One of the things my husband and I hope to achieve through homeschooling is teaching our children to think clearly and logically. (This is a skill that is sorely lacking in many young people today — especially among those defending politically correct positions online. Their arguments are heavy on emotion and expletives, but light on reason and rationality.)
To that end, we have been s-l-o-w-l-y working our way through the award-winning James Madison Critical Thinking Course this semester. This course has the same great quality we’ve come to expect from books published by the Critical Thinking Press, but it’s scope is more ambitious than many of their other titles we’ve used in the past.
Weighing in at 534 pages, the book contains 160 exercises divided into 8 chapters. The course teaches more than 65 skills and concepts related to analytical thinking, including:
- how to distinguish a fact from an opinion
- how to identify ambiguity in a statement
- how to evaluate arguments as valid or invalid
- how to recognize and assess common fallacies in reasoning
A couple of the later chapters cover material I didn’t see until college when I took a course on formal proofs for my math degree.
All the material is taught using mini-mysteries and a fictional detective from the Los Angeles Police Department. The stories are fun and interesting and help keep students engaged.
Although the course is geared toward high schoolers and adults (it’s part of Timberdoodle’s Eleventh Grade Curriculum Kit), I’ve been going through it with my middle schoolers and am satisfied that they are understanding the concepts so far. (I’m planning to have my high schoolers complete the material independently this summer, once their dual credit classes at the junior college are behind them.)
The book’s pages are perforated for easy removal, and the publishers grants permission to make copies for your own family’s use. We do most of the lessons orally so we can discuss the concepts as we go, but their are several exercises that make use of diagrams and are better done with pen and paper, so the ability to make copies comes in especially handy with those.
Whether you read through the book together or hand it off to your older student to work through on his own, you’ll also want the answer key (sold separately), which includes solutions to both the exercises and the quizzes.
A student who sticks with the course through the end should be well-grounded in the processes that constitute critical thinking and can expect to experience marked improvement (7-10 percent) on standard assessment tests such as the Cornell Critical Thinking Test. Even so, the authors are quick to remind us, “a thorough mastery of critical thinking is the task of a lifetime.”
In other words, for best results, you should not just “study for the exam,” but should faithfully apply the concepts taught in this course for the rest of your life.
Timberdoodle provided me a free copy of the James Madison Critical Thinking Course in exchange for this honest review, but all of the opinions expressed in this post are my own. 🙂