Not what to think, but how to think
December 11, 2012
"Critical thinkers are clear as to the purpose at hand and question at issue. They question information, conclusions and points of view. They strive to be clear, accurate, precise and relevant. They seek to think beneath the surface, to be logical and fair. They apply these skills to their reading and writing, as well as to their speaking and listening. They apply them in all subjects and throughout life."
-- Excerpt from "The Aspiring Thinker's Guide to Critical Thinking" by Drs. Linda Elder and Richard Paul
To meet our nation's requirement to fight and win in any future operating environment, U.S. Army Cadet Command must produce versatile junior leaders who can think critically and respond to situations in adaptive, agile and creative ways.
Forging second lieutenants who meet this demand requires trainers to assess at least two key
questions: Are the officers we're producing prepared to competently lead small units in a complex security environment with confidence, and how well are these new leaders capable of dealing with ambiguous and frequently changing circumstances?
Developing leaders who know how to think requires a plan focused on realistic and complex
training to challenge intellect and perception to ultimately strengthen critical thinking skills and the ability to solve problems.
Maj. Gen. Jefforey Smith, commander of U.S. Army Cadet Command, believes critical thinking and creativity are not necessarily inherent in every individual. However, leaders can develop these skills, so Smith has directed changes to the Army ROTC curriculum to set the conditions for such thinking to occur.
"The new Army Doctrine Publication (ADP) 7-0, Training Units and Developing Leaders, re-establishes fundamental training and leader development concepts Cadet Command will use to revise our military science courses and training activities," said Smith, who spent months visiting
numerous training events before issuing guidance. "More than 10 years of war provides evidence our junior leaders must be prepared to face unexpected challenges requiring a strong understanding of how to think, not just what to think."
The curriculum development team within the operations and training directorate at Fort Knox, Ky., where Cadet Command is based, is busy assessing the commander's guidance and developing courses of action.
"We're moving toward the outcome-based training and education methodology, and this may require us to shift some of the training we're currently conducting around and get at training Cadets in different venues and in different ways," said Lt. Col. Mike Small, Cadet Command's chief of curriculum development. "Cadet Command is going through the process of obtaining Army approval on these changes and, of course, there will be a ramp up to implementing any change. The ultimate goal is to create a learner-centric environment in order to create the critical thinking officers needed for the Army in the 21st century."
Cadet Command has received approval from the chief of staff of the Army to begin course of
action development in support of curriculum changes. Smith will provide the chief of staff with
updates on curriculum changes as development progresses.
In the meantime, several professors of military science from across the nation are already incorporating such educational tactics aimed at supplementing their program's curriculum and further developing Cadet thinking skills.
Good thinking solves problems;
poor thinking causes problems
Lt. Col. Mike Snyder, professor of military science at the University of North Alabama, exposes senior Cadets to the university's operational environment using a well-known military model for problem solving called PMESII-PT. This framework incorporates the variables of political, military,
economic, social, infrastructure, information systems, physical environment and time for a particular geographic region as the basis of study to help determine how certain actions affect a region.
Snyder assigns fictitious scenarios to nearby Alabama towns and requires Cadets to study local communities and apply the model to the given problem. He also uses PMESII-PT to educate Cadets preparing for summer Cultural Understanding and Language Proficiency (CULP) missions. The ability to define and develop a relevant representation of the complexities associated with the operational environment is central to shaping the thinking skills of adaptive leaders.
"Learning to use PMESII-PT and how the human aspects interrelate -- and may affect other variables -- helps Cadets better understand the environment and develop better solutions to problems," Snyder said. "The PMESII model supplements our curriculum very well by providing real-world perspective and training on something Cadets will likely use to assess and understand future operational environments while deployed on complex and decentralized missions as junior officers."
While the use of supplemental learning tools like the PMESII-PT model are creative and useful, cadre can also stimulate deep thinking in Cadets in other ways.
Lt. Col. John Roadcap, professor of military science at the University of Northern Iowa, uses the Army ROTC curriculum to develop a challenging, scenario-based mid-term exam designed to make Cadets think about multiple problems. They must detail their answers in essay form.
"Cadets are smart enough to memorize material, but the intent is to see how they apply the skills needed in a possible real-world situation," Roadcap said. "Our mid-term test is tough. We do show some leniency, but not much because Cadets need to demonstrate to me they understand the application.
"Scenario-based exams make the Cadets see there's more than one right or wrong answer,
and it also stirs creativity in solving a complex problem where the answer cannot necessarily
be found in a book. My Cadets are allowed to use all books, notes and previous quizzes during
the test, which is sometimes comical because some spend a lot of time looking for answers."
The profession of arms is a human endeavor, not a mechanical endeavor.
Unlike sister services like the Air Force and Navy, the Army is charged with operating among the population, in all types of terrains and across the range of military operations from combat to humanitarian assistance. Junior officers must understand the importance of human interaction and the challenges of cultural and ideological differences.
