Friday, October 2, 2015

Book Review: Becoming a Critical Thinker

Every once in a while, the half-priced bookstore near my house has some incredible things. I was convinced I had stumbled upon one when I found the 4th edition of Houghton Mifflin's Becoming a Critical Thinker by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. I was very excited to plan a curriculum around this textbook, and I was already trying to decide if I should just photocopy pages as handouts or try to go the legitimate (-ly difficult?) route of trying to convince my school to order them.

Unfortunately, I dropped all such plans after my initial skim of the book.

Already in the 14 years since this 4th edition was published, some of the material and pictures have become very dated. 

Take an argument from page 83, "TV and movie apologists are forever telling us that we have no business criticizing them because they are only holding a mirror up to reality. ... It would be more accurate to say that the media hold a magnifying glass to carefully selected realities--namely, the most outrageous and sensational events of the day, such as O. J. Simpson's trial, Princess Diana's tragic death, and President Clinton's sexual activities and alleged obstruction of justice among them."

Or examples on page 75 of helpful search engines: "Many of these sources and innumerable others are available on the Internet (sic). Here are a few especially helpful websites:,,"

I went to find some updated versions online and discovered that they're already up to the 8th edition. Unfortunately, they're a bit pricey. Amazon currently lists new copies for $73 and used copies for $47. That's significantly more than the $4 I paid for my older edition at the half-priced bookstore.

But other than that, I still don't think that this would be the best option, at least for my current high schoolers. There are many controversial topics up for debate in my edition, including pornography, alcohol consumption, marijuana use, abortion, and prostitution. While these are excellent topics for debate, I definitely don't think I could encourage my current group of students to approach them with the seriousness they require. This is a college textbook, after all. I can think hypothetically all I want, but that doesn't change the reality of the situation.

And even more importantly, I don't think I could realistically get my students to understand some of the content. At least not cover to cover, in the manner they've laid out. I'd definitely need to simplify some of the text and add supplemental materials for comprehension. One example of this comes right at the beginning of the book on page 6, "Given the popularity of the false notion that truth is personal and subjective, you may have to remind yourself now and then that truth is impersonal and objective." I have a few students that would read that passage, even within the context of the rest of the chapter, and then look up at me with eyes glazed over in incomprehension. Unfortunately. (But at least I know my students enough to predict that!)

There are some good sections that I'm thinking of using, however. Chapter 5 is titled "Recognizing Errors in Thinking," and uses nice categorization and language. Chapter 6, too, gives some exercises in "Applying Critical Thinking," including analyzing commercials, print advertising, and television programming. If I use anything in my classroom this year, it should be those.

Overall, definitely not a bad textbook. I'm sure the right teacher could make an excellent college class out of it, and I think I may invest in a more current edition in the future to use with the right group of students. (Although I KNOW that the more I think something's not appropriate for particular students, the more they actually NEED it. I know.

For future reference, here's a sample of 7th ed. Chapter 1, and here's a link for the pdf version of the entirety of the 7th ed.