such as: Should I get the COVID 19 vaccination?

Yet, the question: Should I get the COVID 19 vaccination? has been treated and is being treated by some as a political question. It is also being treated as a question of personal preference or as a question pertaining to one’s individual rights. This question is neither a political question, nor a question of personal preference, nor, fundamentally about individual rights. Instead, it is a scientific question with an important ethical dimension. First, the question calls on us to gather the relevant scientific information needed to determine whether vaccinations significantly diminished the power of COVID19 and hence keep us significantly safer. For this scientific information we must rely upon the best scientific thinking about the vaccination, its benefits and its risks. Unless you are a scientist who specializes in COVID19 vaccinations, you will need to rely on the best expert thinking being done by the scientists who know the most about these vaccinations. Further, because we can easily spread the COVID19 virus without even knowing we are doing so, and because we interact with other humans who may easily contract COVID19 from us should we be carriers, we are ethically obligated to consider how our decision to vaccinate or not may affect others with whom we come into contact. Some naïve or close-minded thinkers have argued that we cannot rely on scientists for guidance because they “keep changing their minds.” A critical thinker recognizes this as a matter of course, when new information is obtained that requires scientific experts to change their minds.

The COVID19 virus should remind us of how intertwined we are as human, one with another. We face a public health crisis and a public health tragedy of tremendous proportions, due to misinformation on COVID19 – both its effects and its vaccinations, and do to the stubborn arrogant nature of the human species. Many will continue to die, primarily according to the principle of the individual’s right to choose. It must be said that, indeed, everyone has a right to die by avoiding that which would keep them alive, but not if that right infringes upon the rights of others to live and to remain healthy. In other words, when our decisions necessarily affect others, we are ethically obligated to consider those others, whether we want to do so or not. Critical reasoning requires it of us. No amount of hiding under the banner of individual rights will stand under such circumstances.

Unfortunately, many humans are either willfully ignorant or fall prey to sociocentrism in following the thinking of those who, though they reason poorly, can effectively convince others of their views.

It is a sad day in the life of humans when we cannot make simple critical thinking moves that would keep us alive and healthy. But this is nothing new. Many people willfully ignore information that would lead them to a higher level of health and well-being. That apparently is their choice, even though it may be costly in medical terms for which we all pay. But when these same people refuse to become inoculated for the common good, to protect not primarily themselves, but to protect everyone, they show themselves to be both narrowminded and callous to the rights and needs of others.

What we need is a world filled with people committed to ethical critical thinking, and who are willing to do the work to become critical thinkers. Our schools, colleges and universities still largely ignore fairminded critical thinking, whatever their rhetoric. Therefore, it is no surprise that many people are swept along by superstition, group think, conspiracy theories and all manner of bizarre ideologies.

Critical thinking theory, which blossomed in earnest in the late 1970’s, offers us many tools for improving our thinking. It is time we take these tools seriously, for the good of all people and all other sentient thinkers.

For more on how to approach questions with discipline, read:

https://community.criticalthinking.org/viewDocument.php?doc=../content/library_for_everyone/52/Thinker__sGuidetotheArtofAskingEssentialQuestions.pdf&page=1


Reflections on the Nature of Critical Thinking, Its History, Politics, and Barriers, and on Its Status across the College/University Curriculum Part I (Part 3 of 8)

Aug 20, 2021

This article was published in the Fall 2011 issue of Sonoma State University’s Inquiry: Critical Thinking Across the Disciplines (vol. 26, no. 3) and was titled, “Reflections on the Nature of Critical Thinking, Its History, Politics, and Barriers, and on Its Status across the College/University Curriculum Part I.” (Part II was published in the Spring 2012 issue.)

The piece, which itself was the first in a two-part series, was divided into eight sections:

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • I. My Intellectual Journey
  • II. Barriers to the Cultivation of Critical Thinking
  • III. Forms and Manifestations of Critical Thinking, Mapping the Field
  • IV. The Establishment of the Center and Foundation for Critical Thinking
  • V. Academic Departments, Faculty and Administrators Generally Fail to Foster Critical Thinking
  • VI Conclusion

The third of these appears below.

 

I. My Intellectual Journey

My journey with critical thinking started some fifty or so years ago when I first began to question my own education or, more accurately, the lack thereof. But it started to crystallize a few years later in graduate school (University of California, Santa Barbara [1962], St. Louis University [1963], UCLA [1964], and the University of Cambridge [1965-66].)

At this time I was reading in such thinkers as Wittgenstein, Ryle, Berlin, J.L. Austin, and John Wisdom. These readings pushed me in the direction of the critique of contemporary analysis of the logic of language, the logic of concepts, and the logic of questions. I began to ask questions like:

What does it take to develop the mind, deeply and truly? Are there inherent flaws and traps in human thought and if so how can we address them? What role does thought play in human life and how can we intervene and correct it when it is going wrong? How can we most effectively assess the role of thought in everyday life? What criteria do we habitually use to assess thinking, and which should we use? How can humans develop intellectual virtues (such as intellectual humility, intellectual empathy, intellectual integrity, intellectual autonomy, intellectual perseverance and fair-mindedness)? How can we overcome those who use critical thinking skills sophistically to serve vested interests at the expense of justice and the public interest?

My year of study under John Wisdom at Cambridge (1965), followed by two years of correspondence with him (principally on the logic of questions) played a significant role in my development. I became convinced that there were, and are, fatal flaws in the present theory of logic focused, as it is, on validity and formal deductive inference. As it is, logic, both formal and informal are inadequate as instrumentalities appropriate to the analysis and assessment of reasoning (and other forms of human thought). The “substance” of reasoning is not focused upon in either. I argued that if we want to use logic to analyze and assess human thinking . . .

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[FULL ENTRY] International Critical Thinking Manifesto - Linda Elder

Aug 18, 2021

The following International Critical Thinking Manifesto represents a culmination of thinking about thinking and its importance in human life throughout the past 60 years or more. It includes standards and guidelines for educators as well as the importance going beyond instruction in critical thinking to actively and explicitly fostering fairminded critical thinking concepts and principles throughout business, government, military, and personal life – across the globe and across human societies.

Here is the manifesto, originally formulated January 25 and revised today, August 18, 2021.

 

History and Philosophy of Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is integral to education and rationality and, as an idea, is traceable, ultimately, to the teaching practices and educational ideals of Socrates. Criticality has played a seminal role in the emergence of academic disciplines and the questions that have given rise to them. Knowledge, in other words, has been discovered and verified by distinguished critical thinkers throughout intellectual, scientific, and technological history. For most of the history, however, of critical thinking, it has been "buried," a conception in practice without an explicit name. In the past forty years, however, critical thinking has undergone something of an awakening, a coming-out, a first major social expression, which could, if taken seriously, signal a turning-point in its history and the future of the human species.

This awakening is correlated with a growing awareness that if education is to produce critical thinkers en masse, if it is to globally cultivate nations of skilled thinkers and innovators rather than a dearth of thinkers amid an army of intellectually unskilled, undisciplined, and uncreative followers, then a renaissance and re-emergence of the idea of critical thinking as integral to the advancement of the human species is necessary. Such a reawakening and recognition began in the later 1930's and then surfaced in various forms in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, reaching its most public expression in the 1980’s and into the present. Nevertheless, despite growing scholarship in critical thinking, and perhaps largely due to the disjointed and fragmented efforts to embody it in educational practice, the educational and social acceptance of critical thinking is still in its infancy, still largely misunderstood, still existing more in stereotype than in substance, more in appearance than reality.

Those who support this critical thinking manifesto are committed to the highest standards of excellence in critical thinking instruction across the curriculum at all levels of education. They are therefore concerned with the proliferation of poorly conceived "thinking skills" programs with their simplistic — often slick — approaches to both thinking and instruction. If critical thinking is ever to genuinely take root in education and among human societies, it is essential that the formidable obstacles to its embodiment be recognized and addressed – namely the problem of egocentric and sociocentric thinking found in all academic fields, every profession, and all parts of human life. 

To this end, sound standards of critical thinking must be made accessible by clear articulation and the means set up for large-scale dissemination of that articulation. The nature and challenge of authentic critical thinking as an educational ideal must not be allowed to sink into the murky background of educational reform, while superficial or ambiguous ideas become its substitute. Critical thinking must assume its proper place at the hub of educational reform and restructuring. Critical thinking — and intellectual and social development generally — are not well-served when educational discussion is inundated with superficial conceptions of critical thinking and facile merchandising of "thinking skills" programs while substantial — and necessarily more challenging conceptions and programs — are thrust aside, obscured, or ignored.

 

Goals of the International Critical Thinking Manifesto:

The goals of the International Critical Thinking Manifesto are as follows:

1) to articulate, preserve, and foster the highest standards of research, scholarship, and instruction in critical thinking,

2) to articulate the standards upon which "quality" thinking is based and the criteria by means of which thinking, and instruction for thinking, can be appropriately cultivated and assessed,

3) to provide the intellectual underpinnings needed to assess programs which claim to foster higher order, critical thinking,

4) to advance fairminded critical thinking across all of education, business, government, military and personal life to eventually achieve fairminded critical societies across the world

 

Founding Principles of the International Critical Thinking Manifesto:

1) There is an intimate interrelation between knowledge and thinking.

2) Knowing that something is so is not simply a matter of believing that it is so, it also entails being justified in that belief. (Definition: knowledge is justified true belief.)

3) There are general as well as domain-specific standards for the assessment of thinking.

