Surviving in a post-truth world


In the January issue of Scientific American, Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine, wrote “When Facts Backfire,” (p. 69)( The article discusses the power of belief over evidence and methods to use when talking to someone taken in by false information. Shermer suggests these six approaches:

  1. Keep emotions tucked away.
  2. Discuss, don’t pounce.
  3. Try to restate what the other’s position.
  4. Show respect.
  5. Acknowledge that you understand why someone would think that.
  6. Assure the listener that changing facts does not necessarily changing their worldview.

My book is out!

Critical Thinking Now: Practical Teaching Methods for Classrooms around the World


Today’s curricula can (and should) incorporate critical thinking methods because they are the means by which people best understand, learn, and retain higher level concepts. Contrary to what many professional trainers assume, teaching critical thinking is not achieved by shoveling facts at an audience through lecturing or multiple choice testing. It requires sustained, finely tuned teaching and assessment methods. This book lays out a blueprint to do just that. Specifically, it outlines the necessary components of a critical thinking classroom and provides assessment techniques and ample exercises adaptable to any student’s field, age, or level of education.
Often not considered are those learners schooled in a non-Western culture and not proficient in the presenter’s language. These audiences can create invisible barriers to instruction. Without understanding these pitfalls, trainers invite frustration and failure, and risk wasting everyone’s time and money because they were unaware any problem existed. The book addresses these linguistic, cultural, and cognitive obstacles and suggests several solutions, whether you teach these students on your home turf or theirs.

Click Rowman & Littlefield for more information. Happy critical thinking!



Think they understand? Ask ’em.



Ask questions you don’t know the answer to so you can find out what they know.


Quizzes and tests are time-honored methods of finding out about student learning beyond what you think they know. But there is a quicker, informal, non-graded way to do that by asking them. Although it could be done every class session, I do it after I teach a certain skill and always at midterm so I can refine my teaching.  I give them half sheets of paper and ask to tell me:

1.      Something you have learned today/this week/so far this term.

2.      Something you need help with or don’t understand.

3.      Something you would like to learn (more) about.

Here are some student responses from an academic speaking class for international students:

1.      Something you have learned today/this week/so far this term.

— How to make small talk, especially with older people.

2.      Something you need help with or don’t understand.

–How to write my report summary better. (They interviewed a professor in their field.)

3.      Something you would like to learn (more) about.

–Gestures, casual talk.

In my academic reading and writing class (also for international students), I asked them to write two items for each question:

1.      Two things you have learned today/this week/this term.

–Writing a controlling idea.

–How to read a book and understand it by using the questions that the teacher gave us before reading the book. (Reading log)

2.      Two things you need help with or don’t understand.

–How often can I use a gerund and does it work on all verbs?

–I need help with writing supporting details. Sometimes it is difficult to write a lot of supporting details.

It is easy to think that a lack of questions from students means they understand what you are teaching. It also assumes that they will voice their lack of understanding. I often ask for responses anonymously, which encourages them to say what is on their minds, and helps me repair that before the end of the quarter.

These questions have the added benefit of having students reflect and analyze their knowledge base. What teacher doesn’t want their pupils to do that?

Foundation for Critical Thinking Offers Certification in Paul-Elder Method

The Foundation for Critical Thinking is offering certification in its method for understanding and teaching critical thinking. I’ve attended and presented at several of its conferences and think it’s really necessary to see how the method in action to really understand how to do it. It’s billed as an approach to reason through a problem or issue, applicable to any field–business, academia, life, etc. (as any method should be).

However, I find it a bit difficult to wade through or internalize the steps of the method and don’t think it is very intuitive. That said, I have relied on Richard Paul’s rich insights and classification system in my own forthcoming book, Critical Thinking Now: Practical Teaching Methods for Classrooms around the World. For me, the Paul-Elder method just doesn’t translate into a fluid teaching method.

I know of at least one university (U of Louisville) that has implemented their method throughout the entire campus. Not without struggles, mind you. But it can be done. I find that effort heartening since faculty everywhere bemoan students’ lack of CT skills. The U of L decided to do something about it. Hats off, profs.

The Foundation offers lots of books for sale (their information is fairly repetitive) and have a definite point of view, but many are quite useful. Give the sites below a look. If you don’t know what the Foundation is doing, you really don’t know what one of the major players in the field is all about.

Go to for info about the certification program.

Visit for the Foundation’s home page.

See for info about their upcoming conference July 25-29, 2016.

Site Sightings

For all my research and reading and writing about critical thinking, I was surprised I hadn’t heard about the Association for Informal Logic and Critical Thinking (AILACT). It works in conjunction with the American Psychological Association and at times the Canadian Philosophical Association. It’s a very low-key group but recently put out a plan to ramp up their profile and extend their audience. The proposal is very comprehensive and, to me, exciting, since they deserve more attention by the field. Most members approach the academic end of critical thinking and research areas such as the theory of fallacies, argument diagramming, and the meaning and nature of critical thinking. Some are more practically bent toward curriculum development and the teaching. All good stuff. They offer information about textbooks, teaching, and meetings, even consultants who will help develop curricula and business plans. Go to for more info and to pay your $10 for access to the members’ area and other goodies.

I may have mentioned The Consortium for Critical Thinking ( on this site before, but it bears repeating. It’s a Canadian outfit and is going through a few leadership changes, but is one of the best sites I know of for practical information on teaching critical thinking. You can join, but there is still a generous amount of information accessible for free. The resources are skewed a bit toward elementary and middle and even high school students. But it’s easily adaptable for other types of students and situations. Worth a look-see to freshen your ideas about teaching and topics.





Again with the MOOCs!

