By Dr. Stephanie Bennett, Department of Sociology and Provisions Critical Thinking Fellow

When I first engaged in researching for the Provisions Critical Thinking Fellowship, I started like any other academic.  I went into a variety of databases for academic articles in my field.  In my discipline specific searching, I found a wealth of information on Sociologists interpret critical thinking.  But I did know that my search needed to move from a discipline specific search to a more interdisciplinary search to fit to be able to engage in a campus wide conversation.  So I moved to a more general search, and yes I will admit it moved me to a Google search.

Regardless of the search terms I put in, one of the first results was the Foundation for Critical Thinking.  I found Richard Paul philosopher, author of a variety of books, and a founder of the foundation.  His name was familiar as it was referenced in other critical thinking articles with a co-author Linda Elder.  The Paul-Elder model of critical thinking had become a standard.  For me, I needed to know what they believes were.   I felt that if I was going to provide resources for others on campus, there was no way I could overlook such a prominent name.

So I choose the book, Critical Thinking: What Every Person Needs To Survive in a Rapidly Changing World.  I choose this one of all his books, because it was a collection of his what he believes are his “major” papers.  I started reading articles on education.  While I found that many of the articles on teaching were centered on k-12 education, I found the critique in the articles was relevant to all structured education.  Paul criticizes the lack of deep learning emphasis today and proposes a more Socratic method.

The more I read of the articles the more I began to understand the Paul-Elder model.  He believes that critical thinking is a way to reconstruct the way one thinks.  “In thinking critically we take command of our conceptual creations, assessing them more explicitly than is normally done.”

I found that reading the articles I got a deeper understanding of Paul’s belief system and his outlook on Critical thinking.  I feel there are parts of his theory that have opened my eyes to further understanding of the wide definition of Critical Thinking.  He not only critiques the lack of Critical thinking in society and education, but he also suggests ways to change this.  It was worth the read for me.


One thought on “My Introduction to Critical Thinking Research

  1. This is such valuable information, Stephanie–I had no idea Paul and Elder were so central.

    What seems common among the texts that you, Jim, and Amina, mention is a far more conscious or self-aware–less unconscious or self-evident–relationship to our thought processes…. An articulation and testing (questioning?) of assumptions, as well as of conventional ways of making connections between one thought and another (our logical connections). Taking a step back from our own thinking, I guess, and looking at it, as it were, from a distance?

    I suppose Sociology (or Anthropology?) would be particularly good at facilitating this practice?

    It seems to me that “critical thinking”, as such, could really only arise once a culture’s core assumptions lose the status of the self-evidently true (and, thus, invisible)? Socrates only comes to the fore when the gods can be questioned? Descartes only feels the need to establish the certainty of the cogito once it’s no longer given?

    I wonder if part of the reason that it’s difficulty to encourage critical thinking in students is that–in the beginning, anyway–things are fairly “settled” in their minds? The world of “facts” is more or less stable, and they’re resistant to “problematizing” questions? When I used to teach literature, an early (and often-repeated) refrain was: “You’re reading too much into this. Maybe the story’s just about the story”, etc.


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