Promoting critical thinking in professional military education

Means and methods of education. There was strong support for face-to-face learning to continue at the core of PME.

Teaching junior leaders to think

This is predominantly driven by the need to develop higher-order thinking, to share experiences, and to establish relationships, trust and networks including internationally. It was felt that distance learning does have a significant role to play but primarily as: a means to access learning when face-to-face learning is neither viable nor appropriate; and as part of a blend with face-to-face learning. Note that, in a PME context, there was no evidence known of improved learner outcomes through distance learning vs face-to-face learning.

However, distance learning is particularly applicable to those who are not selected to attend residential courses. PME methods must adapt to meet the threats and opportunities of the future geo-political, defence, security and education environments, and to meet the challenges of constrained resources. The following were considered priorities:. Key topics not covered include:. Conference report The conference confirmed that:. Critical thinkers appreciate and are not threatened by contradictory information that does not match what is already understood and accepted.

Additionally they are comfortable working with ideas and thinking of things in different ways. Finally critical thinkers like to hold their thinking to high standards of objectivity. Taken together, these attributes give critical thinking its robust qualities. Although defining critical thinking is still difficult, Dr.

Richard Paul, the foremost scholar of critical thinking uses the following definition:. There are many other definitions of critical thinking and most are very similar. The key is to recognize that regardless of the definition, critical thinking abilities can be individually developed. One of the most effective ways to develop this strategic leader skill is by studying the parts of critical thinking—specifically certain elements and standards As one can imagine, there are a number of authors who write about critical thinking including Peter Facione and the late John Boyd.

Each presents very compelling explanations and insights into critical thinking. However, Dr. Richard Paul developed a certain comprehensive model for learning critical thinking. The Paul model presents an integrative approach to critical thinking that allows for easier mastery of this essential strategic leader skill. In essence, the Paul model is easier to study, easier to practice and easier to teach.

Sometime models tend to discourage certain individuals from learning particular subjects. If this is the case for you, consider this. It is not intended as a linear or sequential process.

The model is simply a depiction of how critical thinkers relate thinking abilities to the real world and arrive at reasoned, wise judgments. Using both parts of the model, elements and standards, helps create the mind-matter relationship that is the basis of critical thought.

In the Paul model there are eight elements of reasoning: purpose, question, information, concept, inference, assumption, point of view, and implications. While we will cover each element in this same sequence, please note the elements are arranged in a circular pattern to emphasize their non-linear, complimentary nature. We will return to this mutually supportive arrangement later in the discussion.

What follows is an explanation of each element and the standards. Purpose : Critical thinkers want to assess the purpose of their thinking and their actions. For instance, a critical thinker might ask, is my purpose in line with my goals, values, desires, and needs? Many times the non-critical thinker will delude or deceive him or herself about the true purpose of a thought or action. For instance, one may say they want the tough job at the Pentagon because it is exciting and challenging.

However, the true purpose may be accepting a position with greater long-term promotion potential. The critical thinker looks deeper for the essential motive or purpose in each situation attempting to eliminate false purposes.


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Many examples of false purpose can be found in the media. For example, article titles often obscure the true purpose or intent of the text. Of course deliberate false purposes can also have an effect during war, especially when used as part of an information operations campaign. In the months heading up to Operation Iraqi Freedom, many of the stories concerning the U. As General Tommy Franks indicated, one entire front of the war was devoted to deception—in essence deliberate false purposes.

Question : Without a doubt, questioning is the most important element of critical thinking. One can look at critical questioning in three ways: the need to continually use critical questions, the interrelationships of critical questions, and the need to ask and answer critical questions at the right time.

In essence this is defining the problem. The astute critical thinker will continually evaluate whether they are trying to answer the right question or solve the right problem. Paul categorizes questions into three types: questions of fact, questions of preference, and questions of judgment. Whereas questions of fact have one right answer and questions of preference have many answers, questions of judgment require reasoning skills. Using probing questions leads to the deeper understanding required by the complex national security environment.

Some examples of questions of judgment with respect to our current conflict might include: what is the best way to fight terrorism, or how can we protect American civil liberties and maintain security? Another timely question of judgment concerns Iraq—how can the U. Information : In our society there is generally no shortage of information, and most often this becomes a problem.


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  • One must consider the biases and filters between incoming information and mental comprehension. Additionally, a critical thinker must see how all the information fits together and what linkages exist between the information and the entire organization. This is a systems thinking approach.

    Lessons from Professional Military Education

    Activated ignorance is dangerous—using false information as truth. Activated knowledge is powerful—truthful information that leads to greater understanding and wise decision-making. Critical thinkers are generally skeptical of information and as such rely very heavily on the intellectual standards to help evaluate data to create information that leads to knowledge.

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    We will discuss the relationship to standards later but one final point on information deserves attention—a dearth of information. Strategic leaders during wartime conditions often feel as though there is not enough actionable information and this can lead to strategic indecision. But, in many instances this delay results in lost opportunities.

    Boyd believed effective organizations avoided getting bogged down in information. They make decisions with the information available at the time. Concepts : The most powerful element of critical thinking is concepts. A concept is an idea or object that makes some other idea or thing comprehensible. Consider this simple example: the concept of time makes the idea of a watch or calendar possible. We have all read about people who were great conceptual thinkers, people like George Kinnen and Albert Einstein. These men had the ability to think in different dimensions—using known ideas in a different way.

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    They remain open to new information and new ideas. These new ideas spring from using multiple concepts. The problem with non-critical thinkers is, they are unable to change their concepts. Uncritical thinkers get stuck using the same concepts or use incorrect concepts to interpret the world. They enter a conceptual trap!

    Promoting Critical Thinking in Professional Military Education (ISBN: ) - GreatBookPrices

    If one is trapped in a single set of concepts, one can think of things in only one way. Of course the result at the strategic level can be strategic surprise or strategic disaster. The United States witnessed an example of this conceptual thinking on September 11, Beforehand we were stuck in the conceptual trap that hijacked aircraft are used as hostages for ransom rather than weapons.

    The attack also demonstrated the power of conceptual traps. CIA Director George Tenet said, none of the warnings indicated terrorists would fly aircraft into buildings—this concept was anathema to our thinking. Conceptual traps require overwhelming, explicit information to dismantle or strong critical thinking skills to overcome. The master critical thinker forces the mind to think of different ways of employing or integrating the same things or ideas. Strong critical thinkers are strong conceptual thinkers who exhibit the mental agility required to rapidly and comfortably change domains of thinking to critically evaluate and analyze their world.

    Inference : An inference is the conscious thought process that draws a conclusion based on the interpretation of assumptions.

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