Monday, May 25, 2009

Non-fiction Monday - Learn how to think


Book: The Thinking Toolbox
Authors: Nathaniel Bluedorn & Hans Bluedorn
Genre: Young-adult non-fiction
Publisher: Christian Logic, paperback, 235 pages
ISBN: 0-9745315-1-0

The Thinking Toolbox is a 35-chapter book written by brothers Nathaniel and Hans Bluedorn. Its purpose is to help kids and adults develop reasoning and thinking skills.

The book is divided into three main sections: "Tools for Thinking," "Tools for Opposing Viewpoints," and "Tools for Science." Each chapter is a lesson and the lessons build on each other in a logical (of course!) way, though each is self-contained.

The lessons are short. They are introduced with an example or problem to solve, then the concept is taught, and this is followed by a sum-up statement of what was learned. The lesson concludes with exercises, giving the reader practice in applying the concept to real life situations (answers and explanations are at the back of the book).

After the brief introductory "How To Use This Book" chapter, the first main section – "Tools for Thinking"– teaches (Lessons 1 - 8) concepts like what is the difference between a discussion, a disagreement, an argument and a fight; when is it appropriate to argue; what are fact, inference and opinion; and how does one state a premise and come to a conclusion.

I found Lesson 6 in this section, which taught about listing and sorting reasons, the weakest in that the example used to illustrate how this was done was more confusing than helpful. But Lesson 7, "How to Defeat Your Own Argument," was excellent in the way it suggested anticipating objections to arguments. I also appreciated the way Lesson 8 "When Not to Use Logic" taught the importance of knowing when to hold one’s tongue:


But sometimes a different logic takes precedence; the logic of human relationships and emotions. When we realize we should not speak our thoughts we are not being illogical. We are being logical in silence.
The second main section "Tools for Opposing Viewpoints" (Lessons 9 - 21) includes lessons on recognizing opposing viewpoints, evaluating the quality of evidence, defining primary and secondary sources, and recognizing and analyzing circumstantial evidence.

In this section I found myself arguing with the sum-up statement of Chapter 12, the rule for analyzing sources: "If you don’t know how a source obtained his information – how he knows what he knows – then the source should be considered unreliable." Come now gentlemen, do you even follow that advice yourself? In this day of information glut, is such a thing even possible? I doubt it. Some tips here on the hierarchy of, say, web and print sources, may have been helpful in explaining how to realistically put this principle into practice. On the plus side, a highlight chapter in this section was Chapter 18, which uses as its example the Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. story from American history.

The third main section (Lessons 22 - 32) teaches "Tools for Science." It covers topics like what are scientific tools, observing, brainstorming, forming hypothesis, setting up experiments and analyzing data.

The book ends with a three-chapter section of games and puzzles. (And if you want more, the authors have set up a web site: www.fallacydetective.com where they invite questions on logic)

The book’s target age range is 13 to adult, although I think younger kids could read and benefit from at least parts of it. It is written in a light-hearted, friendly style with lots of humor and the text is broken up with Richard LaPierre’s cartoon illustrations. I can see this book being a welcome resource not only for home school kids and their parents, but for any kid or adult who is bombarded by 21st century media and its "Believe Me!" messages.

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This review is part of Non-Fiction Monday.

Visit Miss Rumphius Effect for the rest of the Nonfiction Monday posts.

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