Paul and Elder (2000) claimed that answers are privileged above questions in our society - witness every textbook that contains assertion after assertion, each of which is actually the answer to a question. The answers are published, but not the questions. Asking the right questions while reading can be very helpful to learners in advanced social studies.
As you begin to think about inquiry, consider three kinds of questions that require three different kinds of answers. The first is opinion. What kind of ice cream do you like? The answer can be anything (Rum Raisin, Pistachio, Pickle). The choice is an individual preference and the listener does not really care which ice cream is chosen (unless the choice will dictate next month’s menu). The second kind of question requires a factual answer. How far away is the sun? What is the boiling point of lead? The answer is definitive with very little variation. I might argue the boiling point differs at different altitudes, but essentially the question requires one correct answer.
The third kind of question is the most interesting and requires the most thinking by the respondent. Such questions require a reasoned response and the answers may vary depending on many factors. Professionals in most fields must respond to questions that require a reasoned response on a daily basis. Examples of questions that require reasoned judgments developed through analysis and evaluation are: What kind of health care insurance is best for my family or company or country? How do we protect pubic education while offering parent choice?
The questions that require reasoned judgment are not to be confused with questions that require a personal preference where everyone has a right to their own opinion. Everyone can choose a favorite ice cream. In professional or cultural matters, opinions need to be carefully reasoned out and supported with credible facts and reasoning. Advanced learners need to evalute the reasoned responses of other professionals in print and in practice.
The doctoral reader can understand and evaluate reasoned responses by learning how to ask questions. First, consider the source of the article or other document. Who is the author and what are his or her affiliations? Remember, that every analysis was developed by somebody. The analyst sets the priorities or frame for the analysis; and in the analytical framework, an astute reader can see assumptions, values, and hear the analyst's voice.
Assumptions and values frame the reasoned response. For example, is health care a right or a privilege to be purchased by those with adequate funding? What are the assumptions of either side of the argument? As we consider the credibility of the response, we ask what values underlie either position and how might we characterize the voice as expressed in the discussion? What voices do we hear in the article? What voices are silent?
Second, consider the facts that are reported in the dialogue, article, document, or book. Do facts come from a reputable source? Are the facts verifiable by some other means? Alternatively, does the argument depend on innuendo and speculation?
Finally, consider the logical development in the argument or discussion. Is the analytical framework aligned with stated values or goals? Is the evaluation dependent on a few implied conclusions? Does the evidence meet the standard for credibility? Is the argument coherent or constructed of assurances?
Active learning requires asking and answering questions. I understand deeply when I put an idea into my own words and begin to ask questions. The process of asking questions is very different from passively accepting or memorizing new information. The doctoral student, who is learning to read critically, can start with a few simple questions. What values and assumptions are present in the document? What voices are heard and what voices are silent. Who is the author and what are his affiliations? What facts are presented? Are the facts credible? What logic underlies the analysis and evaluative conclusions? Learning to ask critical questions as I read will support a deeper understanding of the issues. Learning to ask questions will prepare the doctoral learner to be a 21st century leader, a scholar and practicing professional when many challenges will require resolution through a reasoned judgment.
Paul, R. & Elder, L. (October 1996). Foundation For Critical Thinking, Online at website: www.criticalthinking.org