Critical Thinking in Everyday Life: 9 Strategies

Critical Thinking in Everyday Life: 9 Strategies

Most of us are not what we could be. We are less. We have great capacity. But most of it is dormant; most is undeveloped. Improvement in thinking is like improvement in basketball, in ballet, or in playing the saxophone. It is unlikely to take place in the absence of a conscious commitment to learn. As long as we take our thinking for granted, we don’t do the work required for improvement.

Development in thinking requires a gradual process requiring plateaus of learning and just plain hard work. It is not possible to become an excellent thinker simply because one wills it. Changing one’s habits of thought is a long-range project, happening over years, not weeks or months. The essential traits of a critical thinker require an extended period of development.

How, then, can we develop as critical thinkers? How can we help ourselves and our students to practice better thinking in everyday life?

First, we must understand that there are stages required for development as a critical thinker:

Stage One: The Unreflective Thinker (we are unaware of significant problems in our thinking)
Stage Two: The Challenged Thinker (we become aware of problems in our thinking)
Stage Three: The Beginning Thinker (we try to improve but without regular practice)
Stage Four: The Practicing Thinker (we recognize the necessity of regular practice)
Stage Five: The Advanced Thinker (we advance in accordance with our practice)
Stage Six: The Master Thinker (skilled & insightful thinking become second nature to us)

We develop through these stages if we:

1) accept the fact that there are serious problems in our thinking (accepting the challenge to our thinking) and
2) begin regular practice.

In this article, we will explain 9 strategies that any motivated person can use to develop as a thinker. As we explain the strategy, we will describe it as if we were talking directly to such a person. Further details to our descriptions may need to be added for those who know little about critical thinking. Here are the 9:

1. Use “Wasted” Time.
2. A Problem A Day.
3. Internalize Intellectual Standards.
4. Keep An Intellectual Journal.
5. Reshape Your Character.
6. Deal with Your Ego.
7. Redefine the Way You See Things.
8. Get in touch with your emotions.
9. Analyze group influences on your life.

There is nothing magical about our ideas. No one of them is essential. Nevertheless, each represents a plausible way to begin to do something concrete to improve thinking in a regular way. Though you probably can’t do all of these at the same time, we recommend an approach in which you experiment with all of these over an extended period of time.

First Strategy: Use “Wasted” Time. All humans waste some time; that is, fail to use all of their time productively or even pleasurably. Sometimes we jump from one diversion to another, without enjoying any of them. Sometimes we become irritated about matters beyond our control. Sometimes we fail to plan well causing us negative consequences we could easily have avoided (for example, we spend time unnecessarily trapped in traffic — though we could have left a half hour earlier and avoided the rush). Sometimes we worry unproductively. Sometimes we spend time regretting what is past. Sometimes we just stare off blankly into space.

The key is that the time is “gone” even though, if we had thought about it and considered our options, we would never have deliberately spent our time in the way we did. So why not take advantage of the time you normally waste by practicing your critical thinking during that otherwise wasted time? For example, instead of sitting in front of the TV at the end of the day flicking from channel to channel in a vain search for a program worth watching, spend that time, or at least part of it, thinking back over your day and evaluating your strengths and weaknesses. For example, you might ask yourself questions like these:

When did I do my worst thinking today? When did I do my best? What in fact did I think about today? Did I figure anything out? Did I allow any negative thinking to frustrate me unnecessarily? If I had to repeat today what would I do differently? Why? Did I do anything today to further my long-term goals? Did I act in accordance with my own expressed values? If I spent everyday this way for 10 years, would I at the end have accomplished something worthy of that time?

It would be important of course to take a little time with each question. It would also be useful to record your observations so that you are forced to spell out details and be explicit in what you recognize and see. As time passes, you will notice patterns in your thinking.

Second Strategy: A Problem A Day. At the beginning of each day (perhaps driving to work or going to school) choose a problem to work on when you have free moments. Figure out the logic of the problem by identifying its elements. In other words, systematically think through the questions: What exactly is the problem? How can I put it into the form of a question. How does it relate to my goals, purposes, and needs?

1) Wherever possible take problems one by one. State the problem as clearly and precisely as you can.

2) Study the problem to make clear the “kind” of problem you are dealing with. Figure out, for example, what sorts of things you are going to have to do to solve it. Distinguish Problems over which you have some control from problems over which you have no control. Set aside the problems over which you have no control, concentrating your efforts on those problems you can potentially solve.

3) Figure out the information you need and actively seek that information.

4) Carefully analyze and interpret the information you collect, drawing what reasonable inferences you can.

5) Figure out your options for action. What can you do in the short term? In the long term? Distinguish problems under your control from problems beyond your control. Recognize explicitly your limitations as far as money, time, and power.

6) Evaluate your options, taking into account their advantages and disadvantages in the situation you are in.

7) Adopt a strategic approach to the problem and follow through on that strategy. This may involve direct action or a carefully thought-through wait-and-see strategy.

8) When you act, monitor the implications of your action as they begin to emerge. Be ready at a moment’s notice to revise your strategy if the situation requires it. Be prepared to shift your strategy or your analysis or statement of the problem, or all three, as more information about the problem becomes available to you.

Third Strategy:
Internalize Intellectual Standards.
Each week, develop a heightened awareness of one of the universal intellectual standards (clarity, precision, accuracy, relevance, depth, breadth, logicalness, significance). Focus one week on clarity, the next on accuracy, etc. For example, if you are focusing on clarity for the week, try to notice when you are being unclear in communicating with others. Notice when others are unclear in what they are saying.

When you are reading, notice whether you are clear about what you are reading. When you orally express or write out your views (for whatever reason), ask yourself whether you are clear about what you are trying to say. In doing this, of course, focus on four techniques of clarification : 1) Stating what you are saying explicitly and precisely (with careful consideration given to your choice of words), 2) Elaborating on your meaning in other words, 3) Giving examples of what you mean from experiences you have had, and 4) Using analogies, metaphors, pictures, or diagrams to illustrate what you mean. In other words, you will frequently STATE, ELABORATE, ILLUSTRATE, AND EXEMPLIFY your points. You will regularly ask others to do the same.

Fourth Strategy: Keep An Intellectual Journal. Each week, write out a certain number of journal entries. Use the following format (keeping each numbered stage separate):

1. Situation. Describe a situation that is, or was, emotionally significant to you (that is, that you deeply care about). Focus on one situation at a time.

2. Your Response. Describe what you did in response to that situation. Be specific and exact.

3. Analysis. Then analyze, in the light of what you have written, what precisely was going on in the situation. Dig beneath the surface.

4. Assessment. Assess the implications of your analysis. What did you learn about yourself? What would you do differently if you could re-live the situation?

Strategy Five:
Reshape Your Character.
Choose one intellectual trait—intellectual perseverance, autonomy, empathy, courage, humility, etc.— to strive for each month, focusing on how you can develop that trait in yourself. For example, concentrating on intellectual humility, begin to notice when you admit you are wrong. Notice when you refuse to admit you are wrong, even in the face of glaring evidence that you are in fact wrong. Notice when you become defensive when another person tries to point out a deficiency in your work, or your thinking. Notice when your intellectual arrogance keeps you from learning, for example, when you say to yourself “I already know everything I need to know about this subject.” Or, “I know as much as he does. Who does he think he is forcing his opinions on me?” By owning your “ignorance,” you can begin to deal with it.

Strategy Six: Deal with Your Egocentrism. Egocentric thinking is found in the disposition in human nature to think with an automatic subconscious bias in favor of oneself. On a daily basis, you can begin to observe your egocentric thinking in action by contemplating questions like these: Under what circumstances do I think with a bias in favor of myself? Did I ever become irritable over small things? Did I do or say anything “irrational” to get my way? Did I try to impose my will upon others? Did I ever fail to speak my mind when I felt strongly about something, and then later feel resentment? Once you identify egocentric thinking in operation, you can then work to replace it with more rational thought through systematic self-reflection, thinking along the lines of: What would a rational person feel in this or that situation? What would a rational person do? How does that compare with what I want to do? (Hint: If you find that you continually conclude that a rational person would behave just as you behaved you are probably engaging in self-deception.)

Strategy Seven: Redefine the Way You See Things. We live in a world, both personal and social, in which every situation is “defined,” that is, given a meaning. How a situation is defined determines not only how we feel about it, but also how we act in it, and what implications it has for us. However, virtually every situation can be defined in more than one way. This fact carries with it tremendous opportunities. In principle, it lies within your power and mine to make our lives more happy and fulfilling than they are. Many of the negative definitions that we give to situations in our lives could in principle be transformed into positive ones. We can be happy when otherwise we would have been sad.

We can be fulfilled when otherwise we would have been frustrated. In this strategy, we practice redefining the way we see things, turning negatives into positives, dead-ends into new beginnings, mistakes into opportunities to learn. To make this strategy practical, we should create some specific guidelines for ourselves. For example, we might make ourselves a list of five to ten recurrent negative contexts in which we feel frustrated, angry, unhappy, or worried. We could then identify the definition in each case that is at the root of the negative emotion. We would then choose a plausible alternative definition for each and then plan for our new responses as well as new emotions. For example, if you tend to worry about all problems, both the ones you can do something about and those that you can’t; you can review the thinking in this nursery rhyme:
“For every problem under the sun, there is a solution or there is none. If there be one, think til you find it. If there be none, then never mind it.”