4) To achieve knowledge in any domain, it is essential to think critically.

5) Proper criteria for assessing thinking in all domains are based on general standards such as: clarity, precision, accuracy, relevance, significance, fairness, logic, depth, and breadth, and sufficiency. These standards, and others, are embedded, not only in the history of the intellectual and scientific communities, but also in the self-assessing behavior of reasonable persons in everyday life. It is possible to teach all subjects in such a way as to encourage the use of these intellectual standards in both professional and personal life.

6) Instruction in critical thinking should increasingly enable students to assess both their own thought and action and that of others according to essential intellectual standards. Instruction based on critical thinking should lead progressively to a disciplining of the mind and a self-chosen commitment to a life of intellectual and moral integrity.

7) Instruction in all subjects and fields should result in advancing students’ capacities and dispositions to think critically within that domain. Hence, instruction in science should lead to disciplined scientific thinking; instruction in mathematics should lead to disciplined mathematical thinking; instruction in history should lead to disciplined historical thinking; instruction in culture should lead to disciplined cultural thinking, and in a parallel manner in every discipline and domain of learning.

8) Disciplined thinking within any subject and profession entails the capacity on the part of the thinker to recognize, analyze, and assess the basic elements of thought: the purpose or goal of the thinking; the problem or question at issue; the frame of reference or points of view involved; the assumptions that give rise to the thinking; central concepts, ideas, and principles underlying the thinking; evidence, data, or information advanced in support of the reasoning; inferences and conclusions drawn from the information and assumptions; and implications and consequences that follow from the reasoning.

9) Reasoning at the highest level entails embracing, actively working toward, and eventually embodying intellectual virtues such as intellectual humility, intellectual empathy, intellectual integrity, intellectual perseverance, intellectual courage, intellectual autonomy, confidence in reason and fairmindedness.

10) Cultivating fairminded critical societies across the world presupposes actively advancing intellectual virtues and ethical character throughout human populations.

11) Intrinsic barriers to critical thinking, which can be broadly categorized under the terms egocentric and sociocentric thinking function as the greatest set of barriers to the cultivation of fairminded critical thinking and fairminded critical societies, and to learning in any field of study. These barriers exist in multiple forms in all humans, and to varying degrees. They keep us from reaching our potential both individually and as a species and lie at the heart of most problems in teaching and learning, and throughout human life.

12) Critical reading, writing, speaking, and listening are essential modes of learning in all academic fields. To be developed they must be systematically cultivated in a variety of subject domains as well as across disciplines. Each of these modes of learning are successful only to the extent that they entail intellectual discipline guided through critical thought and reflection.

13) The earlier in their lives people learn and develop sensitivity to the principles of sound thought and the intellectual virtues of the fairminded person, the more likely they will develop desirable intellectual character traits that lead to becoming openminded persons responsive to reasonable persuasion.

14) Education — in contrast to training, socialization, and indoctrination — implies a process conducive to critical thought and judgment. It is intrinsically committed to the cultivation of reasonability and rationality.

15) It is imperative that humans now take seriously the explicit tools in fairminded critical thinking - in order to both save the planet from global catastrophe and to deal with all other complex pressing issues we collectively face. This will require business, government, military and instructional leaders to embrace and advance a robust, ethical, integrated and comprehensive conception of critical thinking for the common good (not just for their own, or their country’s interests). Commitment to egalitarianism and good-faith reasoning are essential to the development of the human species.

 

Defining Critical Thinking[1]

Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on intellectual standards that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, depth, breadth, fairness and sufficiency. Critical thinking entails the examination of those structures or elements of thought implicit in all reasoning: purpose, question-at-issue; assumptions; concepts; information; inferences and conclusions; implications and consequences; and the point of view from which the reasoning occurs. Critical thinking deconstructs, defines, and advances all modes of thinking, including: scientific thinking, mathematical thinking, historical thinking, anthropological thinking, economic thinking, ethical thinking, and philosophical thinking. All the best thinkers in every field of study think critically, though not always at an explicit level.

The level of critical thinking of any kind is never wholly consistent in any individual; everyone is subject to, at minimum, episodes of undisciplined or irrational thought. Its quality is therefore typically a matter of degree and dependent on, among other things, the quality and depth of experience in a given domain of thinking or with respect to a particular class of questions. No one is a critical thinker through-and-through, but only to such-and-such a degree, with such-and-such insights and blind spots, subject to such-and-such tendencies towards self-delusion. For this reason, the development of critical thinking skills and dispositions is a life-long endeavor.

Properly conceived, then, critical thinking is self-guided, self-disciplined thinking that attempts to reason fairmindedly at the highest level of quality. People who consistently think critically attempt to live rationally, reasonably, empathetically. They are keenly aware of the inherently flawed nature of human thinking when left unchecked. They strive to diminish the power of their egocentric and sociocentric tendencies. They routinely use critical thinking concepts and principles that enable them to analyze, assess, and improve thinking. They work diligently to personify, throughout all areas of their lives, intellectual virtues, to ultimately become persons who embody critical thinking character. They realize that no matter how skilled they are as thinkers, they can always improve their reasoning abilities and will at times fall prey to mistakes in reasoning, irrationalities, prejudices, biases, distortions, uncritically accepted social rules and taboos, self-interest, and vested interest. They strive to improve the world in whatever ways they can, thereby contributing to a more rational, elevated, egalitarian, society. At the same time, they recognize the complexities inherent in doing so.  They avoid thinking simplistically about complicated issues and strive to appropriately consider the rights and needs of relevant others. They recognize the difficulties in developing as thinkers and commit themselves to life-long practice toward self-improvement. They embody the Socratic principle:  The unexamined life is not worth living.  

 ------

This manifesto was adapted and developed from the original statement and defining articles of the National Council on Excellence in Critical Thinking, 1987, which has yet to become realized in the U.S. or abroad.

The definition in this manifesto was adapted and developed from the 1987 definition of the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking by Richard Paul and Michael Scriven and presented at the 8th Annual International Conference on Critical Thinking and Education Reform, summer 1987, as well as the brief conceptualization of critical thinking by Linda Elder – both of which can be found at https://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/defining-critical-thinking/766)


[FULL ENTRY] Watch This Series: The Last Bastion - Linda Elder

Aug 09, 2021

If you want a glimpse into the struggle for Peru’s independence during the period from 1780 to 1824, and improve your understanding of Latin American history, I recommend the Netflix series The Last Bastion. This series will heighten your cultural awareness of Peru and help you visualize what it may have been like to live during that time, as Spanish rule was on the decline and independence was budding.

You can read a brief review of the series here.

See the series here.


How Well Do You Think Through Implications? - Linda Elder

Jul 25, 2021

All thinking has an internal dynamic. It leads somewhere and, when acted upon, has consequences. You can’t be a critical thinker if you are insensitive to the many implications inherent in your thinking. Likewise, you can’t be a critical thinker if you ignore the consequences in your life that follow from the thinking that is driving your thinking. Focus on where your thinking is leading you.

What are some important consequences of…

• …the food you eat (and the food you don’t eat)?

• …the amount of exercise you do?

• …how you spend your time?

• …the emotions you feed and those you ignore?

• …fear, anger, envy, and jealousy in your life?

When you consider the implications of what you might do before you do it, you explicitly choose (insofar as you can) the consequences that happen when you act. Some people simply don’t imagine what will or might follow when they act on a decision they have made. They smoke cigarettes but are unprepared for lung problems. They don’t exercise but are unprepared for muscle deterioration. They don’t actively develop their minds but are unprepared for the increasing inflexibility and close-mindedness that come with aging when one fails to do this. They don’t realize that everything they do has implications. They don’t realize that it is possible to make a habit of thinking through the implications of decisions before acting, and thus learn to act more wisely, to live more rationally. Critical, reflective thinkers actively consider the implications of their actions before acting and modify their behavior accordingly (before they experience negative consequences).

Not only are there implications for your decisions, but implications are embedded in what you say, in the words you decide to use. That is, the way you use language implies specific things. For example . . .

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To What Extent Do You Fall Prey to Common Sociocentric Pathological Tendencies? - Linda Elder

Jul 14, 2021

There are multiple interrelated sociocentric dispositions that emerge out of or connect with egocentric tendencies (sociocentricity is focused on getting the most for "our group" while egocentric thinking is focused on getting the most for oneself - both sets of tendencies occur without regard to the rights and needs of others). All of us, insofar as we are sociocentric, embody the following pathological dispositions (as well as others that would cluster with them). Critical thinkers are keenly aware of these tendencies and consistently seek to counter them with fairminded reasoning. As you read through these dispositions, ask yourself whether you recognize them as processes that take place regularly in your own mind (if you conclude “not me!”—think again):

sociocentric memory: the natural group tendency to “forget” evidence and information that does not support their thinking, and to “remember” evidence and information that does.

sociocentric myopia: the natural group tendency to think in an absolutist way within a narrow “groupish” viewpoint.

sociocentric righteousness: the natural group tendency to feel that “our group” is superior in light of our confidence that “we” inherently possess the truth.

sociocentric hypocrisy: the natural group tendency to ignore flagrant inconsistencies between what a group professes to believe and the actual beliefs implied by its members’ collective behavior, or between the standards to which they hold their group members and those to which they expect other groups to adhere.

sociocentric oversimplification: the natural group tendency to ignore real and important complexities in the world in favor of simplistic, group-interested notions when consideration of those complexities would require the group to modify its beliefs or values.

sociocentric blindness: the natural group tendency not to notice facts and evidence that contradict the group’s favored beliefs or values.

sociocentric immediacy: the natural group tendency to over-generalize immediate group feelings and experiences so that when one significant event, (or a few such events), is experienced by the group as highly favorable or unfavorable, this feeling is generalized to the group’s overall outlook on the world (or view of other groups).

sociocentric absurdity: the natural group tendency to fail to notice group thinking that has “absurd” consequences or implications.

