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Critical Thinking Movement: 3 Waves


Putting the 1997 Conference into Historical Perspective

By Richard Paul
Understanding Substantive Critical Thinking
Avoiding the Growing List of Counterfeits
It is now generally conceded 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 also generally recognized 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 conceded that some major changes in instruction will have to take place to shift the overarching
emphasis of instruction from rote memorization to effective critical thinking (as the primary tool of learning).
It is not so clear to most educators how to affect the shift, nor what that shift essentially should effect in. 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. Critical thinking is too important, the reforms it makes possible too essential, to leave the concept to helter-skelter intuitive use.
There are three "waves" of critical thinking research that can be identified since the early 70's. 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 in laying the foundation for future work in the field. The third wave can accomplish its goals only through a mastery of the most basic insights of the first two waves.
The first wave—based on a focus of the theory of logic, argumentation, and reasoning—has become a field unto itself, dominated by philosophers. First wave theorists tend to focus only on those instances of thinking in which persuasion and argumentation are explicit, and they tend to analyze....

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