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The Cranial Gymnasium

by Moses Aakar

Critical Thinking (Logic)

One goal of many homeschoolers of widely-varied backgrounds is critical thinking or as it is also known, logic -- the science of reasoning correctly. C.S. Lewis, (author of The Chronicles of Narnia; The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce), for instance, was a master at reasoning. He was taught logic at about the age of 11 or 12 by a rigorous tutor he lived with. This prepared him for his adult occupation as an Oxford tutor, where his job was to analyze and critique the weekly papers written by his pupils, illustrating their errors of logic so that they could re-write the paper the following week. By this process, he, in turn, taught them to think and reason – and become effective thinkers and supporters of their thoughts -- rather than merely opinion-formers. Reading some of his shorter works, where he takes the reader upon a journey of actual thought and rational mental work, moving from point to point, constantly building a new conclusion upon each successive conclusion, is stimulating and awakens one’s awareness of this valuable skill of reasoning.

Critical thinking at its best entails having to decide, or prove for one’s self, what is "right" or "wrong" and may also require dealing in absolutes. Many modern people are uncomfortable with making such determinations and prefer to let themselves be ruled by emotions or convenience rather than by thought and reason. America of the early 21st century has a Politically-Correct, highly visible portion of the population that insists on diluting every thought and concept down to intellectual pabulum. In this mushy atmosphere, the term "critical thinking" at first blush, sounds harsh and grating to some. For those with no intellectual teeth, who thrive on pabulum, it probably is.

But, for those whose brains can process and digest intellectual material, and choose to investigate the definition . . . Random House College Dictionary (1975) provides the following on p. 317: "critical . . . 3. involving skillful judgment as to truth, merit, etc.;" and further down the same page "criticize . . . 1. to make judgments as to merits and faults." And finally, "criticism . . . 1. the act or art of analyzing and judging the quality of something . . ."

These definitions are among those meant when one speaks of "critical thinking". It is the ability to analyze a statement or concept to determine its merit, truth, faults, etc.

Much of what we read and hear daily, borders on propaganda and our true need to know this material is a myth of being informed. (I do not need to be informed of a serial killer’s activities on the other side of the country, for instance; nor does my son.) It is well-known that many "news" stories are so engineered that most of the "facts" are lost in a sea of spin-editing. (The movie "Wag the Dog" illustrated the extreme of this realm of "information".) Other information is assumed by parents to be "necessary" for their children, when upon closer investigation and calm, reflective thought, one realizes that children do not have a need to know about much of the information of the "real" world that bombards them. This type of reflective thought is an example of critical thinking. And the good news is: It can be taught. But, teaching all of this to one’s child would seem to be a daunting task, considering that since the early 70s, we Americans have grown away from the skill of critical thinking, subsequently relying more on herd-ism and group "thinking" (opinion-forming) rather than on actual analysis of the information and insinuations that inundate our lives. What is a conscientious homeschooling parent to do?

Happily, there are wonderful materials available to make the teaching of critical thinking as easy as a walk in the park. At the top of the list is a large number of books from a company called Critical Thinking Books & Software. Pretty easy to remember and their products are great. We have used a number of their books in teaching our son and will be continuing to do so.

One favorite series is called Building Thinking Skills which has two subsets: Four Figural books, three Verbal books and Teacher’s Manuals for all. The four Figural volumes cover material suitable for those who are pre-reading -- five-years-old, up to older students, 12 or 13. Each book consists of exercises that are comparisons of figures – "Find the figure in the series on the right that matches the figure on the left." – that are designed to teach recognition of similarities, differences, sequences, classifications and analogies. This may not seem related to reasoning, but it is. The ability to identify sameness and different-ness is an early foundation to reasoning.

The Verbal series of books perform a similar set of functions, using verbal exercises instead of figures. The age minimum might be nine or ten-years-old, however. For instance, in one, the student is directed to sort a group of words into three different categories. In another whole section of exercises, the student is asked to describe locations on a grid, and later on a map. There is also a series of analogous word exercises that require the student to think about relationships of pairs of words. Another of our favorites from Critical Thinking Books is the Editor-In-Chief series. These four books deal with finding and correcting errors in printed selections. This is not critical thinking per se, but is a very good supplement for one’s English curriculum and it does aid the student in thinking logically some of the time, because some errors are of a non-sense or an illogical nature. An Editor In Chief software version is also available.

Another place you will find material and help is within the Trivium, for Logic is one of the three "roads" of the trivium. For Christians, Harvey Bluedorn has an excellent website at www.triviumpursuit.com, with an on-point link to a Logic site by Nathaniel and Hans Bluedorn at www.christianlogic.com. This site walks you through the definition and a thorough discussion of logic and its study, as well as reviews and tips on products on the market that will help you teach yourself or your child logic.

The Cranial Gymnasium is a new, regular feature and each issue we will present information on the topic of critical thinking and developing logic. Next issue we will discuss games that aid in developing reasoning. In other future issues, we intend to present books and other aids that are useful in teaching and learning this exciting skill. If you have anything that would useful for this column, please send it via e-mail or regular mail to Moses Aakar c/o The Link, PMB 911, 587 N. Ventu Park Road, Ste. E, Newbury Park, CA 91320 or e-mail at: the.link@verizon.net
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