Sociocentric Pathological Tendencies Can Be Challenged

It is not enough to recognize abstractly that the human mind has predictable sociocentric pathologies. If we want to live rational lives and create rational societies, we must take concrete steps to correct these pathologies. Routinely identifying these tendencies in action needs to become habitual for us. Those who take . . .

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Freedom and the Colleges - Linda Elder

Jul 07, 2021

In the past decade or more, in the United States, there has been increasing movement toward political correctness in the classroom and a trampling of freedom of speech. In a powerfully written article originally published in May 1940, Bertrand Russell addresses the concept of academic freedom and discusses it’s important to education. The basic argument Russell makes in this article is relevant to a rich conception of education, and is still largely ignored in education across the board.

Russell says:

The essence of academic freedom is that teachers should be chosen for their expertise in the subjects they are to teach and that the judges of this expertness should be other experts… University teachers are supposed to be men with special knowledge and special training such as should fit them to approach controversial questions in a manner peculiarly likely to throw light upon them. To decree that they are to be silent upon controversial issues is to deprive the community of the benefit which it might derive from their training in impartiality…

Over a wide field criticism is permitted, but where it is felt to be really dangerous, some form of punishment is apt to befall its author.

The principle of liberal democracy, which inspired the founders of the American Constitution, was that controversial questions should be decided by argument rather than by force. . . .

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12 Angry Men and the Nature of Prejudice - Linda Elder

Jun 29, 2021

There is a considerable amount of talk today about the problem of prejudice and bias – especially in terms of the police and within politics. But prejudice is an intrinsic part of the workings of the human mind. Everyone is prejudiced; everyone is biased according to her or his assumptions, concepts, and perspectives. Everyone prejudges situations according to their own (usually unconscious) partialities and predispositions. This will not change substantially until we take the workings of the human mind seriously and until we each see ourselves as biased (rather than pointing to others as the ones being partial). In other words, each of us needs . . .

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[FULL ENTRY] An Introduction to Media Bias and Political Propaganda for Students - Dr. Linda Elder

Jun 20, 2021

I was recently interviewed about our new release: Fact Over Fake: A Critical Thinker's Guide to Media Bias and Propaganda. This interview was conducted by instructor Cale Cohen for her students at York University in Canada. Here is a link to the video, which introduces the book to students.

You may find a partial copy of the book at this link in our community.

For a full copy of the book, by Richard Paul and Linda Eldaer (2020) see:
https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781538143940/Fact-over-Fake-A-Critical-Thinker%27s-Guide-to-Media-Bias-and-Political-Propaganda


David Attenborough... A Life on Our Planet - Linda Elder

Jun 13, 2021

If you have not seen this documentary, I urge you to view it: A Life on Our Planet by David Attenborough, which you can find here.

In this video, Attenborough, long-time nature historian (now 95 years old) who has traveled the world over many decades studying animals and their relationship with our planet, briefly details some of the sad and appalling implications resulting from human destruction of the earth over his lifetime. He paints a bleak outlook for our future, and that of our children, if we fail to urgently move to a green lifestyle and green economy; but he also gives us reason to hope, through suggestions for immediate action and by illuminating some few sustainable practices already being successfully implemented in different parts of the world.

To realize a future without catastrophe for humans and other species . . .

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Critical Societies Entail at Least Six Hallmarks - Linda Elder

Jun 03, 2021

It is fairly easy, if we look around us, to see many irrational ways of thinking and living in everyday life. What is more difficult is to envision rational, elevated, lucid ways of living - as we lack examples in mainstream media, videography and literature.

In my book, Liberating the Mind, I detail six hallmarks of a critical society. Critical societies will develop only to the extent that these dimensions are present. Each overlaps with, and illuminates, all the others. As you read through this list, ask yourself: To what degree do I, or do the groups to which I belong, embody these principles? To what degree do our schools, colleges, universities, businesses, government agencies, police forces, military and intelligence organizations, or indeed larger societies embrace and advance these principles?

1. Critical thinking is highly valued when people in the culture:

  • see critical thinking as essential to living reasonably, rationally, and fruitfully.
  • come to understand, from an early age, that, generally speaking, the development of their thinking takes precedence over their development in every other skill area, because the quality of every part of their life, and their ability to live peacefully with other people, depends on the quality of their thinking.
  • continue to develop the skills, abilities, and traits of the disciplined mind throughout life.
  • understand that the development of critical thinking occurs in stages and in accordance with one’s level of commitment and willingness to practice.
  • are committed to becoming increasingly more skilled at fairminded critical thinking over time.
  • recognize the importance of all people in societies learning to think critically, and work together to help one another develop intellectually.

2. The problematics in thinking are an abiding concern when people in the culture:

  • recognize that everyone falls prey to mistakes in thinking, and therefore are constantly on the lookout for problems in their own thinking . . .

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Reflections on the Nature of Critical Thinking, Its History, Politics, and Barriers, and on Its Status across the College/University Curriculum Part I (Parts 1 & 2 of 8) - Richard Paul Archives

May 27, 2021

This article was published in the Fall 2011 issue of Sonoma State University’s Inquiry: Critical Thinking Across the Disciplines (vol. 26, no. 3) and was titled, “Reflections on the Nature of Critical Thinking, Its History, Politics, and Barriers, and on Its Status across the College/University Curriculum Part I.” (Part II was published in the Spring 2012 issue.)

The piece was divided into eight sections:

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • I. My Intellectual Journey
  • II. Barriers to the Cultivation of Critical Thinking
  • III. Forms and Manifestations of Critical Thinking, Mapping the Field
  • IV. The Establishment of the Center and Foundation for Critical Thinking
  • V. Academic Departments, Faculty and Administrators Generally Fail to Foster Critical Thinking
  • VI Conclusion

The first and second of these appear below.

 

Abstract

This paper is a response to INQUIRY editor Frank Fair’s invitation to me to write a reflective piece that sheds light on my involvement in the field of Critical Thinking Studies (some 35 years). My response is in two parts. The two parts together might be called “Reflections on the nature of critical thinking and on its status across the college/university curriculum.” The parts together have been written with a long term and large-scale end in view. If successful the two parts will shed light on why the critical thinking movement has not yet contributed significantly to human emancipation or to more just and fair-minded communities (world wide). It will also present some strategies for making such a contribution. . . .

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To Discipline and Improve Your Thinking, Learn to Ask Deep Questions on a Daily Basis - Linda Elder

May 21, 2021

“‘How do you know so much about everything?’ was asked of a very wise and intelligent man; and the answer was, ‘By never being afraid or ashamed to ask questions as to anything of which I was ignorant.’” —J. Abbott


Thinking is driven by questions. The quality of your questions determines the quality of your thinking. Superficial questions lead to superficial thinking. Deep questions lead to deep thinking. Insightful. questions lead to insightful thinking. Creative questions lead to creative thinking. Further, questions determine the intellectual tasks required of you—if you are to answer them sufficiently. For example, the question “Are there any apples in the refrigerator?” implies that, to answer the question, you need to look in the refrigerator and count the apples there. The question “What is the best way to parent in this situation?” calls on you to think about the concept of parenting, to think about the specific parenting issues you are facing at the moment, and to think about the options available to you. Thus, questions lay out different, but specific, tasks for the mind to work through.

Good thinkers routinely ask questions to understand and effectively deal with the world around them. They question the status quo. They know that things are often different from how they are presented. Their questions penetrate images, masks, fronts, and propaganda. Their questions bring clarity and precision to the problems they face. Their questions bring discipline to their thinking. Their questions show that they do not necessarily accept the world as it is presented to them. They go beyond superficial or “loaded” questions. Their questions help them solve their problems and make better decisions.

When you become a student of questions, you learn to . . .

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Critical Thinking and the State of Education Today (Part 8 of 8 - “Conclusion”) - Richard Paul Archives

May 17, 2021

This article was published in the Winter 1996 issue of Sonoma State University’s Inquiry: Critical Thinking Across the Disciplines (vol. 16, no. 2) and was titled, “Critical Thinking and the State of Education Today.” The piece was divided into eight sections:

  • “Understanding Substantive Critical Thinking / Avoiding the Growing List of Counterfeits”
  • “No One Definition But A Common Core of Meaning”
  • “A Brief History of the Idea of Critical Thinking”
  • “The State of the Field Today: Three Waves of Research, With Little Sense of History”
  • “The First Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice / 1970-1996 / Formal & Informal Logic Courses”
  • “The Second Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice / 1980-1996 / Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum Across the Grades”
  • “The Third Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice / 1985- / Depth & Comprehensiveness in Theory & Practice”
  • “Conclusion”

The eighth, and last, of these sections appear below.

 

Conclusion

Though it is now generally recognized that the art of thinking critically is a major missing link in education today, and that effective communication and problem-solving skills, as well as mastery of content require critical thinking; and though it is now generally conceded that the ability to think critically becomes more and more important to success in life as the pace of change continues to accelerate and as complexity and interdependence continue to intensify; and though it is also generally understood that some major changes in instruction will have to take place to shift the overarching emphasis of student learning from rote memorization to effective critical thinking (as the primary tool of learning) – it does not follow that university educators are well informed about the core meaning of critical thinking, nor even (ironically) that all of those working in the field of critical thinking studies have a clear sense of the core concept or of its history.