Let’s look at another example. You do not have to define your initial approach to a member of the opposite sex in terms of the definition “his/her response will determine whether or not I am an attractive person.” Alternatively, you could define it in terms of the definition “let me test to see if this person is initially drawn to me—given the way they perceive me.” With the first definition in mind, you feel personally put down if the person is not “interested” in you; with the second definition you explicitly recognize that people respond not to the way a stranger is, but the way they look to them subjectively. You therefore do not take a failure to show interest in you (on the part of another) as a “defect” in you.

Strategy Eight: Get in touch with your emotions: Whenever you feel some negative emotion, systematically ask yourself: What, exactly, is the thinking leading to this emotion? For example, if you are angry, ask yourself, what is the thinking that is making me angry? What other ways could I think about this situation? For example, can you think about the situation so as to see the humor in it and what is pitiable in it? If you can, concentrate on that thinking and your emotions will (eventually) shift to match it.

Strategy Nine: Analyze group influences on your life: Closely analyze the behavior that is encouraged, and discouraged, in the groups to which you belong. For any given group, what are you “required” to believe? What are you “forbidden” to do? Every group enforces some level of conformity. Most people live much too much within the view of themselves projected by others. Discover what pressure you are bowing to and think explicitly about whether or not to reject that pressure.

Conclusion: The key point to keep in mind when devising strategies is that you are engaged in a personal experiment. You are testing ideas in your everyday life. You are integrating them, and building on them, in the light of your actual experience. For example, suppose you find the strategy “Redefine the Way You See Things” to be intuitive to you. So you use it to begin. Pretty soon you find yourself noticing the social definitions that rule many situations in your life. You recognize how your behavior is shaped and controlled by the definitions in use:

  1. “I’m giving a party,” (Everyone therefore knows to act in a “partying” way)
  2. “The funeral is Tuesday,” (There are specific social behaviors expected at a funeral)
  3. . “Jack is an acquaintance, not really a friend.” (We behave very differently in the two cases)

You begin to see how important and pervasive social definitions are. You begin to redefine situations in ways that run contrary to some commonly accepted definitions. You notice then how redefining situations (and relationships) enables you to “Get in Touch With Your Emotions.” You recognize that the way you think (that is, define things) generates the emotions you experience. When you think you are threatened (i.e., define a situation as “threatening”), you feel fear. If you define a situation as a “failure,” you may feel depressed. On the other hand, if you define that same situation as a “lesson or opportunity to learn” you feel empowered to learn. When you recognize this control that you are capable of exercising, the two strategies begin to work together and reinforce each other.

Next consider how you could integrate strategy #9 (“Analyze group influences on your life”) into your practice. One of the main things that groups do is control us by controlling the definitions we are allowed to operate with. When a group defines some things as “cool” and some as “dumb, ” the members of the group try to appear “cool” and not appear “dumb.” When the boss of a business says, “That makes a lot of sense,” his subordinates know they are not to say, “No, it is ridiculous.” And they know this because defining someone as the “boss” gives him/her special privileges to define situations and relationships.

You now have three interwoven strategies: you “Redefine the Way You See Things,” “Get in touch with your emotions,” and “Analyze group influences on your life.” The three strategies are integrated into one. You can now experiment with any of the other strategies, looking for opportunities to integrate them into your thinking and your life. If you follow through on some plan analogous to what we have described, you are developing as a thinker. More precisely, you are becoming a “Practicing” Thinker. Your practice will bring advancement. And with advancement, skilled and insightful thinking may becomes more and more natural to you.

Paul, R. & Elder, L. (2001). Modified from the book by Paul, R. & Elder, L. (2001). Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Learning and Your Life.

Tactics that Encourage Active Learning

Tactics that Encourage Active Learning


Use the following tactics during class to ensure that students are actively engaged in thinking about the content. Students should be called on randomly (using the deck of cards method for instance) so that everyone participates. When students do not know when they will be called on they are much more likely to remain alert and engaged in the learning process. Students should be routinely called upon to:

  1. Summarize or put into their own words what the teacher or another student has said.
  2. Elaborate on what they have said.
  3. Relate the issue or content to their own knowledge and experience.
  4. Give examples to clarify or support what they have said.
  5. Make connections between related concepts.
  6. Restate the instructions or assignment in their own words.
  7. State the question at issue.
  8. Describe to what extent their point of view on the issue is different from or similar to the point of view of the instructor, other students, the author, etc.
  9. Take a few minutes to write down any of the above.
  10. Write down the most pressing question on their mind at this point. The instructor then uses the above tactics to help students reason through the questions.
  11. Discuss any of the above with a partner and then participate in a group discussion facilitated by the instructor.

Tactics that Encourage Active Learning
{In Critical Thinking Handbook: Basic Theory and Instructional Structures}

Critical Thinking in Every Domain of Knowledge and Belief

The 27th Annual International Conference on Critical Thinking — July 23 — 26, 2007
Keynote Address — July 23, 2007
Richard Paul, Director of Research and Professional Development at the Center for Critical Thinking,
Chair of the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking
Berkeley, CA — “Good morning! …

My remarks center this morning on critical thinking in every domain of knowledge and belief. And my subtext is something like this. Intellectual work, deeply conceived, conduces to significant changes in intellectual skill and understanding. Critical thinking, if somehow it became generalized in the world, would produce a new and very different world, a world which increasingly is not only in our interest but is necessary to our survival.

Photos From the 27th International Conference on Critical Thinking But, what is critical thinking? … There are many ways to initially define it. Sometimes I’ve thought of it as a system for opening every system (that exists). It opens up business. It opens up Chemistry. It opens up sports like tennis and basketball. It opens up professional practice. It opens up Ethics and enables us to see through ideology. It enables us to put things into intellectual perspective. A system that opens up systems is one way to think of critical thinking.

Here’s another way. Critical thinking is thinking that analyzes thought, that assesses thought, and that transforms thought for the better.

Here’s a third way to talk about critical thinking overlapping and related to the other two. It’s thinking about thinking while thinking in order to think better.

Everyone thinks. We have no choice about that. But, not everybody thinks about their thinking. And not everyone who thinks about their thinking thinks about it well. You can worry about your thinking. You can think badly of your thinking. You can be embarrassed by your thinking. You can focus on it in a dysfunctional way — that is not critical thinking.

This morning, let’s think about it as a way of thinking that enables a thinker to think regularly at a higher level (than most people are capable of thinking). In other words, critical thinking, as I am conceiving it, transforms thinking in two directions. You think more systematically as a result. And you think more comprehensively as a result. And in thinking more comprehensively, you think at a higher level. Not because you are at a higher level as a person, but because you are able to put thinking into the background and see it in a larger, more comprehensive framework.

For example, we need  to discover the extent to which our thinking is bound by a culture. Cultures are good in many ways. But, to the extent that they lock us in to one way of looking at the world, we need to transcend them. We need to think beyond them. Why is this important? It’s important because we, as creatures, are deeply determined — in our life, and in our behavior, and in our character, and in other ways – are determined by our thinking. We have no choice but to be governed by thought. The question is, do we govern the thought that governs us?  Ideas control us … Do we control them?

Reversing the process so that we’re in the driver’s seat — so that we’re doing the thinking we need to do as well as we can – is what critical thinking is about. Our future as a species is dependent on whether we can develop the wherewithal to raise our collective thinking so as to produce positive changes in societies across the world.

The task before us collectively is a Herculean one. That of developing critical societies. The idea of a critical society dates back many hundred years, but it was very pointedly called for in 1906, by William Graham Sumner, the great anthropologist, who emphasized in his seminal book, “Folkways,” that if a critical society existed – that is, a society in which critical thinking was a major social value – if such a society were to emerge, it would transform every dimension of life and practice. We are far from such a society, but we need to think about it. It needs to be part of our vision. The structure of this conference suggests some of the most important dimensions of this vision.

The conference has a four-part structure. The first is titled: “Overcoming the Barriers to Critical Thinking.” If you think about the task of developing critical thinking, do not think that task is going to be accomplished easily without facing barriers to critical thought, amongst which are the following. Human egocentricity, our tendency to think with ourselves at the center of the world. Sociocentricity, our tendency to think within the confines of our social groups. Self-delusion, our tendency to create pictures of the world that deceive us and others. Narrow-mindedness, wherein we think of ourselves as broad, deep, and in touch with reality when, if only we understood, we would see ourselves as narrow and limited.

