Review: The Thinking Toolbox

Ttt_1 The greatest raison d'etre behind this site is to promote critical thinking. There is a tremendous lack of this skill in our society and the world today. And it is a skill. It's not an inherent trait, though I do think that some are predisposed to being logical and reasoned. It is a learned ability, the ability to critically think and assess various situations. This is most certainly a skill not taught in our schools today, at least not in the public sectors, and I can't say it is highly emphasized in most of the private schools I've encountered. This could probably be explained through several reasons, but I think two primary reasons are 1. The teachers themselves don't critically think about issues, and 2. Educators don't feel it is that necessary (it's also quite difficult to teach).

A brief glance at the state of our education system today could easily leave one feeling pessimistic and depressed. So it is more than a delight and reason to hope when books like The Thinking Toolbox by Nathaniel Bluedorn and Hans Bluedorn come along. This book is phenomenal. It should be required reading for every living being.

The Brothers Bluedorn set out to teach students (13-18 years of age) the basics of logic, argumentation, critique, research and the scientific method. I have never seen a book that so clearly and concisely delivers on this endeavor. The book contains "35 lessons that will build your reasoning skills." Each lesson is no more than 4 pages, with 2-3 pages of exercises at the conclusion to help solidify what was just learned.

I have about 8 private students that I am tutoring this summer and every one of them, fourth graders to high schoolers, is going through this book with me. And the best part of it is: they love it. That is the real litmus test here. Not only do I love this book but the students get it and they ask to do it every time we're together. My fourth graders can now tell you the difference between a discussion, a disagreement, an argument and a fight, as well as tell you the definition of a fact, inference and opinion.

There are lessons in this book that are too advanced for smaller children, such as those on corroborating evidence, but students in junior high and high school take to it like a fish to water. I have always believed that the reason why students often do poorly in school is because no one believes in them and challenges them enough. This book proves that theory. The students find themselves quite challenged by the lessons and exercises. I can almost hear the wheels in their head turning while they try to connect the dots in the mysteries or arguments with which they are presented.

The book breaks down into four sections. The first is called "Tools for Thinking," and covers such topics as facts, inferences, or opinions; finding premises and conclusions and how to defeat your own argument. The second section, entitled "Tools for Opposing Viewpoints," deals with primary and secondary sources, corroborating and circustantial evidence and has a few lessons that are mysteries the student is to figure out based on previous lessons learned. The third is "Tools for Science," or the scientific method and teaches students the importance of observation, experimentation, the difference between science and pseudoscience and guides them through many projects. Finally, the last section is solely dedicated to projects that put all the student's newly acquired information to work. Projects are based on preference and learning style. Toolbox is also brilliantly illustrated by Richard LaPierre.

While this book was primarily written as a guide to budding scholars, it has been nothing short of delightful to read. I have learned these things many times over, but it re-enforces my knowledge as well as teaches me new methods to approach the subjects. I have loved reading this book. I think every student of critical thought should make it a priority to read this book and share it with others. If you homeschool your children, please buy this book. Buy several copies.

The Bluedorn Brothers also have another book that is a simpler introduction to logic, called The Fallacy Detective. They also have a website called ChristianLogic.

I am excited and hopeful to see the difference this book makes in the world of home education. The Thinking Toolbox has my highest recommendation.

The book was provided by Mind & Media for the purpose of review and recommendation. To find out more, please visite their website BlogforBooks.

Posted by Portia at July 22, 2005 11:27 AM

Excellent review Portia! Even though I do not teach or home school children and am well beyond the 13-18 recommended age range, I want the book!

Posted by: ljmcinnis at July 22, 2005 02:38 PM

Wow there's some really scary stuff on their website:

"But we also see a need for a truly Christian logic. Together we want to take logic back from the pagans. Our challenge is to define good reasoning in a truly Biblical way. Logic was not invented by a pagan philosopher named Aristotle. Logic is the science of thinking the way God thinks – the way Jesus taught us to think....

This road takes us in two directions: apologetics and Christian culture. Apologetics, so that we stand up as strong Christians and use the reasoning of the Bible against the wickedness and lies of the world. Christian culture, because we Christians should not spend our lives hiding in holes. We should be hard at work building the city of God – in our family, if not in the world."

This doesn't seem very logical to me.

Posted by: ziggy at July 22, 2005 04:19 PM

There's certainly nothing illogical about those statements. They're simply statements regarding their views on logic and it's role in a Christian's life and visa versa.

They'd probably input that in their "Fact, inference and opinion" lesson. :) There's a bit of all three in those two paragraphs.

Posted by: Portia at July 22, 2005 04:25 PM

I'd like to ask this, Mr. Ziggy, did gravity exist before somebody figured out it was there, or was is going to be there regardless of our discovery?

although it's worded rather poorly, taking logic back from the pagans. the logic is there, they just want to point to the originator, rather than the ones who wrote about it in a book.

Posted by: MacStansbury at July 22, 2005 06:14 PM

Nicely done. I'm really glad your students are benefiting from the text, that's all that matters.

Posted by: Mike at July 24, 2005 02:29 PM