Still thinking…

I wish to thank Candace Nast for her generous assistance in showing me around WordPress. The page launched just last night but I’ve already received a lot of valuable input and adjusted some elements of CT². I decided to include a blog too so I can give credit as it’s due and let people know when and what changes are made.

I especially appreciate you letting me know about small press and free on-line textbooks. I expect some of the most innovative textbooks come from those sources because big textbook publishers often press authors to appeal to the lowest common denominator rather than develop a specific pedagogical vision with a specific philosophical perspective, nevermind basing the approach in evidence and scholarship.  Critical thinking is no simple matter: it can mean a lot of different things and the forms of criticism are by no means uncontroversial, as Ralph H. Johnson & J. Anthony Blair argue in “Teaching the dog’s breakfast”.  This is why picking a text is so difficult, why the choice is very individual, and why so many textbooks are so unsatisfying.

The particular bee in my bonnet that inspired me to create this page is the number of textbooks written without support from scholarship.  The authors are not scholars in critical thinking generally, or the specific fields they cover in an attempt to teach critical thinking.  Further, there is a tacit presumption that explaining and practicing forms of analysis will aid students’ own thinking or at least their public practice of it.  This assumption needs interrogation and will get it, I suspect, as we learn more about cognition. Although no miracles will be performed in a single term of instruction, we need more accountable pedagogy. (I don’t think skills testing is the solution here, but basing pedagogy on research into effective learning strategies.)

So, I tend to prefer textbooks written by scholars in the subject matter — logic and informal logic, argumentation, cognition, rhetoric, media production, etc.  However, sometimes an author with pedagogical expertise, such as Judith Boss or Peg Tittle can offer us what we need.  Even these two books have quite distinct strengths:  Boss’s is glossy and dynamic in the presentation of the book, encouraging students to spend time with it; Tittle’s looks pretty ordinary but she offers a wealth of supporting material on-line to help the instructor engage students.

I hope in the future to be able to produce some sort of grid to help to identify textbook features at a glance.

black and white image of critical thinking textbooks packed tightly on a shelf