Or, think of the barrier of fear. Fear undermines thinking, fear drives us to the lowest levels of thought, fear makes us defensive. It makes us little and petty. And then there is human insecurity. And, then  human habits, our tendencies to go through the same old patterns of thought and behavior and be dominated by them; our inability to target our negative habits and replace them with positive habits. Then there is routine: Ordinary routine. When you go back to your home environment, ordinary routine will click in and many of you will find that the things you intended to do, the changes you intended to make, somehow are swallowed up in the ordinary routine of things. And connected to routine there is a huge obstacle: bureaucracy. We have created all kinds of levels of monitoring and testing and controlling and limiting and sanctioning, ordering, defining our behavior and our thoughts. And, very often the bureaucrat forgets the purpose for which the institution exists. Bureaucrats rarely think about questions like what is education? Are we truly educating our students? Are we serving their long-term development as thinkers? Then for us who are teaching, student resistance to critical thinking is an obstacle, because critical thinking asks those students to learn in a new way. And it is a way that is not comfortable to most of them. Our thinking is limited by mistaken notions, by ignorance, by our limited knowledge, and by stubbornness, our activated ignorance.  And finally, our resistance to doing the intellectual work necessary to critical thinking.

We need hundreds of millions of people around the world who have learned to take and internalize the foundations of critical thought. This can be done only person-by-person through a process, which we call intellectual work. Think of the “Elements of Thought:”  Each element plays a crucial role in thought. What is our purpose? What questions are we raising? What information are we using? What assumptions are we making? What data are we gathering? What data do we not have? Given the data that we have, what is it telling us? And, when we come to conclusions about the data, what do those conclusions imply? Within what point of view are we thinking? Do we need to consider another point of view? Where can we get access to such points of view? Questions like this are questions that embody the elements in very important ways. They are crucial questions. But, are we in the habit of asking them?

Ask yourself, how many students have ever said to you, “What is the purpose of this course, and what are the questions we need to answer in order to be successful?, What data do we need and how are we interpreting the data?, What assumptions are we making, or what assumptions are made, within the textbook?, From what point of view is our textbook being written?, Are there other points of view from which it could have been written?, What points of view are you taking in the course?, Are there some points of view you might have taken that we might hear about which you’re not utilizing?”…  Students don’t ask questions like these, and very often teachers don’t either so that the logic of the process is left in obscurity — somewhere in a back room of the mind.

We think,  but we’re not taking charge of our thinking. We don’t know how to pull the system out of the thinking to see how purpose drives the thinking; how it leads us to ask certain questions and not others; how when we pose a question one way it calls for specific data to be gathered,. On the other hand,  if you pose it in another way it requires other, different data.

There’s a wonderful book on historical thinking by Carr. The title of the book is “What is History?” This book was written I think in the later ’30s, or possibly ’40s, of the last century and, in it, Carr argues that there is no longer such a thing as “our history.” There are only “histories.” To construct a history is to tell a story about the past, but, as Carr reminds us, there are infinite numbers of stories that could be told. Which story is important?  The construction of history requires value judgments. It requires that we consider whose story needs to be told. And, when that story is told we need to critically consider what it is telling us; what is it teaching us. In which case, then, if we understood Carr, we would realize that we are all historical thinkers. We’re not all historians, but we all have a history. And the history can dominate us, or we can use it to our advantage. Our thinking produces it.

Consider the phenomenon — which is worldwide — of patriotic history. Patriotic history — at least in my conception of patriotic history — consists in telling the story of our past in such ways as to make us look much better than we are and to take those who have come into conflict with us and represent them as worse than they were and are. In other words, patriotic history is dishonest history that makes us, unjustifiably,  feel good about ourselves. This is what most societies want of their historians. Tell us about the past so we can see how heroic we are. Fine and good, but what does that imply about others. If we are the chosen people, then everyone else is not chosen. If we’re number one, then everyone else is below us. If we’re the most important, then others are unimportant or of lesser importance. And so, to penetrate history critically — to see its dangers, and to see its values, and to be able to think with a different sort of framework — is certainly crucial to our well being.

Here you see before you the diagram which we used as the central organizer for the previous year’s conference. In the center of the diagram we see the Elements of Thought, the Standards of Thought, and the Traits of Mind. So far I’ve only mentioned the Elements of Thought as structures we need to become conversant in. But, think for a moment of intellectual standards. Try this experiment. When you’re with a group of students, ask them the following question:

When someone presents you with a belief — “I believe this is true,” or an argument to persuade you to accept a viewpoint or a premise or a belief — when somebody presents you with such a case, how do you know whether to accept it or not?  What standards do you use to assess your thinking and the thinking of others?

Now I’ve tried that many many times with students, and sometimes with faculty. I’ve found that very few people can answer that question in an intelligible fashion. Most students will say, I don’t know what you’re talking about. What do you mean standards of assessment in thinking? I’ve never ever had anyone respond — whether student or faculty — with an answer like this: “I use the standards of clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, logic and fairness.  I seek to be clearer. I seek to be accurate. I seek to be precise. I seek to stay focused on the issue. I assess my thinking for relevance.  I try to deepen my thinking and notice when I’m being superficial. I try to broaden my thinking to make my thinking more comprehensive. I try to notice when other people’s thinking is narrow and superficial rather than deep and broad. I check my thinking for how logical it is. Does it really make sense or am I contradicting myself/? Am I following through the implications of my thought in a consistent logical fashion? Am I focusing on the significant questions putting the insignificant questions, the peripheral questions, in the background? And, am I able to assess other people’s thinking fair-mindedly even though they disagree with me ? Can I be fair to them? ”

I used to have students in some of the courses I taught write dialogues in which they would take a belief that they felt committed to and then discuss that belief in a dialogue with a hypothetical person who took the opposite view. And I noticed — and of course I tried to help my students notice — how systematically they undermined the opposition to make the person who disagreed with them look bad. Something like this: “Okay, you want me to summarize that stupid position. So, I shall do so.”

And then finally, Traits of Mind, which Gerald Nosich mentioned. To what extent are we teaching and cultivating in students intellectual character? Think of intellectual humility. Intellectual humility is not humbleness in the ordinary sense of the word. It is not thinking, “Gee my thoughts are not very important … I’m not a very important person … I’m just poor old me in a modest position … I always remember how unimportant I am.” That may be ordinary humility, but it’s not intellectual humility. Intellectual humility is crucial knowledge. It is knowledge of our ignorance. It is knowing how little we know; how limited our search for knowledge has been.

If you look, for example, into the array of disciplines at universities, and you studied how various disciplines portray themselves — for example, in college catalogs, what they say about what wonderful things students are going to learn —assess the students at the end, at graduation. How many of these wonderful things have the students learned?  And how often are there petty disputes between scholars, how often do they represent themselves in self serving ways? And how often do prejudices exist between fields … . Petty disputes, narrow thinking often rule academic discussions..

During the preconference workshop, a friend of mine from my high school days attended the session, and he also is participating in a program at Stanford. And this program brings distinguished leaders in the field he works in together and is supposed to showcase for the participants emerging knowledge and insight within the field.

Well guess how the program is structured. Lecture, lecture, lecture, break … lecture, lecture, lecture, lecture. And he said, again and again the experts are saying, “I know I’m over time, but I’ve just got to cover this and this and this … and you’ve really have to know this and this and this.” My friend said, “THE AUDIENCE IS LOST! ”  Professionals cannot follow what these experts are saying and the experts are totally oblivious of the fact. They live in a world unconnected to the world of the student who has to somehow, magically, enter into complexity and make sense of it.

If these experts were thinking critically, they’d think about how they’re teaching. And they would see that the manner in which they’re teaching contradicts the goals that they say they’re committed to.

Every discipline says it’s focusing on critical thinking. The Foundation for Critical Thinking did a three year study that focused on 28 private universities and 38 public universities, including Stanford, UCLA, Caltech, Berkeley and so forth. We interviewed faculty. We found, when asked this question, “Is critical thinking a primary objective of your instruction, a secondary objective of your instruction, or neither?,” the overwhelming majority of the faculty said, “Primary. One of my primary goals is to foster the critical thinking of my students.”  Then we asked them, tell us a little bit about your concept of critical thinking and how you go about teaching students. Here the characteristic answer was either exceedingly vague — and you can’t teach a vague concept — or highly limited, in which some would say, “Oh, well I foster critical thinking by reminding students to notice their assumptions.” Others would say, “I foster students considering other points of view.” And a third might say, “I warned them on how important the data are.”

Let me give you a logical parallel:  Suppose I claimed to teach carpentry and explained how I did it as follows:  “Yes, I do teach carpentry. I emphasize the hammer.” Or, “Yes, I do.  I focus on the skillsaw.” Critical thinking is not one isolated skill. It is not even a random list of skills. It’s an orchestrated way of thinking that enables you to decompose your thinking at any moment. It encompasses basic structures integrated together into a whole. It assess thinking for its quality, for its clarity, for its accuracy, for its precision, for its relevance. It raises thinking thereby to a higher quality. It makes it better. Critical thinking is a way of teaching, a way of learning, a way of being in the world in which the thinker self-monitors and self-assesses.

