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Critical Thinking and Social Studies

Critical Thinking and the Social Studies Teacher

by Mike Yell

                        The advance of knowledge has been achieved not because the mind is capable of memorizing what teachers say but because it can be disciplined to ask probing questions and pursue them in a reasoned, self-critical way. Scholars pursuing knowledge submit their thinking to rigorous discipline. 

~Richard Paul

One of the most used and highlighted books in my professional library is Critical Thinking: How to Prepare Students for a Rapidly Changing World by Richard Paul, an international leader in critical thinking movement. We often hear about the need for critical thinking, but we seldom hear sound definitions, or, in my opinion, see comprehensive models that we can apply to what we do in our classrooms. To my mind the works of Richard Paul, and his colleagues Linda Elder Gerald Nosich, and others at the Foundation for Critical Thinking put flesh on the bones of the concept of critical thinking; a concept all too rarely made substantive.

While there are many different approaches to, and definitions of, critical thinking, the Paul/Elder view is that critical thinking is the development of discipline organized thinking that monitors itself and is guided by intellectual standards. Further, they hold that reasoning must be at the heart of good teaching, sound learning, and preparation for college, career, and civic life. Rather than lectures, worksheets, and didactic instruction, it is through reasoning and thinking their way through the curriculum, that students really learn. This approach to critical thinking, I believe, puts this model of critical thinking head and shoulders above others.

The Richard Paul and Linda Elder view of critical thinking, then, has two major components: the.....

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