In fact, if my analysis and perspective are sound, the last 30 or so years of research into critical thinking is quite "imperfect" and reflects a very basic need which has not yet been significantly recognized or taken up by the bulk of those involved in research . . .

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[FULL ENTRY] How to Use Critical Thinking to Detect News Bias & Political Propaganda - Linda Elder

May 12, 2021

I was recently interviewed by Alison Morrow about our recently revised book, now titled: Fact Over Fake: A Critical Thinker's Guide to Detecting Media Bias and Political Propaganda. I encourage you to listen to the interview and provide feedback and your thoughts on the interview. Here is the link:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMPjaU56tbY&t=44s

You can read about the book at this link.


Critical Thinking and the State of Education Today (Part 7 of 8 - “The Third Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice; 1985-: Depth & Comprehensiveness in Theory & Practice”) - Richard Paul Archives

May 03, 2021

This article was published in the Winter 1996 issue of Sonoma State University’s Inquiry: Critical Thinking Across the Disciplines (vol. 16, no. 2) and was titled, “Critical Thinking and the State of Education Today.” The piece was divided into eight sections:

  • “Understanding Substantive Critical Thinking / Avoiding the Growing List of Counterfeits”
  • “No One Definition But A Common Core of Meaning”
  • “A Brief History of the Idea of Critical Thinking”
  • “The State of the Field Today: Three Waves of Research, With Little Sense of History”
  • “The First Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice / 1970-1996 / Formal & Informal Logic Courses”
  • “The Second Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice / 1980-1996 / Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum Across the Grades”
  • “The Third Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice / 1985- / Depth & Comprehensiveness in Theory & Practice”
  • “Conclusion”

The seventh of these sections appear below.

Third Wave Research Concerns:

  • integrating the insights of first and second wave research
  • developing a theory of critical thinking that is rigorous and comprehensive
  • explicating intellectual standards that have general application both within and beyond academic environments
  • accounting for the appropriate role of emotion and values in thinking
  • understanding the leading role of thinking in the shaping of emotion and behavior
  • integrating the empirical work of cognitive psychology into critical thinking theory
  • establishing common denominator principles and standards within the field of critical thinking research and practice
  • developing effective assessment tools
  • identifying and critiquing pseudo-critical thinking models and programs

The third wave of critical thinking research and practice is only just now beginning to emerge. As yet there are few who see clearly the enormity of the task which the field faces. The success of the third wave can be achieved only with a growing recognition of the strengths and weaknesses of the first two waves. First wave research needs to bring its rigor and depth into a broader complex of concerns. Second wave research needs to integrate rigor and depth into its comprehensiveness. Theories of teaching and learning (based on theories of thinking, emotion, and action) need to be carefully integrated.

The field needs a comprehensive theory of thinking and critical thinking. It needs a . . .

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Critical Thinking and Self-Actualization - Linda Elder

Apr 27, 2021

The concept of self-actualization is rarely used today, but it is a concept worth considering if you are to take command of your mind and achieve the highest level of self-fulfillment. In the 1940s, Abraham Maslow conducted his own private study of individuals (personal acquaintances and friends, public and historical figures) as well one college student who fit his criteria. In 1956 (Moustakas Ed.), in a chapter entitled Self-Actualizing People: A Study of Psychological Health, Maslow, who is at that time attempting to develop a rich conception of people who are self-actualized, says, “for the purposes of this discussion, it [self-actualization] may be loosely described as the full use and the exploitation of talents, capacities, potentialities, etc. Such people seem to be fulfilling themselves and to be doing the best that they are capable of doing . . . all subjects felt safe and unanxious, accepted, loved and loving, respectworthy and respected… (pp. 161-162).” From his studies, Maslow suggests that self-actualizing people embody the following characteristics:

  • “an unusual ability to detect the spurious, the fake, and the dishonest in personality and, in general, to judge people correctly and efficiently (p. 165).”
  • “In art and music, in things of the intellect, in scientific matters, in politics and public affairs, they seemed as a group to be able to see concealed or confused realities more swiftly and more correctly then others (p. 165).”
  • “A superior ability to reason, to perceive the truth, to come to logical conclusions and to be cognitively efficient, in general (p. 166).”
  • “distinguish far more easily than most the fresh, concrete, and idiosyncratic from the generic, abstract, and ‘rubricized.’ The consequence is that they live more in the real world of nature than in the man–made set of concepts, expectations, beliefs, and stereotypes which most people confuse with the real world. They are therefore more apt to perceive what is ‘there’ rather than their own wishes, hopes, fears, anxieties, their own theories and beliefs, or those of their culture or group (p. 166).”
  • “are uniformly unthreatened and unfrightened by the unknown, being therein quite different from average men. They accept it, are comfortable with it, and, often are even more attracted by it than by the known… they can tolerate the ambiguous (p. 167).”
  • “Since for healthy people the unknown is not frightening, they do not have to spend any time laying the ghost, whistling past the cemetery, or otherwise protecting themselves against imagined dangers (p. 167).”
  • “They do not neglect the unknown, or deny it, or run away from it, or try to make believe it is really known . . .

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Critical Thinking and the State of Education Today (Part 6 of 8: “The Second Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice; 1980-1996 - Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum Across the Grades”) - Richard Paul Archives

Apr 19, 2021

This article was published in the Winter 1996 issue of Sonoma State University’s Inquiry: Critical Thinking Across the Disciplines (vol. 16, no. 2) and was titled, “Critical Thinking and the State of Education Today.” The piece was divided into eight sections:

  • “Understanding Substantive Critical Thinking / Avoiding the Growing List of Counterfeits”
  • “No One Definition But A Common Core of Meaning”
  • “A Brief History of the Idea of Critical Thinking”
  • “The State of the Field Today: Three Waves of Research, With Little Sense of History”
  • “The First Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice / 1970-1996 / Formal & Informal Logic Courses”
  • “The Second Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice / 1980-1996 / Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum Across the Grades”
  • “The Third Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice / 1985- / Depth & Comprehensiveness in Theory & Practice”
  • “Conclusion”

The sixth of these sections appears below.

 

Second Wave Research Concerns:

  • The development of a model for teaching critical thinking at some educational level or within some particular subject
  • The development of a theory of critical thinking within a given domain or subject
  • Exploration of the relation of critical thinking to emotion
  • Exploration of the relation of critical thinking to the media
  • Exploration of the relation of critical thinking to problem-solving
  • Exploration of the relation of critical thinking to creative thinking
  • Exploration of .the relation of critical thinking to sound business organization and management
  • Exploration of the relation of critical thinking to parenting
  • Exploration of the relation of critical thinking to political and ideological agendas
  • Research in cognitive psychology

The second wave of critical thinking research and practice began when increasing numbers of educators and administrators began to recognize that one course in critical thinking at the college level does not a critical thinker make. The problem for these reformers was transformed from How should one design an isolated critical thinking course for college students?" to “How can critical thinking be integrated into instruction across all subjects and all grade levels?"; from “What is informal logic, reasoning, and argumentation?" to “What is the role of emotion – or intuition or culture or gender or problem – solving or creative thinking or political and ideological positioning-in thinking?"

Unfortunately, many second wave reformers were not at all clear on how to integrate critical thinking into instruction across the curriculum or across grade levels. The concept of informal logic which had been developed in and for critical thinking and informal logic courses did not translate readily into the “logic” of the disciplines, let alone into the "logic" of everyday life. For, though informal logicians were often clear and rigorous in the development of theory, the theory they developed was narrowly conceived. In other words, most informal logicians have never seriously considered the challenge of developing a theory of critical thinking adequate for the teaching of all subjects across all grade levels. Informal logic was not conceived as applicable to virtually all human contexts. The theory of the informal logician remained the theory of a specialist thinking and writing for other specialists (about a subject of relatively narrow scope). It was not the thinking of a comprehensive educational thinker writing for educational reformers. It was not the thinking of a comprehensive mind considering broad and comprehensive problems.

From a third wave perspective, an adequate account of informal logic and critical thinking must shed significant light on the logic of everyday thinking as well as on the logic of . . .

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Develop Your Ability to Be Reasonable - Linda Elder

Apr 16, 2021

A hallmark of the critical thinker is the disposition to change her or his mind when given a good reason to change. Good thinkers want to change their thinking when they discover better thinking. In other words, they can and want to be moved by reason.

Yet, comparatively few people are reasonable in the full sense of the word. Few are willing to change their minds once set. Few are willing to suspend their beliefs to hear the views of those with whom they disagree. This is true because the human mind is not naturally reasonable. Reasonability, if it is to develop in the mind to any significant degree, must be actively fostered in the mind by the mind.

Although we routinely make inferences or come to conclusions, we don’t necessarily do so reasonably. Yet we typically see our conclusions as reasonable. We then want to stick to our conclusions without regard for their justification or plausibility. The mind typically decides whether to accept or reject a viewpoint or argument based on whether it already believes it. To put it another way, the mind is not naturally malleable. Rather, it is, by nature, rigid. People often shut out good reasons readily available to them. We often refuse to hear arguments that are perfectly reasonable (when those reasons contradict what we already believe).

To become more reasonable, open your mind to the possibility, at any given moment, that you might be wrong and another person might be right. Be willing to change your mind when the situation or evidence requires it. Recognize that you don’t lose anything by admitting you are wrong; rather, you gain in intellectual development.

