Having Purpose

Having Purpose May 3, 2016

My students were asked to evaluate the sources they used in their papers this semester. More than one has told me that a particular article or book is reliable because it “has purpose.”

What on Earth is that supposed to mean?!

I am not sure whether I am more concerned by the fact that students are writing such meaningless statements, or the apparent implication that what they normally read lacks any discernible purpose…

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  • Speusippus

    This is a little bit of a wild guess, but there’s a model of critical thinking–the Paul and Elder model–which is popular in some teaching circles, which includes a set of “elements” of thought and a set of “standards” of thought. The “standards” are ways we can judge things like the reliability of sources. The “elements” are supposed to be things that are present in each act of critical thinking.

    “Purpose” is one of the elements. But a confused student who was taught this model (possibly by a confused teacher under the influence of an enchanted administrator) might get the idea that things are good when they “have purpose.”

    (In reality, on the P&E model, it’s said that whenever we need to think critically about a problem, we should become clear to ourselves what our own purpose is in thinking this through, and what others’ purposes are in participating in that problem solving process.)


    (I find the model often messy and often imprecisely articulated–but I think a cleaned up version of it has a lot of value in the teaching of critical thinking not just as a semi-formalized argument analysis tool but as a set of tools for thinking through serious problems.)

    • That’s it! I introduced the CRAP test, and one version of it has P = “purpose.” Of course, it is asking them “What is the purpose?” But some students were treating the CRAP test like a checklist – “Purpose? Yes, it has it…”

      Thanks for helping me figure this out!