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Critical Thinking
Being Critical, Not Thinking Critically Too often in practice, people equate critical thinking with merely being skeptical of whatever they hear. Or they will interpret it to mean that, when confronted with someone who says something that they disagree with, they either: Stop listening (and perhaps then start shouting) Find a way to squeeze the statement into our pre-existing belief […]

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Francis Roberts

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July 10, 2019

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Being Critical, Not Thinking Critically Too often in practice, people equate critical thinking with merely being skeptical of whatever they hear. Or they will interpret it to mean that, when confronted with someone who says something that they disagree with, they either:

  • Stop listening (and perhaps then start shouting)
  • Find a way to squeeze the statement into our pre-existing belief system (if we can’t we stop thinking about it)
  • Attempt to “educate” the speaker about why their statement or belief system is flawed. When this inevitably fails we stop speaking to them, at least about the subject in question.

Ultimately, each of these responses leaves us exactly where we started, and indeed stunts our intellectual growth. I confess that I do a, b, and c far too often (except I try not to really shout that much).

Critical Thinking Process

  • Step # 1 – Start with a Question
  • Step #2 – Propose an Answer (A Conclusion)
    • List the facts, beliefs, paradigms, premises, other conclusions supporting the proposed answer
  • Independent of our agreement with the Answer we need to state our agreement or disagreement with the following:
    • Does the Proposed Answer follow from those premises?
    • Is the Answer “reasonable?”
    • Are the facts, beliefs, paradigms, premises, or other conclusions used to support the proposed answer “Reasonable?”
    • Is what the “I” consider “reasonable” “reasonable?”

This exercise ranges from hard to excruciatingly uncomfortable – at least when it comes to examining my own beliefs. (I’ve found that if I dislike a particular conclusion it’s hard to get myself to rigorously follow this procedure; but if I like a conclusion it’s often even harder.)

Automating Critical Thinking

I believe it is very possible to automate this critical thinking process.


Teaching Critical Thinking

Fortunately, people have written articles and books that offer good criticisms of most of my current beliefs. Of course, it’s then up to me to read them, which I don’t do often enough. And so, unfortunately, I don’t think critically as much as I should…except when I teach economics.

It’s very important, for example, for a student to critically question her teacher, but that’s radically different from arguing merely to win. Critical thinking is argument for the sake of better understanding, and if you do it right, there are no losers, only winners.

Economics does a pretty good job of teaching critical thinking.

Once in a while, a student speaks up in class and catches me in a contradiction – perhaps I’ve confused absolute advantage with comparative advantage – and that’s an excellent application of genuine critical thinking. As a result we’re both now thinking more clearly. But when a student or colleague begins a statement with something like “Well, you’re entitled to your opinion, but I believe…” that person may be trying to be critical (of me) but not in (or of) their thinking.

It may not be the best discipline for this, but I believe economics does a pretty good job of teaching critical thinking in the sense of #1 (logical thinking). Good teachers of economics will also strategically address #2 (evaluating assumptions), especially if they know something about the history of economic ideas.

Economics teachers with a philosophical bent will sometimes address #3 but only rarely (otherwise they’d be trading off too much economic content for epistemology). In any case, I don’t think it’s possible to “get to the bottom” of what is “reasonable reasonableness” and so on because what ultimately is reasonable may, for logical or practical reasons, always lie beyond our grasp.

I could be wrong about that or indeed any of this. But I do know that critical thinking is a pain in the neck. And that I hope is a step in the right direction.


CT700: How to Infuse Critical Thinking Into Instruction 

In this course, you will be introduced to the elements of reasoning, universal intellectual standards, and intellectual traits through readings, discussions, and practical application activities.

You will practice strategies for Socratic discussions. You will help students learn to consciously use critical thinking concepts and strategies in learning, and in their lives.

As an outcome of this course, you will develop skills in:

  • Using the Elements of Reasoning and Intellectual Standards to create critical thinking lessons in your subject area.
  • Designing instruction that fosters explicit critical thinking.
  • Using the Elements of Reasoning and Intellectual Standards to think through intellectual, academic, personal, social, and political problems.
  • Providing the intellectual tools you need to engage in fair-minded critical reasoning.

Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Learning and Your Life

Whatever you are doing right now is determined by the way you are thinking. Whatever emotions you feel are determined by your thinking. Whatever you want – all your desires – are determined by your thinking. If your thinking is unrealistic, it will lead you to many disappointments. If your thinking is overly pessimistic, it will deny you due recognition of the many things in which you should properly rejoice.   Think of the “Stockdale Paradox.”

Since few people realize the powerful role that thinking plays in their lives, few gain significant command of it. Most people are frequently victims of their thinking; that is, they are hurt  rather than helped   by it. Most people are their own worst enemies. Their thinking is a continual source of problems, preventing them from recognizing opportunities, keeping them from exerting energy where it will do the most good, poisoning relationships, and leading them down blind alleys.

This course will introduce you to the tools the best thinkers use and will exemplify the activities and practice you can use to begin emulating them. Here are some of the qualities of the best thinkers:

  • The best thinkers think about their thinking.    They do not take thinking for granted. They do not trust to fate to make them good in thinking. They    notice  their thinking. They    reflect   on their thinking. They   act  upon their thinking.
  • The best thinkers are highly purposeful.    They do not simply act. They know why they act. They know what they are about. They have clear goals and clear priorities. They continually check their activities for alignment with their goals.
  • The best thinkers have intellectual “tools” that they use to raise the quality of their thinking.    They know how to express their thinking clearly. They know how to check it for accuracy and precision. They know how to keep focused on a question and make sure that it is relevant to their goals and purposes. They know how to think beneath the surface and how to expand their thinking to include insights from multiple perspectives. They know how to think logically about and significantly.
  • The best thinkers distinguish their thoughts from their feelings and desires.    They know that wanting something to be so does not make it so. They know that one can be unjustifiably angry, afraid, or insecure. They do not let unexamined emotions determine their decisions. They have “discovered” their minds, and they examine the way their minds operate as a result. They take deliberate charge of those operations.
  • The best thinkers routinely take thinking apart.    They “analyze” thinking. They do not trust the mind to analyze itself automatically. They realize that analyzing thinking is an art one must consciously learn. They realize that it takes knowledge of the parts of thinking, and practice in exercising control over them.
  • The best thinkers routinely evaluate thinking, determining its strengths and weaknesses.    They do not trust the mind to evaluate itself automatically. They realize that the automatic ways in which the mind evaluates itself are inherently flawed. They realize that evaluating thinking is an art one must consciously learn. They realize that it takes knowledge of the universal standards for thinking, and practice in exercising control over them.


This course, as a whole, will introduce you to the tools of mind that will help you reason well through the problems and issues you face – whether in the classroom, in your personal life, or in your professional life. If you take these ideas seriously, and practice using them, you can take command of the thinking that ultimately will command the quality of your life.

As an outcome of this course, you will develop skills in:

  • Demonstrate understanding of the importance of fair-minded critical thinking in the cultivation of fair-minded critical societies.
  • Demonstrate understanding of the parts of thinking, or ‘Elements of Thought,’ and how these parts work together in reasoning.
  • Demonstrate understanding of universal Intellectual Standards and their importance in human reasoning.
  • Demonstrate understanding of the barriers to critical thinking development, and of the ability to intervene in thinking to improve it.
  • Articulate and exemplify the primary concepts in critical thinking, and how they can be used as tools for understanding and improving human reasoning.
  • Articulate understanding of the problem of media bias and propaganda as a barrier to critical thought in human societies.
  • Demonstrate understanding of ethical reasoning, and show comprehension of the differences between ethics and other modes of thought – including religion, social ideologies, politics, and law.
  • Demonstrate abilities in close reading and substantive writing.



How to Infuse Critical Thinking Into Instruction [Part II – Advanced Course]

This course builds upon understandings learned in CT700.  Hence, CT700 is a prerequisite for this course. Our approach to critical thinking is designed to transform teaching and learning at all levels; it is based on the concepts and principles embedded in a substantive conception of critical thinking. The purpose of the course is to help instructors continue to internalize the intellectual tools they need if they are to foster intellectual skills, abilities, and characteristics in student thought.