We asked the faculty, “Do your students come to you with adequate intellectual standards?” The overwhelming faculty in the study said, “No! Students come to me without adequate intellectual standards.” Do you teach students intellectual standards. Virtually all respondents said yes. We then asked: “Could you enumerate some of the intellectual standards you teach, and give us some examples of how you encourage their use in the classroom in the assignments and in the tests.” … “Oh, well that’s a hard question. I would need to think about that.”… “Well, if critical thinking and intellectual standards are something that is of importance to faculty, they think about them. They know what they are. They can explicitly explain them. Thus, self-deception exists at the universities. Faculty commonly deceive themselves as to what their students are learning. Frequently, they cannot see, truly, what the process of schooling is doing to the minds of students.

Consider this fact:  We have armies of people who hate math. In other words, we commonly teach students math in such a way that they come to hate it; in such a way that they don’t want to take another course in math if they can possibly avoid it.

And so the lecturing continues — chapter one, chapter two, chapter three, concept, concept, concept …. And in the mind of the student, all these various concepts are simply there as something to remember. “What did you say we do on this problem? … Invert and multiply, invert and multiply … Why do we invert and multiply … I don’t know, you didn’t say what.”  And so what we do is give the students standard formulas, standard questions that can be answered with standard procedures and move on even if they don’t understand the procedures they do. It is enough that they can give a correct answer. But if you modify the problem so that it’s slightly different, the student can’t do it. Furthermore, if you test them one month, two months, three months after the class is completed, you’ll find that very little of what was covered in the class is still in the mind of the students.

But, for those who think within the field well, this is what the field looks like: They see the parts relating to the whole, and realize that to understand the part, you first need to look at and understand the whole. They look at the whole from the point of view of the part. They  look at the part from the point of view of the whole. Making sense?  Okay, let’s add another idea. Here’s another part. Let’s see how it fits into the whole. Now let’s look at what the whole looks like with this part in it.  Whole .. part … whole … part … whole … part.

Now let me juxtapose for a moment the ordinary design of textbooks. Intro to Biology: Chapter One, Introduction … we get a little bit of the whole. Then we get, Chapter Two, a part of biology. Then we get Chapter Three, another part of biology. Chapter Four, another part.  Chapter Five, another part. Here’s the structure that dominates textbooks: Whole, part, part, part, part, part, more to memorize, more to memorize, more to memorize … What happened to the whole?  It’s gone.  Meanwhile the student is desperately trying to figure out. . . “Is this one going to be on the test?  Do I have to remember that one over there?”  They’re down-shifting into rote memorization.

There are two kinds of students in our classrooms, even at elite universities. The first are “the intellectually disabled students.” These are students who don’t know how to beat the system.. They don’t know how to identify the points to rotely memorize. They don’t know how to manipulate faculty through flattery.  And so they don’t succeed. They fail. They’re frustrated. They despise it. They wish it was over. And, on graduation day they say with deep feeling, “Thank god it’s over. No more classes. How wonderful, I’m free, free at last. They don’t say, “Wow, now I can read all those books that I’ve been piling up, all those wonderful books I did not have time to read.”   No!  Now that they have their degree, they will never again read serious books because they have learned to dislike books and intellectual work. They are the intellectually disabled.

But, that’s not all. There’s the rest of the students; the rest of the students who thrive on memorizing the bits and pieces that satisfy professors. These I call the “elite disabled.” The ordinary disabled — not able to perform in the system — often fail as a result, or just barely get by … The elite disabled have some intellectual ability but use it mainly to do the required minimum in order to get a diploma, to get a job and move on. What a loss of brain power!  What a price the public pays!

The American Medical Association did a large study that was published four years ago on unnecessary deaths due to the failure of medical practitioners to do what is called for in standard practice. How many Americans died unnecessarily because their medical practitioners — their doctors and nurses — did the wrong thing and people died as a result? According to the American Medical Association, somewhere around 50,000 every year. Why are so many people dying through malpractice? They’re dying because of the way we have educated medical practitioners. They are not learning to think critically about what they’re doing. They are not learning to monitor their behavior accordingly. They are failing to follow basic good practice. They are oversimplifying, jumping to conclusions, making faulty inferences, misconceptualizing, etc…. Some diagnosis is put into the record and then a patient is trapped by anyone who subsequently examines them because “They have a diagnosis!”  Virtually no one says, “Forget the standard diagnosis in your case, it’s obviously not working, you’re still having problems … let’s rethink the case.” That rarely happens. There’s a good book out on this subject, entitled something like, “How Doctors Think.”  It points out how there are patterns of thinking amongst doctors not in the interest of patients, and there are very many basic things that doctors, in subconscious states of intellectual arrogance, are failing to do.

But, doctors are just one; the medical field is just one area.  I mean my remarks to apply to every single area. Let’s take one further example.

I was educated as a philosopher. Philosophers think of themselves as helping people to live something like a rational life: Living the examined life. College catalogs tell us about this. To be Socratic. To be a questioner. Okay. So, I took a course that I was teaching —an upper division course for philosophy majors — called Philosophical Reasoning and I gave the students an essay by John Austin at Oxford — very clear writing, very clear thinking — and I said, “State the purpose of the essay, state the main question that Austin considers, state the information he uses in answering these questions, give us his basic conclusion, identify his assumptions, then characterize his point of view.” (The Elements of Thought. Standard turf in critical thinking.) Then I read the student papers. What did they do? They argued with John Austin, disagreeing with him, before they understood what he was saying. So I went back to the department and said, “Look, we’re turning our majors into sophists. Our majors aren’t learning to think with discipline. They’re learning to be argumentative. They’re learning to be arguers. And furthermore, their understanding is impeded because they’re stereotyping authors they are reading.” What did the department do? “Thank you very much Richard. Your thoughts are always provocative.” Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Seemingly, they didn’t care. They didn’t care what the evidence was. They questioned rather whether I had followed the protocol for research. But this wasn’t research. This was reporting on departmental performance of a class …”Oh no, they said, it became research when you did this and this … and, by the way, you didn’t get the student’s permission for this” …

What did they want to do? To shut me up, of course. And, they successfully did. For, I thought, “Is it worth it? … No!  This piddley department … it’s not important. It’s the big picture that’s important. It’s the way the field does this systematically. It’s the way faculty are transformed into cultivators of argumentation rather than cultivators of fair-minded critical thinking.

So, let us now come to what we’re asking you to do in this conference as a result of the structure of the conference. The answer is Intellectual work, wall-to-wall intellectual work.  Every session: intellectual work.

Everyone of our sessions, in every part of every session, is designed so that you must do intellectual work to take command of the fundamental concepts of critical thinking. We begin with the need to internalize the foundational concepts. Everyone here needs to do the intellectual work to come to terms with the Elements of Thought, Universal Standards of Thought, and Traits of Mind. Intellectual work is the only way that it can be done.

Now let me give you an example of how a simply well designed intellectual strategy can help bring students into the process. A very simple thing: Take a deck of 3 X 5 cards and put one student name per card. Show the students the cards and say, “Every so often I’m going to stop and ask you to summarize what I’ve just said. I’m going to call on you to summarize my main point; to state it, to elaborate it, and to exemplify it in your own words with your own example.”  State. Elaborate. Exemplify. Every so often I walk over and I pick up the deck of cards. What happens? The whole room comes to attention. Why? Because now “I, the student, may be on stage. I may be called on to perform.” Now they listen. And so, if I have to pick up the cards five times in the class I’m going to do that. I’m not going to just stare at minds being dimmed, drifting off.

Or, consider this move: At every point in a class, at every moment of instruction, there is a question on the floor. Why?  Because if there’s no question on the floor, there’s nothing to think about. If there’s no question we’re trying to answer, why are we thinking? Now, two possibilities:  At any point in time you either know what question is on the floor, or you don’t. If you don’t know what question is on the floor, then what we’re doing is irrelevant to you, because you’re not connecting with any question, issue or problem. If you do know what the question is you can state it in an interrogative sentence that is clear and precise. So, periodically, I’ll stop and I’ll say, “Okay class, what is the question on the floor right now? I’ll give them a few moments to think. They’ll think about that. Then I’ll pick up a card, “Joan Rivers, are you there? There you are. Will you tell us what was the question on the floor? Joan says, “Well I think it’s this (she states the question)? Let’s call on someone else. “Frank, do you agree with Joan or do you disagree with her?… I disagree with her … Well, she’s right. Now, let me explain why she’s right” …. So, by calling on students unpredictably, drawing them into the intellectual work, the’re much more apt to do intellectual work.

Now let’s look at the spectrum of things we need them to do. We need them to read critically, write substantively, speak (with apparent decision), listen actively (what I’ve been talking about on how to foster active listening). We need to bring our intellectual work into tests … maybe have students write out, “What questions would you put on the test and why?… We need you to write out one exam question for the unit we just covered, indicating why you think it’s a good question, then I’ll collect all the questions and I will include at least one question from you on the exam.” Then, questioning. Learning how to ask questions. Questions drive thinking. If you have very few questions, you have very little to think about.

