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James Madison Critical Thinking Course Review by Cindy West

William O'Meara,
Daniel Flage
The Critical Thinking Co.
PO Box 1610
Seaside, CA 93955

Logic and critical thinking are two subjects often left out of typical homeschool schedules and curriculum books. I've worked hard to make sure my children get a good dose of both from very early on in their schooling because they are subjects that encourage children to become thinkers--to make connections, question propaganda, and make good decisions. You might be surprised at the number of wonderful resources available for all ages!

The James Madison Critical Thinking Course is one choice available for upper middle and high school aged students. In this huge volume of 534 pages, your older children will do all of the following:

  • are introduced to critical thinking
  • make distinctions between fact and opinion
  • look closely at ambiguous and vague words
  • learn about inductive and deductive arguments
  • determine the validity of arguments
  • learn about categorical syllogisms
  • practice using reasoning in arguments
  • investigate informal fallacies

Don't worry if all of the above sounds like a foreign language to you! The authors walk your children (and you, if you like) through meanings and examples consistently throughout the book. In fact, the layout of the lessons is to learn something new, see it used in examples, and then go right into some practice exercises. Each lesson is meaty in content but can be completed in less than 15 minutes. (My daughter enjoys the activities so much that we oftentimes complete more than one lesson!)

Several lessons at a time revolve around one crime-scene scenario. Using the scenarios, the authors build on various critical-thinking skills in an attempt to make your children better thinkers. I believe crime-scene scenarios are used because it tends to be very hard to determine the truth based on varying evidence and witnesses. When your child learns to tackle very tough crime cases, he will easily be able to think critically through almost any situation. While the idea of determining the truth from crimes might not appeal to some, I haven't come across anything yet that was overly objectionable. Besides, high school students will be entering the "real" world soon and probably need to be aware of some of the unsavory events this world has to offer.

The authors claim that after working through the entire book, a student should see a 7-10% improvement on tests such as the James Madison Test of Critical Thinking or Cornell Critical Thinking Test. I agree. This curriculum is serious and in-depth. While I'm sometimes a little confused with a skill or practice activity, it's probably more my lack of ability than the book's lack of teaching! Lucky for me, a teacher's guide (sold separately) gives answers to each and every practice activity.

For both the student manual and teacher's guide, the price is around $40.00. This is very fair considering how huge the student manual is. While your child may prefer to work in the manual, you could easily require answers to be written on another piece of paper. That way you could use the book for more than one child.

My 9th-grade daughter and I have really enjoyed the course. It's tough, but with the incremental lessons, we're hanging in there and learning tons.

Product review by Cindy West, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, July 2011