Froma Harrop wrote an article in her syndicated column about how Massive Open Online Courses are the answer to the high cost of higher education ( – Apr 18, 2016, Higher education needs major disruption ).

Here is my comment.

While I cannot argue that pay for university administrators is way out of kilter, I think you are using that as an excuse to pawn off MOOCs onto poorer students as the solution. That to me is another rip off of that very population. MOOCs may provide opportunities for certifications, but they are the worst possible way to educate. A MOOC is NOT equivalent to learning in a brick and mortar classroom. It is lonely, reductive, narrow, and done by means of software that never allows for teachable moments or free-ranging discussions or Socratic questioning. And I’m just getting started. Would you ever hire, say, an accountant that had learned solely through online courses? MOOCs and all online courses are the worst idea to come along in education in many decades. You should be lobbying for a more equitable distribution of the wealth on campuses, not fobbing off crappy teaching methods onto the poor just because they’re cheap.

Critical Thinking and Active Learning–A Happy Marriage!

I said to a colleague the other day that teachers should know more about active learning since that approach is integral to teaching critical thinking. He just looked at me,  incredulous that this information would be news to any teacher. Well, just click on

Stanford Physicist Embarks On Mission To Improve Undergraduate Teaching

(All Things Considered 4/13/16) to hear/read Nobel Laureate Carl Wieman’s interview about how active learning “can dramatically boost learning” and why so many teachers still cling to lecturing. Why do you think they do?

Now Back to Blogging

My long absence from this blog can be blamed 100% on the book I am writing about critical thinking titled Critical Thinking Now: Practical Teaching Methods for Classrooms around the World. It will be published by Rowan & Littlefield later this year.

I don’t want to talk about what’s in it so much (I will later on) as the process of writing it. I’ve thought about critical thinking for over 25 years, and, because of that immersion in the field, I didn’t think it would take too much heavy lifting. Boy, was I wrong. I ran into two problems: Organizing my thoughts and massive self-doubt.

I don’t care how practiced you are at writing, organizing your thoughts is a tough slog, . But a book especially unwieldy. It demands layer upon layer of organization that sews all the paragraphs, sections, chapters, theme, and title together. It’s a hearty exercise in critical thinking if you are going to be precise, logical, and clear throughout. It took constant vigilance and frequent reconsideration of what I was trying to say at every step. This challenge, I expected.

The other problem came out of left field: imaginary people who came in, uninvited and unannounced, and taunted me with comments such as, “Who do you think you are to write a book about critical thinking?” “Stop this! You’re embarrassing yourself.” “You have no idea what you’re talking about!” I almost bought their siren’s song and dumped the project. Self-doubt is a powerful deterrent to us writers.

I decided to handle those voices with a two-pronged approach. First, I wrote down everything they “said” so I could get some distance from them and not feel as if I were going crazy. And second, I kept saying to myself, Who else is going to write this book if I don’t? After all, the main reason I wrote it was to provide a new perspective on the issues that I hadn’t read anywhere else.

In the end, I succeeded in slaying those two evil dragons and finished the manuscript. The voices are gone, but what lingers is a lot greater appreciation of the amount of critical thinking and fortitude it takes to write a book about critical thinking.


The Dialectics of Writing: How the Magic Arrives

Gail Godwin justifies her struggle with the demons of writing by stating, “What is produced is a little bit different from anything I planned. There is always a surprise, a revelation. During the act of writing I have told myself something that I didn’t know I know I knew.”

“…something that I didn’t know I knew.” Wow. That constitutes magic, by my standards. The outcome, if we are to believe Godwin, and I do because it happens to me all the time, is impossible to predict or control. But how is that possible? It’s our mind, after all. What is happening in there that we can’t/don’t see? What mysterious alchemy is catalyzing that change, and most important, how can we harness it?

To hear Godwin talk about it, the whole enterprise is like a rogue drone that sets out on a journey but makes an unscheduled landing. Interestingly, we plan to write a paper or book, poem or article, but we can’t really plan the ending. Surprise! I’ve told myself something I didn’t know I knew. A powerful, invisible transformation, and we have no say at all.

We at least have a word for this process: dialectics, where A + B = C, with the outcome retaining characteristics of A and B, but being fundamentally altered at the same time, like a child of two parents who can’t predict its eye color or femur length. All they know is that the baby is related.

We do have some tools that aid in this magic. The first is the practice of giving room for this newborn to appear, such as free writing and reflections. They give the mind a playground to stretch its legs and get out of the box we typically assign it to, what with our obsession with outlines and demand for early thesis statements. These crimp thoughts and tell them where to go rather than letting them lead the way.

But I have found another, more structured method on the spectrum of control vs. anarchy. It involves a dance—a dialectical one—between the thesis and the rest of the piece. Rather than prescribing a rigid order of creation of elements—first your thesis, then topic sentences, etc. etc., this playground of thought can be given a push by having all the elements of an essay interact. It offers writers a chance to enter their thinking process anywhere, whether it be the thesis straightaway, or the support, or a quote they want to include, and then build the structure from there, with each part calling out for its own needs, and in doing so, arriving at the end result so everybody’s happy—even if it’s a new idea not contemplated at the outset.

So, I’m saying we can orchestrate this discover process up to a point, but we cannot determine the outcome. Again, like parents, we can accompany the child into adulthood, but we cannot determine that offspring’s future.

To answer my question—Can we predict or control how Godwin arrived at a totally unexpected and novel piece of information she didn’t know she knew?—the answer is, sadly, no. But we can chum the waters with reflections and keen interplay among rhetorical demands and devices. A backdoor entrance, to be sure, but as a parent, I’m all for giving my kid every available opportunity.

For those who need more control, you are sorely out of luck because that control will choke off this precious voice and preclude any magic at all.