We live increasingly in a world of accelerated change. Things are not only changing, they’re changing faster and faster and faster. And not only is the world a world of accelerated change, it’s a world of intensifying complexity, and of  increasing danger. If our students are not learning to think critically, how are they going to know how to change their thinking in keeping with the changes of the world? …

But what we’re saying to students is we’ll teach you how to think — which usually means what to think — and then you go out into a world where what you thought is no longer what is. New things are present, new ideas, new technologies, new dangers, and old thinking is being used to deal with these new problems, because those engaged in that old thinking don’t know how to operate with thinking as their object.  They don’t know how to analyze thinking, assess thinking, reconstruct thinking.  They don’t know how to enter and learn new systems.

Critical  thinking requires you to work on your thinking  continually,  to make your thinking the object of thought; to make your behavior the object of your thinking; to make your beliefs the object of your thinking.

For example, take your religious thinking: All over the world there are very many religious belief systems. And, for each belief system, there are a certain number of true believers. The true believers are convinced that their particular slant on god is plugged right into god. So, if you’re raised in one area where Buddhism is most common, then you become a Buddhist. If you’re raised where Hindu is most common, you become a Hindu. Christian, you become a Christian. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, you have about 500 choices.

Now, how many people study alternative religions before they pick one? What brings them into the religion? Usually its because of a place of birth or because they were brought into a group that treated them well. But, because someone treats you well doesn’t mean they’re in possession of the truth. Rather than making people questioners and skeptical, the people become true believers even more persuaded that they’re plugged into god. Is this not intellectual arrogance?  If there is a god, are you and I capable of understanding him, her, it? And consider the various things people say god wants … “cover this up, no cover that up … don’t wear these clothes … no this is the holy thing … and this is the true holy place, not that.  God wants you to eat his flesh and drink his blood.  No, says someone else.  That is not so.  God wants you to join a holy war against infidels … no not that one this one” … if we looked seriously at the chaos that religious beliefs represent, we would recognize it’s a cognitive minefield. And, unfortunately, it’s a minefield literally for some who will die rather than question their beliefs. So the number of people thinking critically about religious belief is small.  The uncritical believers are many.

I’d like to now turn to a summary —  A Video Clip (6MB Windows Media Video) — which gives you, in addition to what I’ve said, 100 reasons for taking critical thinking seriously …

Two final questions: Do your students need critical thinking? … The second: Are you truly cultivating it?

Thank you very much.

Critical Thinking: Basic Questions & Answers

Critical Thinking: Basic Questions & Answers



In this interview for Think magazine (April ’’92), Richard Paul provides a quick overview of critical thinking and the issues surrounding it: defining it, common mistakes in assessing it, its relation to communication skills, self-esteem, collaborative learning, motivation, curiosity, job skills for the future, national standards, and assessment strategies.

Question: Critical thinking is essential to effective learning and productive living. Would you share your definition of critical thinking?

Paul: First, since critical thinking can be defined in a number of different ways consistent with each other, we should not put a lot of weight on any one definition. Definitions are at best scaffolding for the mind. With this qualification in mind, here is a bit of scaffolding: critical thinking is thinking about your thinking while you’re thinking in order to make your thinking better. Two things are crucial:

1) critical thinking is not just thinking, but thinking which entails self-improvement

2) this improvement comes from skill in using standards by which one appropriately assesses thinking. To put it briefly, it is self-improvement (in thinking) through standards (that assess thinking).

To think well is to impose discipline and restraint on our thinking-by means of intellectual standards — in order to raise our thinking to a level of  “perfection” or quality that is not natural or likely in undisciplined, spontaneous thought. The dimension of critical thinking least understood is that of  “intellectual standards.” Most teachers were not taught how to assess thinking through standards; indeed, often the thinking of teachers themselves is very “undisciplined” and reflects a lack of internalized intellectual standards.

Question: Could you give me an example?

Paul: Certainly, one of the most important distinctions that teachers need to routinely make, and which takes disciplined thinking to make, is that between reasoning and subjective reaction.

If we are trying to foster quality thinking, we don’t want students simply to assert things; we want them to try to reason things out on the basis of evidence and good reasons. Often, teachers are unclear about this basic difference. Many teachers are apt to take student writing or speech which is fluent and witty or glib and amusing as good thinking. They are often unclear about the constituents of good reasoning. Hence, even though a student may just be asserting things, not reasoning things out at all, if she is doing so with vivacity and flamboyance, teachers are apt to take this to be equivalent to good reasoning.

This was made clear in a recent California state-wide writing assessment in which teachers and testers applauded a student essay, which they said illustrated “exceptional achievement” in reasoned evaluation, an essay that contained no reasoning at all, that was nothing more than one subjective reaction after another. (See Why Students-and Teachers-Don’t Reason Well)

The assessing teachers and testers did not notice that the student failed to respond to the directions, did not support his judgment with reasons and evidence, did not consider possible criteria on which to base his judgment, did not analyze the subject in the light of the criteria, and did not select evidence that clearly supported his judgment. Instead the student:

described an emotional exchange

asserted-without evidence-some questionable claims

expressed a variety of subjective preferences

The assessing teachers were apparently not clear enough about the nature of evaluative reasoning or the basic notions of criteria, evidence, reasons, and well-supported judgment to notice the discrepancy. The result was, by the way, that a flagrantly mis-graded student essay was showcased nationally (in ASCD’s Developing Minds), systematically misleading the 150,000 or so teachers who read the publication.

Question: Could this possibly be a rare mistake, not representative of teacher knowledge?

Paul: I don’t think so. Let me suggest a way in which you could begin to test my contention. If you are familiar with any thinking skills programs, ask someone knowledgeable about it the “Where’s the beef?” question. Namely, “What intellectual standards does the program articulate and teach?” I think you will first find that the person is puzzled about what you mean. And then when you explain what you mean, I think you will find that the person is not able to articulate any such standards. Thinking skills programs without intellectual standards are tailor-made for mis-instruction. For example, one of the major programs asks teachers to encourage students to make inferences and use analogies, but is silent about how to teach students to assess the inferences they make and the strengths and weaknesses of the analogies they use. This misses the point. The idea is not to help students to make more inferences but to make sound ones, not to help students to come up with more analogies but with more useful and insightful ones.

Question: What is the solution to this problem? How, as a practical matter, can we solve it?

Paul: Well, not with more gimmicks or quick fixes. Not with more fluff for teachers. Only with quality long-term staff development that helps the teachers, over an extended period of time, over years not months, to work on their own thinking and come to terms with what intellectual standards are, why they are essential, and how to teach for them. The State Department in Hawaii has just such a long-term, quality, critical thinking program (see “mentor program“). So that’s one model your readers might look at. In addition, the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking Instruction is focused precisely on the articulation of standards for thinking. I am hopeful that eventually, through efforts such as these, we can move from the superficial to the substantial in fostering quality student thinking. The present level of instruction for thinking is very low indeed.

Question: But there are many areas of concern in instruction, not just one, not just critical thinking, but communication skills, problem solving, creative thinking, collaborative learning, self-esteem, and so forth. How are districts to deal with the full array of needs? How are they to do all of these rather than simply one, no matter how important that one may be?

Paul: This is the key. Everything essential to education supports everything else essential to education. It is only when good things in education are viewed superficially and wrongly that they seem disconnected, a bunch of separate goals, a conglomeration of separate problems, like so many bee-bees in a bag. In fact, any well-conceived program in critical thinking requires the integration of all of the skills and abilities you mentioned above. Hence, critical thinking is not a set of skills separable from excellence in communication, problem solving, creative thinking, or collaborative learning, nor is it indifferent to one’s sense of self-worth.

Question: Could you explain briefly why this is so?

Paul: Consider critical thinking first. We think critically when we have at least one problem to solve. One is not doing good critical thinking, therefore, if one is not solving any problems. If there is no problem there is no point in thinking critically. The “opposite” is also true. Uncritical problem solving is unintelligible. There is no way to solve problems effectively unless one thinks critically about the nature of the problems and of how to go about solving them. Thinking our way through a problem to a solution, then, is critical thinking, not something else. Furthermore, critical thinking, because it involves our working out afresh our own thinking on a subject, and because our own thinking is always a unique product of our self-structured experience, ideas, and reasoning, is intrinsically a new “creation”, a new “making”, a new set of cognitive and affective structures of some kind. All thinking, in short, is a creation of the mind’s work, and when it is disciplined so as to be well-integrated into our experience, it is a new creation precisely because of the inevitable novelty of that integration. And when it helps us to solve problems that we could not solve before, it is surely properly called “creative”.

The “making” and the “testing of that making” are intimately interconnected. In critical thinking we make and shape ideas and experiences so that they may be used to structure and solve problems, frame decisions, and, as the case may be, effectively communicate with others. The making, shaping, testing, structuring, solving, and communicating are not different activities of a fragmented mind but the same seamless whole viewed from different perspectives.

Question: How do communication skills fit in?

Paul: Some communication is surface communication, trivial communication–surface and trivial communication don’t really require education. All of us can engage in small talk, can share gossip. And we don’t require any intricate skills to do that fairly well. Where communication becomes part of our educational goal is in reading, writing, speaking and listening. These are the four modalities of communication which are essential to education and each of them is a mode of reasoning. Each of them involves problems. Each of them is shot through with critical thinking needs. Take the apparently simple matter of reading a book worth reading. The author has developed her thinking in the book, has taken some ideas and in some way represented those ideas in extended form. Our job as a reader is to translate the meaning of the author into meanings that we can understand.

