The Critical Thinking Supertext Project

The Critical Thinking Supertext Project is a spin-off from efforts by the Association for Informal Logic And Critical Thinking (AILACT), with support from the Faster Forward Fund and the University of Windsor, to overcome two barriers to full acceptance of the disciplinary status and educational importance of the group of related studies that includes critical thinking, and related parts of informal logic, argumentation, and rhetoric. The two barriers are (i) misunderstandings of what the teaching of critical thinking (in particular) comprises; and (ii) why the study of its (their) nature(s) and instruction is a field of serious and important intellectual and academic concern. The ‘Supertext Project’ is an effort to provide an anthology that provides routes around these barriers in the form of good short essays in two sections.

The first section would provide chapters, by many critical thinking theorists and practitioners, that cover basic reading and writing model assignments for an introductory course in the skills of critical thinking—for example, there might be a chapter on definitions (their types, standards, and common problems with their misuse and correction in disputations or presentations), another on types of argumentation or types of evidence, a third on the logic of evaluation or legal reasoning, etc.

These instructional essays and model assignments—preferably including model tests—would be specifically commissioned, selected from existing publications, or chosen from entries in a competition for chapters on a specified topic (prizes and topics to be announced on FasterForwardFund.org).

The second section would provide a collection of short essays about the topics covered in the first section, treated here as topics for philosophical or epistemological discussion, not as skills to be acquired. This section, or parts of it, could be used for teaching a graduate seminar in logic or argumentation, or for the edification of curriculum designers, or thoughtful citizens, or bright students considering graduate studies in education or philosophy or methodology.

A supertext is a double textbook for instructors and learners, one part devoted to model instruction in a particular subject matter, the second half being about some aspect or all of the theme topics of the first part. Subjects where supertexts might be useful include those whose legitimacy is hotly contested, either on practical or theoretical grounds or both: critical thinking and evaluation are two leading examples.

Of course, texts, like a wide range of ordinary texts today, will have severely limited effects if they do not get wide distribution or if they poorly represent the fields they are trying to promulgate. To assist this project, for a book tentatively called the Critical Thinking Book, the funding agent (the Faster Forward Fund) has taken several steps. First, the project has been fortunate enough to obtain the services of the founding and long-term editors of, and major contributors to, one of its leading journals (Informal Logic), Tony Blair and Ralph Johnson. As the Supertext executive editors, they will be the guardians of quality, assisted by a modest prize fund for specific topics that they deem crucial. To make the coverage wide-ranging enough to allow a prospective teacher ample choices of reading assignments, the business model will allow a book of up to 500 pages. To avoid the usual cost barrier for big books, the cost will be subsidized to below $20 for all buyers. It will probably not be possible, at first, to offer it as an ebook at a lower price unless it sells well in hardcopy format, but we’ll hope to do that eventually.

On behalf of our discipline, we encourage all those interested in the teaching or topic of critical thinking to contribute suggestions and essays to the collective pool, to help the project, win a prize, earn royalties, become famous, sell more copies of your other work, and improve critical thinking! For more information on this project keep checking back here at 3F; and we encourage you to join AILACT: ailact.wordpress.com.

Please forward suggestions regarding this project to J. Anthony (Tony) Blair: tblair@uwindsor.ca or to Ralph Johnson: johnsoa@unwindsor.ca.