Be on the lookout for…

…reasonable and unreasonable behaviors—yours and others’. Notice when you are unwilling to listen to the reasoned views of others, when you are unwilling to modify your views even when . . .

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Critical Thinking and the State of Education Today (Part 5 of 8 - “The First Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice; 1970-1996 - Formal & Informal Logic Courses”) - Richard Paul Archives

Apr 06, 2021

This article was published in the Winter 1996 issue of Sonoma State University’s Inquiry: Critical Thinking Across the Disciplines (vol. 16, no. 2) and was titled, “Critical Thinking and the State of Education Today.” The piece was divided into eight sections:

  • “Understanding Substantive Critical Thinking / Avoiding the Growing List of Counterfeits”
  • “No One Definition But A Common Core of Meaning”
  • “A Brief History of the Idea of Critical Thinking”
  • “The State of the Field Today: Three Waves of Research, With Little Sense of History”
  • “The First Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice / 1970-1996 / Formal & Informal Logic Courses”
  • “The Second Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice / 1980-1996 / Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum Across the Grades”
  • “The Third Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice / 1985- / Depth & Comprehensiveness in Theory & Practice”
  • “Conclusion”

The fifth of these sections appears below.

First Wave Research Concerns:

  • The design of individual courses in critical thinking or informal logic
  • The critique of formal logic as a tool for the analysis and assessment of "real world" reasoning and argumentation
  • The development of theories of fallacies in thought
  • The development of theories of informal logic, reasoning, persuasion, rhetoric, and argumentation, etc.
  • The exploration of philosophical issues raised by theories developed to account for informal logic, reasoning, and argumentation

In the first wave of critical thinking practice, the dominant paradigm came from philosophy and logic and the dominant educational manifestation was a formal or informal logic course. The idea was to establish a basic course in critical thinking which would provide entering freshmen with the foundational intellectual skills they need to be successful in college work. Almost from the beginning, however, there was a contradiction between the concerns and ideals that gave rise to the theory and practice and actual classroom practice. The ideals were broad and ambitious. The practice was narrow and of limited success.

For example, the State College and University System of California defined the goals of the critical thinking graduation requirement as follows:

Instruction in critical thinking is to be designed to achieve an understanding of the relationship of language to logic, which should lead to the ability to analyze, criticize, and advocate ideas, to reason inductively and deductively, and to reach factual or judgmental conclusions based on sound inferences drawn from unambiguous statements of knowledge or belief. The minimal competence to be expected at the successful conclusion of instruction in critical thinking should be the ability to distinguish fact from judgment, belief from knowledge, and skills in elementary inductive and deductive processes, including an understanding of the formal and informal fallacies of language and thought.

On the one hand, we have a global comprehensive goal and on the other hand a fairly narrow and specialized way to meet that goal. Students do not . . .

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Bertrand Russell on the Functions of a Teacher - Linda Elder

Apr 04, 2021

In his book Unpopular Essays, Bertrand Russell has a paper entitled The Functions of a Teacher. This essay should be essential reading for all teachers, administrators and students of education. The essay, originally published in 1950, among other things, illuminates the importance of teachers expanding the mind of the student, and developing the emotional and ethical dimension of their lives. As you see from this passage, Russell sees teachers as caretakers of civilization, which is at the highest level of responsibility in a society:

Teachers are more than any other class the guardians of civilisation. They should be intimately aware of what civilisation is, and desirous of imparting a civilised attitude to their pupils. We are thus brought to this question: what constitutes a civilized community?...

A country is civilized if it has much machinery, many motorcars, many bathrooms and a great deal of rapid locomotion. To these things, in my opinion most modern men attach much too much importance. Civilization, in the more important sense, is a thing of the mind… it is a matter partly of knowledge, partly of emotion. So far as knowledge is concerned, a man should be aware of the minuteness of himself and his immediate environment in relation to the world in time and space. He should see his own country not only at home, but as one among the countries of the world, all with an equal right to live and think and feel. He should see his own age in relation to the past and the future, and be aware that its own controversies will seem as strange to future ages as those of the past seem to us now… on the side of the emotions, a very similar enlargement from the purely personal is needed if a man is to be truly civilized. Men passed from birth to death, sometimes happy, sometimes unhappy; sometimes generous, sometimes grasping and petty; sometimes heroic, sometimes cowardly and servile. To the man who views the procession as a whole, certain things stand out as worthy of admiration. . . .

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Critical Thinking and the State of Education Today (Part 4 of 8 - “The State of the Field Today: Three Waves of Research, With Little Sense of History”) - Richard Paul Archives

Mar 25, 2021

This article was published in the Winter 1996 issue of Sonoma State University’s Inquiry: Critical Thinking Across the Disciplines (vol. 16, no. 2) and was titled, “Critical Thinking and the State of Education Today.” The piece was divided into eight sections:

  • “Understanding Substantive Critical Thinking / Avoiding the Growing List of Counterfeits”
  • “No One Definition But A Common Core of Meaning”
  • “A Brief History of the Idea of Critical Thinking”
  • “The State of the Field Today: Three Waves of Research, With Little Sense of History”
  • “The First Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice / 1970-1996 / Formal & Informal Logic Courses
  • “The Second Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice / 1980-1996 / Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum Across the Grades”
  • “The Third Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice / 1985- / Depth & Comprehensiveness in Theory & Practice”
  • “Conclusion”

The fourth of these sections appears below.

 

Though it is possible to trace a common core of meaning reflected in a rich history of the concept of critical thinking, it does not follow that most of those working in the field are now aware of that history or work with a keen sense of the core meaning of the term (as reflected in that history). In fact, recent history of work in the field suggests that there is a significant level of theoretical “confusion" resulting from the fact that so many scholars working on the concept function independently of each other in multiple disciplines without any unifying agenda or common awareness of the history of the concept.

Part of the reason for this is that critical thinking studies is not a distinctive recognized academic field and hence lacks the discipline-based continuity of such a tradition. The result of recent research in the last 36 years is therefore diffuse rather than centered. Many working on the concept are working on it in a partial way, often heavily influenced in their analysis by their own academic discipline or background.

It goes without saying that insights into how the human mind can “malfunction" intellectually can come from many different sources or fields. Documentation of the problem of cultural bias, for example, is more likely to come from the research of cultural anthropologists than from parasitologists or neurologists. Documentation of the problem of self-deception in human thought is more likely to come from depth psychologists than from, say, physicists. A problem results, of course, when an insight into one problem of human thought is treated as if it were the sole problem for critical thinking to solve. The field of critical thinking studies suffers from the natural tendency of those in all disciplines to treat critical thinking in terms of the insights of their home discipline, failing thereby to do justice to its interdisciplinary meaning and power. This is reflected in the last 30 years or so of research. Let's review those years since the early 70's, in which there are three discernable waves of research into critical thinking.

The three waves represent, in essence, different research agendas and point to different emphases in application. Each wave has its committed adherents, and each therefore represents an important choice influencing future work in the field. The third wave, as I conceptualize it, represents a very recent movement in the field, and, if it takes root, will perform a synthesizing function, integrating the most basic insights of the first two waves and transforming the field into one which is much more historical and conceptually broad than it is at present. But I am getting ahead of myself. I shall summarize these three waves in outline, and then deal with them in more detail.

The first wave of the last 30 years of critical thinking studies is based on a focus on . . .

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Clarify Your Thinking - Linda Elder

Mar 24, 2021

Our own thinking usually seems clear to us, even when it is not. Vague, ambiguous, muddled, deceptive, or misleading thinking are significant problems in human life. If you are to develop as a thinker, you must learn the art of clarifying your thinking—of pinning it down, spelling it out, and giving it a specific meaning. Here’s what you can do to begin. When people explain things to you, summarize in your own words what you think they said. When you cannot do this to their satisfaction, you don’t truly understand what they said. When they cannot summarize to your satisfaction what you have said, they don’t truly understand what you said. Try it. See what happens.

As you work to clarify your thinking, be on the lookout for…

…vague, fuzzy, blurred thinking—thinking that may sound good but doesn’t actually say anything. Try to figure out the real meaning of what people are saying. Compare what people say with what they might really mean. Try to figure out the real meaning of important news stories. Explain your understanding of an issue to someone else to help clarify it in your own mind. Practice summarizing in your own words what others say. Then ask them if you understood them correctly. Be careful to neither agree nor disagree with what anyone says until you (clearly) understand what he or she is saying.

 

Strategies for clarifying your thinking:

To improve your ability to clarify your thinking (in your own mind, when speaking to others, or when writing, for example), use this basic strategy . . .

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Critical Thinking and the State of Education Today (Part 3 of 8 - “A Brief History of the Idea of Critical Thinking”) - Richard Paul Archives

Mar 16, 2021

This article was published in the Winter 1996 issue of Sonoma State University’s Inquiry: Critical Thinking Across the Disciplines (vol. 16, no. 2) and was titled, “Critical Thinking and the State of Education Today.” The piece was divided into eight sections:

  • “Understanding Substantive Critical Thinking / Avoiding the Growing List of Counterfeits”
  • “No One Definition But A Common Core of Meaning”
  • “A Brief History of the Idea of Critical Thinking”
  • “The State of the Field Today: Three Waves of Research, With Little Sense of History”
  • “The First Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice / 1970-1996 / Formal & Informal Logic Courses
  • “The Second Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice / 1980-1996 / Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum Across the Grades”
  • “The Third Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice / 1985- / Depth & Comprehensiveness in Theory & Practice”
  • “Conclusion”

The third of these sections appears below.