This is a complicated process requiring critical thinking every step along the way.

What is the purpose for the book?

What is the author trying to accomplish?

What issues or problems are raised?

What data, what experiences, what evidence are given?

What concepts are used to organize this data, these experiences?

How is the author thinking about the world?

Is her thinking justified as far as we can see from our perspective?

And how does she justify it from her perspective?

How can we enter her perspective to appreciate what she has to say?

All of these are the kinds of questions that a critical reader raises. And a critical reader in this sense is simply someone trying to come to terms with the text.

So if one is an uncritical reader, writer, speaker, or listener, one is not a good reader, writer, speaker, or listener at all. To do any of these well is to think critically while doing so and, at one and the same time, to solve specific problems of communication, hence to effectively communicate.

Communication, in short, is always a transaction between at least two logics. In reading, as I have said, there is the logic of the thinking of the author and the logic of the thinking of the reader. The critical reader reconstructs (and so translates) the logic of the writer into the logic of the reader’s thinking and experience. This entails disciplined intellectual work. The end result is a new creation; the writer’s thinking for the first time now exists within the reader’s mind. No mean feat!

Question: And self esteem? How does it fit in?

Paul: Healthy self-esteem emerges from a justified sense of self-worth, just as self-worth emerges from competence, ability, and genuine success. If one simply feels good about oneself for no good reason, then one is either arrogant (which is surely not desirable) or, alternatively, has a dangerous sense of misplaced confidence. Teenagers, for example, sometimes think so well of themselves that they operate under the illusion that they can safely drive while drunk or safely take drugs. They often feel much too highly of their own competence and powers and are much too unaware of their limitations. To accurately sort out genuine self-worth from a false sense of self-esteem requires, yes you guessed it, critical thinking.

Question: And finally, what about collaborative learning? How does it fit in?

Paul: Collaborative learning is desirable only if grounded in disciplined critical thinking. Without critical thinking, collaborative learning is likely to become collaborative mis-learning. It is collective bad thinking in which the bad thinking being shared becomes validated. Remember, gossip is a form of collaborative learning; peer group indoctrination is a form of collaborative learning; mass hysteria is a form of speed collaborative learning (mass learning of a most undesirable kind). We learn prejudices collaboratively, social hates and fears collaboratively, stereotypes and narrowness of mind, collaboratively. If we don’’t put disciplined critical thinking into the heart and soul of the collaboration, we get the mode of collaboration which is antithetical to education, knowledge, and insight.

So there are a lot of important educational goals deeply tied into critical thinking just as critical thinking is deeply tied into them. Basically the problem in the schools is that we separate things, treat them in isolation and mistreat them as a result. We end up with a superficial representation, then, of each of the individual things that is essential to education, rather than seeing how each important good thing helps inform all the others

Question: One important aim of schooling should be to create a climate that evokes children’’s sense of wonder and inspires their imagination to soar. What can teachers do to “kindle” this spark and keep it alive in education?

Paul: First of all, we kill the child’s curiosity, her desire to question deeply, by superficial didactic instruction. Young children continually ask why. Why this and why that? And why this other thing? But we soon shut that curiosity down with glib answers, answers to fend off rather than to respond to the logic of the question. In every field of knowledge, every answer generates more questions, so that the more we know the more we recognize we don’t know. It is only people who have little knowledge who take their knowledge to be complete and entire. If we thought deeply about almost any of the answers which we glibly give to children, we would recognize that we don’t really have a satisfactory answer to most of their questions. Many of our answers are no more than a repetition of what we as children heard from adults. We pass on the misconceptions of our parents and those of their parents. We say what we heard, not what we know. We rarely join the quest with our children. We rarely admit our ignorance, even to ourselves. Why does rain fall from the sky? Why is snow cold? What is electricity and how does it go through the wire? Why are people bad? Why does evil exist? Why is there war? Why did my dog have to die? Why do flowers bloom? Do we really have good answers to these questions?

Question: How does curiosity fit in with critical thinking?

Paul: To flourish, curiosity must evolve into disciplined inquiry and reflection. Left to itself it will soar like a kite without a tail, that is, right into the ground! Intellectual curiosity is an important trait of mind, but it requires a family of other traits to fulfill it. It requires intellectual humility, intellectual courage, intellectual integrity, intellectual perseverance, and faith in reason. After all, intellectual curiosity is not a thing in itself — valuable in itself and for itself. It is valuable because it can lead to knowledge, understanding, and insight; because it can help broaden, deepen, sharpen our minds, making us better, more humane, more richly endowed persons.

To reach these ends, the mind must be more than curious, it must be willing to work, willing to suffer through confusion and frustration, willing to face limitations and overcome obstacles, open to the views of others, and willing to entertain ideas that many people find threatening. That is, there is no point in our trying to model and encourage curiosity, if we are not willing to foster an environment in which the minds of our students can learn the value and pain of hard intellectual work. We do our students a disservice if we imply that all we need is unbridled curiosity, that with it alone knowledge comes to us with blissful ease in an atmosphere of fun, fun, fun.

What good is curiosity if we don’t know what to do next or how to satisfy it? We can create the environment necessary to the discipline, power, joy, and work of critical thinking only by modeling it before and with our students. They must see our minds at work. Our minds must stimulate theirs with questions and yet further question; questions that probe information and experience; questions that call for reasons and evidence; questions that lead students to examine interpretations and conclusions, pursuing their basis in fact and experience; questions that help students to discover their assumptions, questions that stimulate students to follow out the implications of their thought, to test their ideas, to take their ideas apart, to challenge their ideas, to take their ideas seriously. It is in the totality of this intellectually rigorous atmosphere that natural curiosity thrives.

Question: It is important for our students to be productive members of the work-force. How can schools better prepare students to meet these challenges?

Paul: The fundamental characteristic of the world students now enter is ever-accelerating change; a world in which information is multiplying even as it is swiftly becoming obsolete and out of date; a world in which ideas are continually restructured, retested, and rethought; where one cannot survive with simply one way of thinking; where one must continually adapt one’s thinking to the thinking of others; where one must respect the need for accuracy and precision and meticulousness; a world in which job skills must continually be upgraded and perfected — even transformed. We have never had to face such a world before. Education has never before had to prepare students for such dynamic flux, unpredictability, and complexity for such ferment, tumult, and disarray.

We as educators are now on the firing line.

Are we willing to fundamentally rethink our methods of teaching?

Are we ready for the 21st Century?

Are we willing to learn new concepts and ideas?

Are we willing to learn a new sense of discipline as we teach it to our students?

Are we willing to bring new rigor to our own thinking in order to help our students bring that same rigor to theirs?

Are we willing, in short, to become critical thinkers so that we might be an example of what our students must internalize and become?

These are profound challenges to the profession. They call upon us to do what no previous generation of teachers was ever called upon to do. Those of us willing to pay the price will yet have to teach side by side with teachers unwilling to pay the price. This will make our job even more difficult, but not less exciting, not less important, not less rewarding. Critical thinking is the heart of well-conceived educational reform and restructuring, because it is at the heart of the changes of the 21st Century. Let us hope that enough of us will have the fortitude and vision to grasp this reality and transform our lives and our schools accordingly.

Question: National standards will result in national accountability. What is your vision for the future?

Paul: Most of the national assessment we have done thus far is based on lower-order learning and thinking. It has focused on what might be called surface knowledge. It has rewarded the kind of thinking that lends itself to multiple choice machine-graded assessment. We now recognize that the assessment of the future must focus on higher – not lower – order thinking; that it must assess more reasoning than recall; that it must assess authentic performances, students engaged in bona fide intellectual work.

Our problem is in designing and implementing such assessment. In November of this last year, Gerald Nosich and I developed and presented, at the request of the U.S. Department of Education, a model for the national assessment of higher order thinking. At a follow-up meeting of critical thinking’s problem-solving, communication, and testing scholars and practitioners, it was almost unanimously agreed that it is possible to assess higher-order thinking on a national scale. It was clear from the commitments of the departments of Education, Labor, and Commerce that such an assessment is in the cards.

The fact is, we must have standards and assessment strategies for higher-order thinking for a number of reasons.

First, assessment and accountability are here to stay. The public will not accept less.

Second, what is not assessed is not, on the whole, taught.

Third, what is mis-assessed is mis-taught.

Fourth, higher-order thinking, critical thinking abilities, are increasingly crucial to success in every domain of personal and professional life.

Fifth, critical thinking research is making the cultivation and assessment of higher-order thinking do-able.

The road will not be easy, but if we take the knowledge, understanding, and insights we have gained about critical thinking over the last twelve years, there is much that we could do in assessment that we haven’t yet done — at the level of the individual classroom teacher, at the level of the school system, at the level of the state, and at the national level.

