Today’s marketplace demands skilled workers who can think clearly, precisely, deeply, and accurately while identifying and answering questions, solving problems, and making decisions in an ever-changing environment. Today’s world demands citizens who can “evaluate, analyze, and make judgments about the multitude of messages or interactions they encounter in their daily lives” (Jones et al). At Surry Community College, we strive to apply the concepts of critical thinking to what we teach, how we teach, and how we assess in order to prepare students for the workplace and the world beyond.
Our faculty use the comprehensive critical thinking model created by Richard Paul, expanded by Paul and Linda Elder, and promoted by the Foundation and Center for Critical Thinking (www.criticalthinking.org). The model is built on three fundamental concepts: elements of reasoning, intellectual standards, and intellectual traits.
All thinking can be divided into elements: purpose, point of view, assumptions, implications and consequences, data and information, inferences and interpretations, concepts, and question at issue. Paul and Elder explain in Tools for Taking Charge of Your Learning and Your Life, “Whenever you are reasoning you are trying to accomplish some purpose, within a point of view, using concepts or ideas. You are focused on some question, issue or problem, using information to come to conclusions, based on assumptions, all of which has implications.”
All thinking can be measured against intellectual standards such as clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, logic, significance, and fairness. Paul and Elder note that “these are not the only intellectual standards a person might use. They are simply among those that are the most fundamental. . . . Thinking critically requires command of [these] fundamental intellectual standards.”
Paul and Elder also note, “As we are learning the basic intellectual skills that critical thinking entails, we can begin to use those skills in a selfish or fair-minded way.” All thinkers should cultivate positive intellectual traits such as intellectual humility, confidence in reason, intellectual empathy, and intellectual integrity, among others. These are the inter-related characteristics of fair-minded thinking, what Peter Facione describes as the “spirit” of critical thinking.
Critical thinkers analyze their thinking and that of others by identifying and examining the elements of reasoning. Critical thinkers assess their thinking and that of others by applying universal standards of reasoning. Critical thinkers use their skills in an ethical manner. These three components—the elements, standards, and traits—form the backbone of Richard Paul’s model of critical thinking. The following excerpt from Paul and Elder’s Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking further explains the concept:
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.
A well-cultivated critical thinker:
- Raises vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely;
- 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 open-mindedly 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.
In their "Dimensions of Critical Thought," Paul and Elder detail the skills and dispositions associated with critical thinking. You may read about the strategies explained in depth, or read our collection of definitions and descriptions of critical thinking skills and dispositions from many scholars.