 

The intellectual roots of critical thinking are as ancient as its etymology, traceable, ultimately, to the teaching practice and vision of Socrates 2,400 years ago who discovered by a method of probing questioning that people could not rationally justify their confident claims to knowledge. Confused meanings, inadequate evidence, or self-contradictory beliefs often lurked beneath smooth but largely empty rhetoric. Socrates established the fact that one cannot depend upon those in “authority" to have sound knowledge and insight. He demonstrated that persons may have power and high position and yet be deeply confused and irrational. He established the importance of asking deep questions that probe profoundly into thinking before we accept ideas as worthy of belief. He established the importance of seeking evidence, closely examining reasoning and assumptions, analyzing basic concepts, and tracing out implications not only of what is said but of what is done as well. His method of questioning is now known as “Socratic questioning" and is the best known critical thinking teaching strategy. In his mode of questioning, Socrates highlighted the need in thinking for clarity and logical consistency.

Socrates set the agenda for the tradition of critical thinking, namely: to reflectively question common beliefs and explanations, carefully distinguishing those beliefs that are reasonable and logical from those which – however appealing they may be to our native egocentrism, however much they serve our vested interests, however comfortable or comforting they may be – lack adequate evidence or rational foundation to warrant our belief.

Socrates' practice was followed by the critical thinking of Plato (who recorded Socrates' thought), Aristotle, and the Greek skeptics, all of whom emphasized that things are often very different from what they appear to be and that only the trained mind is prepared to see through the way things look to us on the surface (delusive appearances) to the way they really are beneath the surface (the deeper realities of life). From this ancient Greek tradition emerged the need, for anyone who aspired to understand the deeper realities, to think systematically, to trace implications broadly and deeply, for only thinking that is comprehensive, well-reasoned, and responsive to objections can take us beyond the surface.

In the middle ages, the tradition of systematic critical thinking was embodied in the writings and teachings of such thinkers as Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologica) who – to ensure his thinking met the test of critical thought – always systematically stated . . .

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Don’t Be a Conformist: Think for Yourself - Linda Elder

Mar 14, 2021

Living a human life entails membership in a variety of human groups. This typically includes one’s nation, culture, profession, religion, family, and peer group. We find ourselves participating in groups before we are aware of ourselves as living beings, in virtually every setting in which we function as persons. Further, every group to which we belong has a social definition of itself and unspoken “rules” that guide the behavior of all members. Each group to which we belong imposes a level of conformity on us as a condition of acceptance. This includes a set of beliefs, behaviors, requirements, and taboos.

Research shows that people, to varying degrees, accept as right and correct whatever ways of acting and believing are fostered in the social groups to which they belong. Typically, this acceptance is uncritical.

Group membership clearly offers some advantages. But those advantages can come with a price. Many people behave unethically because it is expected of them. Groups impose their rules (conventions, folkways, taboos) on individuals. (Consider the way you dress or the sexual laws in your country as obvious examples.) Group membership is, in various ways, “required” for ordinary acts of living.

Suppose, for example, that you did not want to belong to any nation, that you wanted to be a citizen not of a country but of the world. You would not be allowed that freedom. . . .

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[FULL ENTRY] Seeing Through Disinformation, False Narratives, Conspiracy Theories, and Fake News - Linda Elder

Mar 06, 2021

The problem of disinformation is now rampant in human societies. The answer is critical thinking, which we must begin to teach and foster more widely in education and throughout the world. I hope you will join me for my upcoming Webinar Q&A (March 17, 2021) entitled, "How Critical Thinking is Essential to Seeing Through Disinformation, False Narratives, Conspiracy Theories, and Fake News"

Read about the upcoming Webinar Q&A here.

Connected with this issue is the question: What is truth in a post-truth era? If you missed our webinar Q&A on this issue (and in preparation for the March 17 Webinar Q&A), you can find it here.

I look forward to your questions.


Running Before the Wind - Linda Elder

Mar 01, 2021

Richard Paul is widely recognized for his contributions to critical thinking. What very few people know about Richard is that he was also a masterful poet. Here is one of his poems, written to me, and now shared with you:

love cannot take 

the sting from the world 

cannot take injustice 

from an unjust world 

cannot take cruelty 

or the crushing of the 

weak or the torment of the poor 

from a cruel and relentless 

world 

the agony the anguish goes on 

the self-righteous still 

sleep well at night 

with their guns and badges 

and magnificata of authority 

with their laws 

and deeds to human life 

the agony the anguish goes on 

but love is our strength 

in the face of it all

our power to say no 

to every lost moment of time 

to transform anger 

into the power to act 

to defy to face down

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Feb 21, 2021

I just finished watching the series entitled, A French Village, a French language series subtitled in English. I highly recommend this program for everyone interested in understanding how history unfolds as a result of pathological ideologies imposed on innocent people. This series is set in a small fictional village in France during the invasion of Nazi Germany and takes us through the years of the occupation and beyond. The series illuminates many problems in human thinking that lead to many forms of disfunction. It shows how a small town is devastated by war, not only during the occupation of enemy forces, but after the occupation ends, as France works to become stable after . . .

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[FULL ENTRY] Considering the Idea of Brotherly Love, on This Valentine’s Day - Linda Elder

Feb 14, 2021

On this Valentine’s Day, I revisit Erich Fromm’s classic, The Art of Loving, for a reminder of a deep and abiding concept of love.

In focusing on the problem that love answers, Fromm says:

The deepest need of man… is the need to overcome his separateness, to leave the prison of his aloneness… (p.9).

...the experience of separateness arouses anxiety (p. 8).

In a section focused on brotherly love, which is largely missing from today’s perspective, Fromm says:

Love is not primarily a relationship to a specific person; it is an attitude, and orientation of character which determines the relatedness of a person to the world as a whole, not toward one “object” of love. If a person loves only one other person and is indifferent to the rest of his fellow man, his love is not love but a symbiotic attachment, or an enlarged egotism. Yet, most people believe that love is constituted by the object, not by the faculty… because one does not see that love is an activity, a power of the soul, one believes that all that is necessary to find is the right object–and that everything goes by itself afterward (p. 43).

The most fundamental kind of love, which underlies all types of love, is brotherly love. By this I mean the sense of responsibility, care, respect, knowledge of any other human being, the wish to further his life… brotherly love is love for all human beings… in brotherly love there is the experience of union with all men, of human solidarity… Brotherly love is based on experience that we are all one… The differences in talents, intelligence, knowledge are negligible in comparison with the identity of the human core common to all men. In order to experience this identity it is necessary to penetrate from the periphery to the core. If I perceive in another person mainly the surface, I perceive mainly the differences, that which separates us. If I penetrate to the core, I perceive our identity, the fact of our brotherhood (pp. 43-44).

Brotherly love is love between equals: but, indeed, even as equals we are not always “equal”; inasmuch as we are human, we are all in need of help. Today I, tomorrow you. But this need of help does not mean that one is helpless, the other powerful. Helplessness is a transitory condition; the ability to stand and walk on one’s own feet is the permanent and common one (p. 44).

Yet, love of the helpless one, love of the poor and the stranger, are the beginning of brotherly love. To love one’s flesh and blood is no achievement. The animal loves its young and cares for them. The helpless one loves his master, since his life depends on him; the child loves his parents, since he needs them. Only in the love of those who do not serve a purpose, love begins to unfold (p. 45).

The affirmation of one’s own life, happiness, growth, freedom is rooted in one’s capacity to love, i.e., in care, respect, responsibility, and knowledge (pp. 55-56).

The selfish person is interested only in himself, wants everything for himself, feels no pleasure in giving, but only in taking. The world outside is looked at only from the standpoint of what he can get out of it; he lacks interest in the needs of others and respect for their dignity and integrity (p. 56).

The realm of love, reasoning, and justice exists as a reality only because, and in so much as, man has been able to develop these powers in himself throughout the process of his evolution. In this view there is no meaning to life, except the meaning man himself gives to it; man is utterly alone except insomuch as he helps another (p. 67).

Quotes for this blog are taken from Fromm, E. (1956; 2006). The Art of Loving. (NY: HarperPerennial Modern Classics).


Critical Thinking and the State of Education Today (Part 2 of 8 - 'No One Definition But A Common Core of Meaning') - Richard Paul Archives

Feb 09, 2021

This article was published in the Winter 1996 issue of Sonoma State University’s Inquiry: Critical Thinking Across the Disciplines (vol. 16, no. 2) and was titled, “Critical Thinking and the State of Education Today.” The piece was divided into eight sections:

  • “Understanding Substantive Critical Thinking / Avoiding the Growing List of Counterfeits”
  • “No One Definition But A Common Core of Meaning”
  • “A Brief History of the Idea of Critical Thinking”
  • “The State of the Field Today: Three Waves of Research, With Little Sense of History”
  • “The First Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice / 1970-1996 / Formal & Informal Logic Courses
  • “The Second Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice / 1980-1996 / Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum Across the Grades”
  • “The Third Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice / 1985- / Depth & Comprehensiveness in Theory & Practice”
  • “Conclusion”

The second of these sections appears below.