Of course, we want to do this in such a way as not to commit the “Harvard Fallacy;” the mistaken notion that because graduates from Harvard are very successful, that the teaching at Harvard necessarily had something to do with it.

It may be that the best prepared and well-connected students coming out of high school are going to end up as the best who graduate from college, no matter what college they attend. We need to focus our assessment, in other words, on how much value has been added by an institution. We need to know where students stood at the beginning, to assess the instruction they received on their way from the beginning to the end. We need pre-and post-testing and assessment in order to see which schools, which institutions, which districts are really adding value, and significant value, to the quality of thinking and learning of their students.

Finally, we have to realize that we already have instruments available for assessing what might be called the fine-textured micro-skills of critical thinking. We already know how to design prompts that test students’ ability to identify a plausible statement of a writer’s purpose; distinguish clearly between purposes; inferences, assumptions, and consequences; discuss reasonably the merits of different versions of a problem or question; decide the most reasonable statement of an author’s point of view; recognize bias, narrowness, and contradictions in the point of view of an excerpt; distinguish evidence from conclusions based on that evidence; give evidence to back up their positions in an essay; recognize conclusions that go beyond the evidence; distinguish central from peripheral concepts; identify crucial implications of a passage; evaluate an author’s inferences; draw reasonable inferences from positions stated . . . and so on.

With respect to intellectual standards, we are quite able to design prompts that require students to recognize clarity in contrast to unclarity; distinguish accurate from inaccurate accounts; decide when a statement is relevant or irrelevant to a given point; identify inconsistent positions as well as consistent ones; discriminate deep, complete, and significant accounts from those that are superficial, fragmentary, and trivial; evaluate responses with respect to their fairness; distinguish well-evidenced accounts from those unsupported by reasons and evidence; and tell good reasons from bad.

With respect to large scale essay assessment, we know enough now about random sampling to be able to require extended reasoning and writing without having to pay for the individual assessment of millions of essays.

What remains is to put what we know into action: at the school and district level to facilitate long-term teacher development around higher-order thinking, at the state and national level to provide for long-term assessment of district, state, and national performance. The project will take generations and perhaps in some sense will never end.

After all, when will we have developed our thinking far enough, when will we have enough intellectual integrity, enough intellectual courage, enough intellectual perseverance, enough intellectual skill and ability, enough fairmindedness, enough reasonability?

One thing is painfully clear. We already have more than enough rote memorization and uninspired didactic teaching; more than enough passivity and indifference, cynicism and defeatism, complacency and ineptness. The ball is in our court. Let’s take up the challenge together and make, with our students, a new and better world.

{This is taken from the book: How to Prepare Students for a rapidly Changing World by Richard Paul.}

A Brief History of the Idea of Critical Thinking

A Brief History of the Idea of Critical Thinking

The intellectual roots of critical thinking are as ancient as its etymology, traceable, ultimately, to the teaching practice and vision of Socrates 2,500 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 (Sumna Theologica) who to ensure his thinking met the test of critical thought, always systematically stated, considered, and answered all criticisms of his ideas as a necessary stage in developing them. Aquinas heightened our awareness not only of the potential power of reasoning but also of the need for reasoning to be systematically cultivated and “cross-examined.” Of course, Aquinas’ thinking also illustrates that those who think critically do not always reject established beliefs, only those beliefs that lack reasonable foundations.

In the Renaissance (15th and 16th Centuries), a flood of scholars in Europe began to think critically about religion, art, society, human nature, law, and freedom. They proceeded with the assumption that most of the domains of human life were in need of searching analysis and critique. Among these scholars were Colet, Erasmus, and Moore in England. They followed up on the insight of the ancients.

Francis Bacon, in England, was explicitly concerned with the way we misuse our minds in seeking knowledge. He recognized explicitly that the mind cannot safely be left to its natural tendencies. In his book The Advancement of Learning, he argued for the importance of studying the world empirically. He laid the foundation for modern science with his emphasis on the information-gathering processes. He also called attention to the fact that most people, if left to their own devices, develop bad habits of thought (which he called “idols”) that lead them to believe what is false or misleading. He called attention to “Idols of the tribe” (the ways our mind naturally tends to trick itself), “Idols of the market-place” (the ways we misuse words), “Idols of the theater” (our tendency to become trapped in conventional systems of thought), and “Idols of the schools” (the problems in thinking when based on blind rules and poor instruction). His book could be considered one of the earliest texts in critical thinking, for his agenda was very much the traditional agenda of critical thinking.

Some fifty years later in France, Descartes wrote what might be called the second text in critical thinking, Rules For the Direction of the Mind. In it, Descartes argued for the need for a special systematic disciplining of the mind to guide it in thinking. He articulated and defended the need in thinking for clarity and precision. He developed a method of critical thought based on the principle of systematic doubt. He emphasized the need to base thinking on well-thought through foundational assumptions. Every part of thinking, he argued, should be questioned, doubted, and tested.

In the same time period, Sir Thomas Moore developed a model of a new social order, Utopia, in which every domain of the present world was subject to critique. His implicit thesis was that established social systems are in need of radical analysis and critique. The critical thinking of these Renaissance and post-Renaissance scholars opened the way for the emergence of science and for the development of democracy, human rights, and freedom for thought.

In the Italian Renaissance, Machiavelli’s The Prince critically assessed the politics of the day, and laid the foundation for modern critical political thought. He refused to assume that government functioned as those in power said it did. Rather, he critically analyzed how it did function and laid the foundation for political thinking that exposes both, on the one hand, the real agendas of politicians and, on the other hand, the many contradictions and inconsistencies of the hard, cruel, world of the politics of his day

Hobbes and Locke (in 16th and 17th Century England) displayed the same confidence in the critical mind of the thinker that we find in Machiavelli. Neither accepted the traditional picture of things dominant in the thinking of their day. Neither accepted as necessarily rational that which was considered “normal” in their culture. Both looked to the critical mind to open up new vistas of learning. Hobbes adopted a naturalistic view of the world in which everything was to be explained by evidence and reasoning. Locke defended a common sense analysis of everyday life and thought. He laid the theoretical foundation for critical thinking about basic human rights and the responsibilities of all governments to submit to the reasoned criticism of thoughtful citizens.

It was in this spirit of intellectual freedom and critical thought that people such as Robert Boyle (in the 17th Century) and Sir Isaac Newton (in the 17th and 18th Century) did their work. In his Sceptical Chymist, Boyle severely criticized the chemical theory that had preceded him. Newton, in turn, developed a far-reaching framework of thought which roundly criticized the traditionally accepted world view. He extended the critical thought of such minds as Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler. After Boyle and Newton, it was recognized by those who reflected seriously on the natural world that egocentric views of world must be abandoned in favor of views based entirely on carefully gathered evidence and sound reasoning.

Another significant contribution to critical thinking was made by the thinkers of the French Enlightenment: Bayle, Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Diderot. They all began with the premise that the human mind, when disciplined by reason, is better able to figure out the nature of the social and political world. What is more, for these thinkers, reason must turn inward upon itself, in order to determine weaknesses and strengths of thought. They valued disciplined intellectual exchange, in which all views had to be submitted to serious analysis and critique. They believed that all authority must submit in one way or another to the scrutiny of reasonable critical questioning.

Eighteenth Century thinkers extended our conception of critical thought even further, developing our sense of the power of critical thought and of its tools. Applied to the problem of economics, it produced Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. In the same year, applied to the traditional concept of loyalty to the king, it produced the Declaration of Independence. Applied to reason itself, it produced Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.

In the 19th Century, critical thought was extended even further into the domain of human social life by Comte and Spencer. Applied to the problems of capitalism, it produced the searching social and economic critique of Karl Marx. Applied to the history of human culture and the basis of biological life, it led to Darwin’s Descent of Man. Applied to the unconscious mind, it is reflected in the works of Sigmund Freud. Applied to cultures, it led to the establishment of the field of Anthropological studies. Applied to language, it led to the field of Linguistics and to many deep probings of the functions of symbols and language in human life.

In the 20th Century, our understanding of the power and nature of critical thinking has emerged in increasingly more explicit formulations. In 1906, William Graham Sumner published a land-breaking study of the foundations of sociology and anthropology, Folkways, in which he documented the tendency of the human mind to think sociocentrically and the parallel tendency for schools to serve the (uncritical) function of social indoctrination :

“Schools make persons all on one pattern, orthodoxy. School education, unless it is regulated by the best knowledge and good sense, will produce men and women who are all of one pattern, as if turned in a lathe. An orthodoxy is produced in regard to all the great doctrines of life. It consists of the most worn and commonplace opinions which are common in the masses. The popular opinions always contain broad fallacies, half-truths, and glib generalizations (p. 630).