Lt. Col. Tom Gilleran, professor of military science at Furman University, said trainers must be flexible in developing Cadets and be prepared to make alterations during training to create a personalized experience based on individual skill levels.
"At LDAC this year, I observed a Cadet with the mission of leading a squad in an ambush," he said. "When the Cadet leader demonstrated superior skills in delivering the warning order, writing and delivering the operations order, complying with the one-third/two-thirds rule and conducting rehearsals, I knew he was exceeding the standard and was ready for a greater challenge."
So Gilleran contacted the opposing force and directed them to ground their weapons, remove their uniforms, put on civilian clothes and walk through the kill zone to see how the leader responded. Increasing the challenge provided his trainers opportunity to evaluate the Cadet's critical thinking by examining how he responded to something unexpected.
So how did the standout Cadet leader respond to a difficult situation?
"He gave the command to fire, and the squad killed every civilian on that road," Gilleran said. "During the after action review, we covered the 'sustains and improves,' as well as how quickly
success can turn into failure. I'm very confident every Cadet who attended training that day will be sure to positively identify their targets throughout their military careers."
Field problems have long been a primary source for training leaders to think on their feet. But these days cadre can teach such skills using the Internet.
Lt. Col. Bill Galinger, professor of military science at the University of Cincinnati, said his staff relies on the leadership challenge scenarios found on www.platoonleader.army.mil to help promote problem-solving.
The current Army ROTC curriculum advocates the use of vignettes on the website to develop ethical decision-making skills. While most scenarios are "shoot-don't shoot" situations, some focus on non-lethal issues such as integrity or abuse of authority.
"I use them primarily on the MS IVs (senior Cadets) during the ethics training block of instruction," Galinger said. "The goal is to show the soon-to-be lieutenants that the Army is going to be much tougher than anything they get at LDAC, and requires them to rapidly make decisions in a complex environment where you frequently don't have all the information. In the end, that decision has to be made, and as the commissioned officer you are responsible for it, good or bad."
using personal experience and
Lt. Col. Colin Wooten, professor of military science at Wheaton College, uses the knowledge he acquired from his master's degree in counseling to teach critical thinking. The former tactical officer at the U.S. Military Academy incorporates role-play scenarios in the classroom to force Cadets to think creatively while mock-counseling a troubled Soldier.
"I play the counselee in these scenarios and really play it up -- accent, swagger, try to be like Soldiers," Wooten said. "Also, I usually give the Cadets some initial resistance -- just because they ask me an initial question does not mean I'll give them a full detailed answer."
Wooten said the surface answers he provides are more like what they might get from their Soldiers.
"Cadets can't have just one plan of attack for resolving the scenario," he said. "They have to be creative in drawing out the story based on reading the actions and emotions from the counselee. For some Cadets, it's a real eye-opener in dealing with people."
University of Vermont cadre assisted with the development of a case study in ethics, law and leadership for junior officers currently being implemented at West Point and the Air Force Academy.
Lt. Col. Mike Palaza, the Vermont professor of military science, worked with a project supported by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the West Point Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies and the UVM Miller Holocaust Center to develop the training. The group conducting the project included retired Col. Jody Prescott, a Vermont graduate who also taught constitutional law at West Point.
"The lesson plan is modular," Prescott said. "One of the delivery methods requires Cadets to engage in critical thinking. Cadets are asked to put themselves in the shoes of an Army Regulation (AR) 15-6 officer tasked with conducting an investigation into the facts of the case study, making findings based on those facts -- which of course means identifying and applying standards to the facts -- and then making recommendations as to how such things could be avoided in the future in other situations."
Prescott said in his experience teaching critical thinking to staff groups at both the Command and General Staff College and at West Point, the Army needs to improve at recognizing concrete examples of critical thinking that are required in everyday tasks. The purpose of an AR 15-6 investigation is to consider the evidence on all sides of an issue.
"For example, where at any stage of our military curriculum do we learn how to conduct a 15-6 in complicated situations?" he asked. "We don't, so when we get into a combat situation and every civilian casualty requires a 15-6, we stumble."
Palaza is optimistic about the potential for the case study to become a part of the ROTC curriculum for the Army ROTC program.
"It offers a ton of potential and really gets after the concepts of officership and ethics," he said. "We're working to incorporate UVM Cadets as peer-to-peer instructors to teach Dartmouth and Norwich Cadets the lesson plan."
Cadet Command's cadre stand at forefront in developing tomorrow's leaders in how to think. The work put in today will sustain and strengthen the nation's trust and confidence in America's Army of the future.
The soon-to-be implemented Army Field Manual, FM 6-0, Commander and Staff Organization and Operations, dedicates chapter 5 to the theory of critical and creative thinking. However, as contributors to the development of future leaders, cadre must incorporate realistic and complex training scenarios to challenge Cadets' intellect and perceptions. Use of creative methods for strengthening problem-solving skills in Cadets will help Cadet Command produce better junior officers capable of leading small units much more effectively.