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Notes from the CFT Library: Books on Critical Thinking

This article was originally published in the Fall 1999 issue of the CFT’s newsletter, Teaching Forum.

By Sharenda Holland Barlar

Paul, Richard W. Critical Thinking: What Every Person Needs to Survive in a Rapidly Changing World. Center for Critical Thinking and Moral Critique: Sonoma State University, Rohner Park, 1990. 575 pages.

This book is a collection of papers on the subject of critical thinking presented at a variety of conferences. The papers constitute easy-to-follow chapters, and Paul provides clear guidelines throughout the book. Each chapter begins with an abstract summary of the topic to be discussed. The book opens with a brief history of education from the standpoint of critical thinking.

It covers topics in critical thinking that could potentially be a challenge for educators. Two chapters focus on prejudice and bias and how to encourage the student to express him- or herself without focusing on personal beliefs. The solution he offers is to invite students to question their own points of view and seek out insights and truths within the perspectives of others. Paul argues that students who are exposed to multiple points of view become more convinced of what they learn. Teaching by means of a dialogical approach allows students to analyze and critique their ideas; thus, ideas become more sophisticated and students are able to reason their way to knowledge.

Throughout the book, Paul not only theorizes about critical thinking in the classroom, but he also provides sound pedagogical strategies. Critical thinking can begin as early as elementary school, and several chapters feature exercises that can be used in different academic subjects, such as social studies, language arts, and science.

Kurfiss, Joanne G. Critical Thinking: Theory, Research, Practice, and Possibilities. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. @. Washington, D.C: Association for the Study of Higher Education, 1988. 148 pages.

Kurfiss begins her book by asking questions such as: What is critical thinking? How does it develop? What role does knowledge play in critical thinking? Do educational practices affect the ability to think critically? She proceeds to answer these questions throughout the monograph. The author defines critical thinking as “a rational response to questions that cannot be answered definitively and for which all the relevant information may not be available.” The book offers an interesting look into the historical background of the forerunners of critical thinking, including Dewey, Ennis, and Piaget.

Bean, John C. Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom. San Francisco: Jossy-Bass Publishers, 1996. 282 pages.

Bean, a professor of English at Seattle University, describes Engaging Ideas as “a pragmatic, nuts-and-bolts guide that will help teachers from any discipline design interest-provoking writing and critical-thinking activities and incorporate them smoothly into their disciplinary courses.” This is a highly readable book which presents strategies for incorporating writing into any kind of class. Responding to recent movements in education to promote writing across the curriculum and to promote critical thinking, Bean presents the two movements as interconnected and offers ways for teachers to incorporate them into their classrooms. He emphasizes that the book is not about teaching students to be better writers; rather, it aims to make students better thinkers through the use of writing.

The book itself is designed for busy teachers to use as efficiently as possible. The first chapter is an overview of the entire monograph, and subsequent chapters are divided into sections which offer concrete strategies and the arguments for using them.