At the same time, Sumner recognized the deep need for critical thinking in life and in education:

“Criticism is the examination and test of propositions of any kind which are offered for acceptance, in order to find out whether they correspond to reality or not. The critical faculty is a product of education and training. It is a mental habit and power. It is a prime condition of human welfare that men and women should be trained in it. It is our only guarantee against delusion, deception, superstition, and misapprehension of ourselves and our earthly circumstances. Education is good just so far as it produces well-developed critical faculty. A teacher of any subject who insists on accuracy and a rational control of all processes and methods, and who holds everything open to unlimited verification and revision, is cultivating that method as a habit in the pupils. Men educated in it cannot be stampeded. 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. They can resist appeals to their dearest prejudices. Education in the critical faculty is the only education of which it can be truly said that it makes good citizens” (pp. 632, 633).

John Dewey agreed. From his work, we have increased our sense of the pragmatic basis of human thought (its instrumental nature), and especially its grounding in actual human purposes, goals, and objectives. From the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein we have increased our awareness not only of the importance of concepts in human thought, but also of the need to analyze concepts and assess their power and limitations. From the work of Piaget, we have increased our awareness of the egocentric and sociocentric tendencies of human thought and of the special need to develop critical thought which is able to reason within multiple standpoints, and to be raised to the level of “conscious realization.” From the massive contribution of all the “hard” sciences, we have learned the power of information and the importance of gathering information with great care and precision, and with sensitivity to its potential inaccuracy, distortion, or misuse. From the contribution of depth-psychology, we have learned how easily the human mind is self-deceived, how easily it unconsciously constructs illusions and delusions, how easily it rationalizes and stereotypes, projects and scapegoats.

To sum up, the tools and resources of the critical thinker have been vastly increased in virtue of the history of critical thought. Hundreds of thinkers have contributed to its development. Each major discipline has made some contribution to critical thought. Yet for most educational purposes, it is the summing up of base-line common denominators for critical thinking that is most important. Let us consider now that summation.

The Common Denominators of Critical Thinking Are the Most Important By-products of the History of Critical Thinking

We now recognize that critical thinking, by its very nature, requires, for example, the systematic monitoring of thought; that thinking, to be critical, must not be accepted at face value but must be analyzed and assessed for its clarity, accuracy, relevance, depth, breadth, and logicalness. We now recognize that critical thinking, by its very nature, requires, for example, the recognition that all reasoning occurs within points of view and frames of reference; that all reasoning proceeds from some goals and objectives, has an informational base; that all data when used in reasoning must be interpreted, that interpretation involves concepts; that concepts entail assumptions, and that all basic inferences in thought have implications. We now recognize that each of these dimensions of thinking need to be monitored and that problems of thinking can occur in any of them.

The result of the collective contribution of the history of critical thought is that the basic questions of Socrates can now be much more powerfully and focally framed and used. In every domain of human thought, and within every use of reasoning within any domain, it is now possible to question:

  • ends and objectives,
  • the status and wording of questions,
  • the sources of information and fact,
  • the method and quality of information collection,
  • the mode of judgment and reasoning used,
  • the concepts that make that reasoning possible,
  • the assumptions that underlie concepts in use,
  • the implications that follow from their use, and
  • the point of view or frame of reference within which reasoning takes place.

In other words, questioning that focuses on these fundamentals of thought and reasoning are now baseline in critical thinking. It is beyond question that intellectual errors or mistakes can occur in any of these dimensions, and that students need to be fluent in talking about these structures and standards.

Independent of the subject studied, students need to be able to articulate thinking about thinking that reflects basic command of the intellectual dimensions of thought:  “Let’s see, what is the most fundamental issue here? From what point of view should I approach this problem? Does it make sense for me to assume this? From these data may I infer this? What is implied in this graph? What is the fundamental concept here? Is this consistent with that? What makes this question complex? How could I check the accuracy of these data? If this is so, what else is implied? Is this a credible source of information? Etc.” (For more information on the basic elements of thought and basic intellectual criteria and standards, see Appendices C and D).

With intellectual language such as this in the foreground, students can now be taught at least minimal critical thinking moves within any subject field. What is more, there is no reason in principle that students cannot take the basic tools of critical thought which they learn in one domain of study and extend it (with appropriate adjustments) to all the other domains and subjects which they study. For example, having questioned the wording of a problem in math, I am more likely to question the wording of a problem in the other subjects I study.

As a result of the fact that students can learn these generalizable critical thinking moves, they need not be taught history simply as a body of facts to memorize; they can now be taught history as historical reasoning. Classes can be designed so that students learn to think historically and develop skills and abilities essential to historical thought. Math can be taught so that the emphasis is on mathematical reasoning. Students can learn to think geographically, economically, biologically, chemically, in courses within these disciplines. In principle, then, all students can be taught so that they learn how to bring the basic tools of disciplined reasoning into every subject they study. Unfortunately, it is apparent, given the results of this study, that we are very far from this ideal state of affairs. We now turn to the fundamental concepts and principles tested in standardized critical thinking tests.

{ Taken from the California Teacher Preparation for Instruction in Critical Thinking: Research Findings and Policy Recommendations: State of California, California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, Sacramento, CA, March 1997. Principal authors: Richard Paul, Linda Elder, and Ted Bartell }

Defining Critical Thinking


Critical thinking…the awakening of the intellect to the study of itself.

Critical thinking is a rich concept that has been developing throughout the past 2500 years.  The term “critical thinking” has its roots in the mid-late 20th century.  We offer here overlapping definitions, together which form a substantive, transdisciplinary conception of critical thinking.

Critical Thinking as Defined by the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking, 1987
A statement by Michael Scriven & Richard Paul for the
{presented at the 8th Annual International Conference on Critical Thinking and Education Reform, Summer 1987}.

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 universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness.

It entails the examination of those structures or elements of thought implicit in all reasoning: purpose, problem, or question-at-issue; assumptions; concepts; empirical grounding; reasoning leading to conclusions; implications and consequences; objections from alternative viewpoints; and frame of reference. Critical thinking — in being responsive to variable subject matter, issues, and purposes — is incorporated in a family of interwoven modes of thinking, among them: scientific thinking, mathematical thinking, historical thinking, anthropological thinking, economic thinking, moral thinking, and philosophical thinking.

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.

Critical thinking varies according to the motivation underlying it. When grounded in selfish motives, it is often manifested in the skillful manipulation of ideas in service of one’’s own, or one’s groups’’, vested interest. As such it is typically intellectually flawed, however pragmatically successful it might be. When grounded in fairmindedness and intellectual integrity, it is typically of a higher order intellectually, though subject to the charge of “idealism” by those habituated to its selfish use.

Critical thinking of any kind is never universal in any individual; everyone is subject to 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.
Another Brief Conceptualization of Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is self-guided, self-disciplined thinking which attempts to reason at the highest level of quality in a fair-minded way.  People who think critically consistently attempt to live rationally, reasonably, empathically.   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 use the intellectual tools that critical thinking offers – concepts and principles that enable them to analyze, assess, and improve thinking.  They work diligently to develop the intellectual virtues of intellectual integrity, intellectual humility, intellectual civility, intellectual empathy, intellectual sense of justice and confidence in reason.  They realize that no matter how skilled they are as thinkers, they can always improve their reasoning abilities and they will at times fall prey to mistakes in reasoning, human irrationality, 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 and contribute to a more rational, civilized society.   At the same time, they recognize the complexities often 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 complexities 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, because they realize that many unexamined lives together result in an uncritical, unjust, dangerous world.

~ Linda Elder, September, 2007

Why Critical Thinking?
The Problem
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.

A Definition
Critical thinking is that mode of thinking – about any subject, content, or
problem – in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking
by skillfully taking charge of the structures inherent in thinking and
imposing intellectual standards upon them.

The Result
A well cultivated critical thinker:

  • raises vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and
  • gathers and assesses relevant information, using abstract ideas to
    interpret it effectively
    comes to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards;
  • thinks openmindedly within alternative systems of thought,
    recognizing and assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences; and
  • communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems.

Critical thinking is, in short, self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. It presupposes assent to rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem solving abilities and a commitment to overcome our native egocentrism and sociocentrism.  (Taken from Richard Paul and Linda Elder, The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools, Foundation for Critical Thinking Press, 2008).

Critical Thinking Defined by Edward Glaser

In a seminal study on critical thinking and education in 1941, Edward Glaser defines critical thinking as follows “The ability to think critically, as conceived in this volume, involves three things: ( 1 ) an attitude of being disposed to consider in a thoughtful way the problems and subjects that come within the range of one’s experiences, (2) knowledge of the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning, and (3) some skill in applying those methods. Critical thinking calls for a persistent effort to examine any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the evidence that supports it and the further conclusions to which it tends. It also generally requires ability to recognize problems, to find workable means for meeting those problems, to gather and marshal pertinent information, to recognize unstated assumptions and values, to comprehend and use language with accuracy, clarity, and discrimination, to interpret data, to appraise evidence and evaluate arguments, to recognize the existence (or non-existence) of logical relationships between propositions, to draw warranted conclusions and generalizations, to put to test the conclusions and generalizations at which one arrives, to reconstruct one’s patterns of beliefs on the basis of wider experience, and to render accurate judgments about specific things and qualities in everyday life. (Edward M. Glaser, An Experiment in the Development of Critical Thinking, Teacher’s College, Columbia University, 1941).