 

Given the complexity of critical thinking – its rootedness in 2500 years of intellectual history as well as the wide range of its application – it is unwise to put too much weight on any one “definition" of critical thinking. Any brief formulation of what critical thinking is is bound to have important limitations. Some theoreticians well established in the literature have provided us with a range of useful “definitions," each with their limitations. In Educating Reason: Rationality, Critical Thinking, and Education, Harvey Siegel (1988) defines critical thinking as “thinking [that is] appropriately moved by reasons". This definition highlights the contrast between the mind's tendency to be shaped by phenomena other than reasons: desires, fears, social rewards and punishments, etc. Robert Ennis (1985) defines critical thinking as “rational reflective thinking concerned with what to do or believe." This definition usefully calls attention to the wide role that critical thinking plays in everyday life, for since all behavior depends on what we believe, all human action depends upon what we in some sense decide to do. Matthew Lipman (1988) defines critical thinking as “skillful, responsible, thinking that is conducive to judgment because it relies on criteria, is self-correcting and is sensitive to context." This definition highlights the need for intellectual standards and self-assessment.

Scriven and Paul (Paul, 1995) define critical thinking (for the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking) as follows: “Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action." . . . “critical thinking can be seen as having two components: 1) a set of information and belief generating and processing skills, and 2) the habit, based on intellectual commitment, of using those skills to guide behavior. It is thus to be contrasted with: 1) the mere acquisition and retention of information alone, because it involves a particular way in which information is sought and treated; 2) the mere possession of a set of skills, because it involves the continual use of them; and 3) the mere use of those skills (‘as an exercise’) without acceptance of their results.

The point is that there is no one way to define what critical thinking is, nor one way to explain it. Nevertheless, there is lurking behind the diverse definitions common understandings. For example, consider the basic explanations of critical thinking expressed in interviews of a number of scholars in the field of critical thinking research conducted by John Esterle and Dan Cluman of The Whitman Institute of San Francisco (1993). One of the questions asked all interviewees was, “What is your conception of critical thinking?" A review of these answers demonstrates, as above, that despite diversity of expression there is a core of common meaning in the field.

CAROLE WADE: “ln our introductory psychology book, Carol Tavris and I have a definition we thought quite a bit about. We define critical thinking as “the ability and willingness to assess claims and make objective judgments on the basis of
well-supported reasons." We wanted to get in the willingness as well as the ability because a person can master critical thinking skills without being the least bit disposed to use them. Also, we didn't want critical thinking to be confined to problem solving. Unless you construe problem solving extremely broadly, critical thinking goes beyond that, to include forming judgments, evaluating claims, defending a position. We said “well-supported reasons" rather than “evidence" because, although our own discipline emphasizes empirical evidence, we wanted to recognize that you don't reach all conclusions or assess all claims on the basis of such evidence. Sometimes there is no empirical evidence and critical thinking is purely a process of reasoned judgment.”

MICHAEL SCRIVEN: "... it's the skill to identify the less obvious alternatives to positions, claims, arguments, generalizations . . .

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How Skilled Are You as a Critical Thinker? A Checklist - Linda Elder

Feb 05, 2021

Many people think they are the ones who think critically, while it is everyone else who needs critical thinking. This is an intrinsic state of the human mind overcome only by cultivating intellectual humility – in one’s own mind, using one’s own thinking. It is natural for us to believe we know more than we do know, and to believe we are more skilled than we are skilled, as reasoners. This is why we need explicit critical thinking.

There are many ways to develop critical thinking skills, abilities and characteristics. We recommend that you spend time reading and viewing videos in our community library, as well as working through activities in our Academy. Also join us for real-time webinar Q&R’s in the community, which are engaging and enjoyable. In these webinars you can connect with us, and with one another, in real time focused on an important issue from the point of view of critical thinking.

To develop as critical reasoners, you will need to read, write, discuss and think your way into the theory of critical thinking.

You will know you are improving when…

• You are better at communicating your ideas and understanding others.

• You are better at sticking to issues and solving problems.

• You pursue more rational goals and can better reach them.

• You are better at asking productive questions.

• You are less selfish.

• You have more control over your emotions.

• You have more control over your desires and behavior.

• You can better understand the viewpoints of others. . . .

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"Critical Thinking and the State of Education Today" [Part 1 of 8 - "Understanding Substantive Critical Thinking / Avoiding the Growing List of Counterfeits”] - Richard Paul Archives

Feb 02, 2021

This article was published in the Winter 1996 issue of Sonoma State University’s Inquiry: Critical Thinking Across the Disciplines (vol. 16, no. 2) and was titled, “Critical Thinking and the State of Education Today.” The piece was divided into eight sections:

  • “Understanding Substantive Critical Thinking / Avoiding the Growing List of Counterfeits”
  • “No One Definition But A Common Core of Meaning”
  • “A Brief History of the Idea of Critical Thinking”
  • “The State of the Field Today: Three Waves of Research, With Little Sense of History”
  • “The First Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice / 1970-1996 / Formal & Informal Logic Courses
  • “The Second Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice / 1980-1996 / Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum Across the Grades”
  • “The Third Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice / 1985- / Depth & Comprehensiveness in Theory & Practice”
  •  “Conclusion”

The first of these sections appears below.

It is now generally recognized that the art of thinking critically is a major missing link in education today, and that effective communication and problem-solving skills, as well as mastery of content require critical thinking. It is now generally conceded that the ability to think critically becomes more and more important to success in life as the pace of change continues to accelerate and as complexity and interdependence continue to intensify. It is also generally understood that some major changes in instruction will have to take place to shift the overarching emphasis of student learning from rote memorization to effective critical thinking (as the primary tool of learning).

It is not so clear to most educators how to bring this important shift about, nor what instruction should look like afterwards. All too often the phrase "critical thinking" is nothing more than a vague place-holder for any of a miscellany of changes and/or conceptions of change. All too often, the phrase is used so imprecisely that no one knows exactly what is being said nor how to assess its unclarified effect. For example, results of recent large-scale research into faculty knowledge of critical thinking conducted by the Center For Critical Thinking For the Commission on Teacher Credentialing and encompassing 75 colleges and universities included the following general conclusions about the involvement of randomly chosen faculty in fostering critical thinking in their instruction.

1) Though the overwhelming majority claimed critical thinking to be a primary objective of their instruction (89%), only a small minority could give a clear explanation of what critical thinking is (19%). Furthermore, according to their answers, only 9% of the respondents were clearly teaching for critical thinking on a typical day in class.

2) Though the overwhelming majority (78%) claimed that their students lacked appropriate intellectual standards (to use in assessing their thinking), and 73 % considered that students learning to assess their own work was of primary importance, only a very small minority (8%) could enumerate any intellectual criteria or standards they required of students or could give an intelligible explanation of what those criteria and standards were.

3) While 50% of those interviewed said that they explicitly distinguish critical thinking skills from traits, only 8% were able to provide a clear conception of the critical thinking skills they thought were most important for their students to develop. Furthermore the overwhelming majority (75%) provided either minimal or vague allusion (33%) or no illusion at all (42%) to intellectual traits of mind.

4) When asked how they conceptualized truth, a surprising 41% of those who responded to the question said that knowledge, truth and sound judgment are fundamentally a matter of personal preference or subjective taste. . . .

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Critical Thinking Therapy for Mental Health and Self Actualization - Linda Elder

Jan 30, 2021

For may years we have been contextualizing the principles of critical thinking in numerous fields of study. We now offer counseling in Critical Thinking Therapy as well as instruction in Critical Thinking Therapy for Therapists. Critical Thinking Therapy uses the explicit concepts in critical thinking to help clients (or you) gain command of your emotional life, achieve emotional well-being and realize all of which you are capable as a unique individual. Critical Thinking Therapy is based in the assumption that to gain command of your life requires, first and foremost, gaining command of the thinking that is commanding your life.

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Critical Thinking Therapy
for Mental Health and Self-Actualization

 

Through The Cultivation Of Intellectual And Ethical Character
As Well As One’s Creative Potential

 

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Overview of Critical Thinking Therapy

Critical thinking Therapy begins with the assumption that mental health depends, among other things, on reasonable thinking. Being mentally healthy implies living a reasonable life. One cannot be emotionally healthy while also being an unreasonable person. To be a reasonable person requires critical thinking. Yet mental health professionals generally lack an understanding of critical thinking and its vital importance to effective mental health therapies.

It isn’t that mental health professionals never use critical thinking. All the best therapeutic approaches to mental health have a direct relationship with critical thinking. Yet clinicians do not always choose the best mental health therapies. This is true because they don’t always know how to choose among the theories and therapies within the various schools of thought relevant to cultivating mental health. In other words, they are frequently unclear as to the standards they should use in deciding on the best counseling strategies for their clients. Nor can therapists necessarily effectively apply the best theories when they do choose them, for this also requires critical thinking. And even the best approaches to mental health have limitations or weaknesses. Again, critical thinking is required to figure out these limitations.

Though we should never seek to boil critical thinking down to a single definition capable of explaining and entailing all of its complexities, it is useful to consider a beginning definition.

Critical thinking refers to reasoning (thinking) that adheres to standards of excellence (criteria for thinking). It entails the ability to explicitly take one’s thinking apart and examine each part for quality through intellectual standards (such as clarity, accuracy, relevance, breadth, depth, logicalness, fairness, significance, and sufficiency). It includes fairmindedness, since critical thinkers will always strive to consider relevant viewpoints in good faith. The cultivation of fairminded critical thinking necessitates working toward the embodiment of intellectual virtues such as intellectual empathy, intellectual humility, intellectual integrity, intellectual courage, confidence in reason, and intellectual autonomy. Critical thinking implies understanding one’s own native egocentric and sociocentric tendencies, and actively combatting these tendencies throughout daily life. Critical thinking also entails understanding the intimate relationship between thinking, feelings, and desires. And it involves a creative dimension that enables people to improve their thinking and the quality of their lives, to contribute to the development of human ideas and practices, and to achieve self-fulfillment and self-actualization.

