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Universal Intellectual Standards

by Linda Elder and Richard Paul

Universal intellectual standards are standards which must be applied to thinking whenever one is interested in checking the quality of reasoning about a problem, issue, or situation. To think critically entails having command of these standards. To help students learn them, teachers should pose questions which probe student thinking; questions which hold students accountable for their thinking; questions which, through consistent use by the teacher in the classroom, become internalized by students as questions they need to ask themselves. 

The ultimate goal, then, is for these questions to become infused in the thinking of students, forming part of their inner voice, which then guides them to better and better reasoning. While there are many universal standards, the following are some of the most essential:

CLARITY: Could you elaborate further on that point? Could you express that point in another way? Could you give me an illustration? Could you give me an example? Clarity is the gateway standard. If a statement is unclear, we cannot determine whether it is accurate or relevant. In fact, we cannot tell anything about it because we don't yet know what it is saying. For example, the question, "What can be done about the education system in America?" is unclear. In order to address the question adequately, we would need to have a clearer understanding of what the person asking the question is considering the "problem" to be. A clearer question might be "What can educators do to ensure that students learn the skills and abilities which help them function successfully on the job and in their daily decision-making?"     

ACCURACY: Is that really true? How could we check that? How could we find out if that is true?  A statement can be clear but not accurate, as in "Most dogs are over 300 pounds in weight."

PRECISION: Could you give more details? Could you be more specific? A statement...
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