In this course, we emphasize the importance of fostering a substantive conception of critical thinking. Such a conception not only highlights the qualities of the educated person, but also implies the proper design of the educational process. There are essential, minimal conditions for cultivating educated minds. These entail modes of instruction that foster development of the standards, abilities, and traits of the educated person.

As an outcome of this course, you will develop skills in:


  • Developing effective strategies for fostering fairminded critical thinking in instruction.
  • Leading more advanced Socratic dialog.
  • Deepening your understanding of the foundations of critical thinking.
  • Understanding the relationship between critical thinking and your own instruction
  • Beginning to outline a Thinker’s Guide to Critical Thinking within your field of study (showing proficiency in understanding the relationship between critical thinking and your field of study).
  • Understanding more deeply the concepts of close reading and substantive writing, in order to better foster these understandings in student thought.
  • Placing the concept of fairminded critical thinking at the heart of teaching and learning, including an explicit emphasis on the development of Intellectual Virtues.
  • Understanding the roles played by native human pathologies of thought in impeding intellectual development.
  • Redesigning lessons with critical thinking at the heart of teaching and learning processes.
  • Designing instructional assessment processes that dovetail with fostering critical thinking at every moment in teaching and learning.

Spring 2019 Registration Closed for CT701


Frequently Asked Questions


How do the courses work?

Our online courses are conducted in the @lantis® Learning Management System ( ALMS) Cloud.

The class has multiple ways to interact: Video Conferences, Discussion Threads, Web access to the Learning Library, iBooks, and PDFs.


How long do the courses last?

Once enrolled in a class you are in the class for life.

How much time do the courses require each week?

As much or as little as you want.

Who teaches the courses?

Each course is taught by an instructor educated in the Paul-Elder conception of critical thinking, under the direction of the Foundation’s Senior Fellows. Currently:

  • The course instructor for CT700 and CT800 is Dr. Paul Bankes (
  • The course instructor for CT701 is Dr. Brian Barnes (

Is there academic credit available for the courses? 

Academic credit for the courses is available through Sonoma State University:

  • 3 units Philosophy credit


  • 4.5 CEUs of Nursing credit.

What are the course costs, and what do they cover? 

Registration feew cover costs for tuition, all course materials, and academic credit (should you wish to pursue it). The registration fee is $942 without credit; add $195 if you are taking the course for 3.0 Philosophy units, or $100 if you are taking it for 4.5 Nursing CEU’s.

Will I receive a certificate of completion? 

A certificate of completion can be provided upon request.

How will I receive my materials after I register for a course?

The course materials will be available online in a digital format.

What if I need to drop the course?

Please see the ‘Important Dates’ section at the top of this page.

SOCRATIC DISCUSSION PROCEDURES: The Socratic Discussion is patterned after the way Socrates conducted learning activities in Ancient Greece.

All of his students were expected to share their thoughts and opinions regarding the written and spoken word. Students were further required to read, analyze and evaluate assigned materials prior to class discussion.

Socrates remained silent to allow true discussion to flow from his students. Today, when a class is conducted using the Socratic Discussion method, students are also required to come prepared to discuss assigned materials and share ideas and opinions, using the text or real life experience to back up their answers.


Class Setup and Procedures for Socratic Discussion Students are arranged in two concentric circles. The inner circle contains the speakers who will be involved in the discussion.

The outer circle contains the listeners. Students in the outer circle are not to speak, but only to listen to the discussion.

Important: Two empty seats are reserved in the inner circle. Students in the outer circle have the option of joining the inner circle when:

  • the discussion appears to be off topic.
  • the discussion becomes nonproductive with arguments and “put downs.”
  • inner circle members have not discussed an area deemed important.

Responsibilities of the inner circle members are to clear desks and display only prepared answers to the discussion questions.

The final responsibility of the inner circle members:

  • Come to a consensus on each question
  • Simply make sure each member has had an opportunity to discuss answers to the assigned questions, and then perhaps agree to disagree.