It is clear that therapists typically neither use nor impart a comprehensive, explicit conception of critical thinking in their work with clients because they are rarely, if ever, taught such a conception. They may themselves think critically to some degree on any number of topics . . .

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[FULL ENTRY] Open Letter to President Biden, Calling for Critical Thinking in Education Once and For All - Linda Elder

Jan 22, 2021

Entreaty to Make Critical Thinking the Highest Priority in American Education

 

Dear President Biden:

You have been elected at another momentous time in our history. We face many overwhelming problems that can only be solved using the highest-level reasoning we can collectively achieve. Therefore, as you consider the earliest moves you will make as president, we implore you to place critical thinking at the heart of your education policy.

The simple fact is that if we are to come anywhere close to effectively addressing the problems we now face together on this planet, we will have to think seriously about the problems in thinking that are causing these problems. This can only be done through explicit, fairminded critical thinking. The attack on Washington on January 6 exemplifies how far we are away from this reality.

At the Foundation for Critical Thinking – an education 501(c)(3) non-profit organization – we have been advancing a rich, integrated conception of fairminded critical thinking for more than 40 years. And though in the last decade the term “critical thinking” has gained in use, it has not gained much in currency. American public education, on the whole, has never actively embodied or cultivated intellectual and ethical development.

Everyone thinks; it is our nature to do so. But much of our thinking, left to itself, is biased, distorted, partial, uninformed or down-right prejudiced. Yet the quality of our life and that of what we produce, make, or build depends precisely on the quality of our thought. Shoddy thinking is costly, both in money and in quality of life. Excellence in thought, however, must be systematically cultivated.

And yet, at present, thinking is virtually ignored in human societies. The only way we can hope to create critical societies, societies in which fairminded reasonable thought is a primary goal and collective value, is if we begin to take thinking seriously. 

Put another way, critical thinking is essential to reasoning well through any issue or problem, through every subject and discipline. But it is largely disregarded in our schools, colleges, universities, social institutions, government, and, indeed, in all domains of human thought.

Most of our work at the Foundation and Center for Critical Thinking in the past four decades has been with teachers and faculty (from primary grades through higher education). Because critical thinking is essential to reasoning well in every part of human life, it is essential to education. Sadly, because it is far from a cultural value, because teachers have not learned how to foster it, because “leaders” ignore it, because most people have no real conception of it or how to go about engaging in it, we are advancing only very slowly to bring it into the heart of everyday life.

Critical thinking is, whether we see it or not, the missing piece. In schooling today, we do not help students take command of their own minds. Studies show that, for the most part, we are not teaching them to discipline their own thinking. We are not teaching them that the only way to learn a subject or discipline is to think through problems and issues in it using disciplined  thinking. We are not engaging their intellects. We are not teaching them how to fully and deeply comprehend what they read. We are not teaching them to write with clarity, precision and purpose. We are not teaching students to integrate ideas within and among subjects. We are not teaching them to enter (in good faith) viewpoints with which they disagree. We do not approach them as thinkers. In short, we are failing to develop the intellect. 

Instead, we are largely alienating students from education. Most students leave our high schools, colleges and universities without being able to think scientifically, mathematically, historically, sociologically, anthropologically, economically, or psychologically. They are not learning to think as good citizens concerned with the public interest. They are not learning to be good parents or intimate partners. They go out into the world, faced with the tremendously complex realities we all now face, without the intellectual skills they need to survive and prosper in it.

This is not surprising given that, for the most part, teachers themselves are not learning critical thinking in their own “educational processes.” 

It is true that some students learn some critical thinking implicitly along the way. But, as is evident in the state of current affairs, our collective thinking simply isn’t good enough. In fact, where people do tend to think critically in today’s societies, it is frequently sophistic or selfish critical thinking they become skilled in.

As a country we have been “reforming” education for several decades, and we continue to fail in this because we ignore the very foundations of education. These foundations are found in a rich conceptualization of critical thinking, which entails:

1.    learning to analyze thinking (to identify purposes in thinking, the questions being asked, the information being used, the beliefs being taken for granted, the concepts guiding the thinking, the viewpoint of the reasoning, and so forth),

2.    learning to assess thinking using intellectual standards (like clarity, accuracy, significance, depth, breadth, fairness, logic and relevance),

3.    developing intellectual traits of mind (like intellectual empathy, intellectual integrity, intellectual perseverance, intellectual humility, fairmindedness, confidence in reason, and intellectual sense of justice).

Moreover, a substantive conception of critical thinking implies a deep concern with the problematics in thinking. This entails, for example, recognizing that people need explicit ways to deal with their native egocentricity (tendencies toward self-deception, selfishness, narrow-mindedness, rationalization, etc.). And it entails awareness of one’s natural tendencies toward sociocentricity (to blindly follow the crowd). 

In sum, critical thinking is necessary because:

1.    though everyone thinks,

2.    we can’t count on our thinking to be of high quality (in fact we can count on it, quite often, to be biased, to distort information and points of view, to see things from a narrow self-serving perspective, and so forth).

The simple fact is that any education policy which ignores critical thinking will fail for the very reason that skilled thinking is the key to sound education policy and practice. And at the heart of intelligent thought are the concepts, principles, skills and traits of critical thinking.

I leave you with two quotes:

The critical habit of thought, if usual in society, will pervade all its mores, because it is a way of taking up the problems of life. Men educated in it cannot be stampeded by stump orators. . . . They are slow to believe. They can hold things as possible or probable in all degrees, without certainty and without pain. They can wait for evidence and weigh evidence, uninfluenced by the emphasis or confidence with which assertions are made on one side or the other. They can resist appeals to their dearest prejudices and all kinds of cajolery. Education in the critical faculty is the only education of which it can be truly said that it makes good citizens. (William Graham Sumner in Folkways, 1906)

[Critical thinking is a] desire to seek, patience to doubt, fondness to meditate, slowness to assert, readiness to consider, carefulness to dispose and set in order; and hatred for every kind of imposture. (Francis Bacon, 1605)

We are homo sapiens, the thinking species. But we are perhaps centuries or more away from homo criticus, the species that thinks critically. If we are to reverse the downward spiral we are at present experiencing, we must begin to actively and deliberately foster fairminded critical thinking in our schools, our homes, our social institutions, in government, and indeed, in every part of human life.

If you are interested in discussing how critical thinking can become an educational value in this country, we are ready to help.

Sincerely,

Linda Elder, Ed. D.                                                     
Educational Psychologist                                          
Senior Fellow and President
Foundation for Critical Thinking


The Deadly Riot at the US Capital is a Manifestation of Sociocentric Thinking - Dr. Linda Elder

Jan 13, 2021

As we continue to try to make sense of the events of January 6, 2021, people are asking questions like: How could so many people have been involved in the crimes connected with breaking into the Capital building in a bizarre attempt to stop the counting of electoral votes? Now that at least some of them have been located and will be held accountable, what did they think would happen when they flashed their smiling faces across the world as they raided the Capital - attacking, injuring and even in one case killing, law enforcement officers? Clearly the group was disorganized on the whole, and the people involved had different motives – with some of them willing to kill in cold blood, while others were simply following along, as naïve thinkers will do. What did the “leaders” of these groups expect would happen – that they would somehow actually stage a coup and take over our government? What did the followers expect would happen when they unlawfully entered the Capital spewing hatred across their shirts and out of their mouths? Were some there to harm or even kill elected legislators and leaders? Were some just following orders from group leaders, pushed along by the US president, without thinking through what they were doing and why? When we hear the actual complaints of these grumbling people, we hear things like, the left wing wants to bring us socialism, communism, Marxism (mimicking what they have heard from their president). But we rarely hear reasoning about what is wrong, why it is wrong, how they have been wronged, what they fear about progressive ideas.

Swept up in mass hysteria, which has been exemplified ad nauseam throughout history, many of these people were simply following along with a group that would accept them for their simplistic beliefs that, though out of touch with reality, were shared by the overall group. Collectively they validated one another and could “feel good, even exhilarated.” They thought of themselves as unique and special, a group standing together on principle.  But what principles? In the final analysis, sadly, we see, in essence, merely another gross contextualization of various forms of sociocentric thinking, which runs through human societies. In the following excerpt . . .

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New Year’s Resolutions and The Art of Loving - Linda Elder

Jan 01, 2021

As we move into the new year, we are once again reminded of the life we have lived and the life we are yet to live, of the mistakes we have made and the resolutions we have failed to live up to. We seek to live at a higher level, but how can this be done in the largely pathological world in which we find ourselves? Our reflections, at the beginning of each new year tend to be either repeats of reasonable past resolutions at which we have failed, (such as eating more healthy foods and exercising more), or are superficial declarations suggested to us from mainstream media (such as reading more books).

To live at a level that brings greater contentment and satisfaction entails expanding our minds in new and edifying directions, which are hard to find in our world filled with glitz, glamour, triviality, and ostentation.  To find a reasonable path to enlightenment, we should look to the best thinking available to us. For me, this means regularly reading in the classics, as many of you know.

For instance, as we face the new year, this is a good time to revisit our concept of love – to ask ourselves whether and to what degree we understand how to live a life that embodies . . .

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