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Overview

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While most people feel that critical thinking is innate, it is actually a skill that can be learned. Unfortunately, it is not taught except as part of philosophy courses, and usually badly: in the abstract, with jargon, and as an afterthought.

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If teachers would teach critical thinking in all subjects, to all ages, from kindergarten through college, it would transform America's thinking on religion and secularism. It is the most effective, though long-term way to enhance the decision-making of individuals, communities, organizations, and governments.

The Foundation for Critical Thinking was established in 1980 as the first center on critical thinking in the world. Our approach to teach critical thinking is used more widely than any other. For more than 15 years, we have ground mailed 150,000 - 250,000 thinkers' guides each year to educators across the country to introduce them to the idea of critical thinking, which pays for itself from their purchases of materials from our store.

In 2015, we will use patented technology to gather a much larger list, and target 600,000 educators and administrators in North America. We seek funds to send them all the critical thinking materials that have proven so effective in the past. More than 2% of recipients will make a purchase, and as many as 20% will change their teaching behavior in some way towards explicit instruction in critical thinking. That will impact a million students.


The Challenge

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Critical thinking is the most fundamental concept in the secular movement. It underlies our objections to organized religion, superstition, and belief in God. It is the basis for separation of church and state. The scientific method is based on it. If your goal is to move the secular movement forward, you can have no higher long-term leverage than to promote critical thinking. It is the aspect of secularism most likely to be supported by our allies and least likely to antagonize religious organizations. 

In addition to helping our cause, we also help others greatly by promoting critical thinking. Research shows that the single most significant variable in determining success in life is the quality of our thinking, for individuals, communities, organizations, and governments. 

Unfortunately, our society believes that decision-making is innate, similar to creativity, so there is no need to study it or to improve upon it. There is no academic field that studies critical thinking directly and educates people explicitly in reasoning, except for philosophy, which is not taught properly. Philosophy is seen as a graduate level topic, with no education given to grades K-12 and little to college undergraduates. Jokes about philosophy majors working at fast food restaurants expose the perception of philosophy as being too theoretical and abstract. Somehow the world's most important skill has been labeled the world's least important skill.

In 2000, a California study of elementary and secondary schoolteachers found that the overwhelming majority of teachers (89%) claimed critical thinking to be a primary objective of their instruction, yet only a small minority (19%) had a clear understanding of what critical thinking was or how to use it in their curriculum. Only 9% of respondents explicitly taught critical thinking. Why is that?

It's because teachers in every discipline think it's some other discipline's job to teach critical thinking. It's because teachers lack the resources and a bit of encouragement. They need to know that an entire movement exists of educators who teach critical thinking. They need support to apply explicit critical thinking to their discipline. This creates an opportunity for change.


The Opportunity

We propose a 2015 mailing of 600,000 guides on critical thinking to teachers and professors in North America.

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The Foundation for Critical Thinking was established in 1980 as the first center on critical thinking in the world. Our approach to teach critical thinking is used more widely than any other, because:

  • It is the most integrated. Through dozens of guides we show how to apply critical thinking to specific academic fields.
  • It is the most accessible. We explain critical thinking using everyday language rather than formal logic and jargon.
  • It is the most relevant. We show how to use critical thinking in everyday reasoning, with real human problems, not just in the abstract.
  • It is the most targeted. After 35 years of producing content, we now have every conceivable type of video and printed guide, from teaching kindergartners critical thinking to teaching how to read skeptically to teaching guides translated into 50 languages.
  • It is the most useful to teachers. Our support goes far beyond textbooks. We provide a community to help teachers use our materials, and additional resources such as student tests.
  • It is inexpensive. Unlike commercial publishers who sell expensive and heavy textbooks, we are a non-profit. Our miniature guides are easily purchased or downloaded electronically.

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Over the years, we have discovered an effective way to reach out to the "lone rangers", the teachers who are ready to explicitly teach critical thinking but just need a nudge: we send them a sample from our collection of 22 teaching guides.

For more than 15 years, the Foundational for Critical Thinking has mailed out 150,000 - 250,000 thinkers' guides each year to educators across the country to introduce them to the idea of critical thinking and to offer tools for bringing critical thinking into the classroom and across the curriculum. The primary guide we mail out is The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools, which provides a basic overview of critical thinking and suggests ways for immediate classroom application.

We target every educational level, sending ground mail to K-12 superintendents, principals, and curriculum instructors, and to university presidents, chancellors, deans, chairpersons, and provosts all over the United States.

Each mailing contains a sample miniature guide that explains critical thinking and has been chosen for the recipient's discipline and their students' educational level. We have guides aimed specifically for teachers and faculty, and guides intended specifically for students. A partial listing of our titles include: How to Improve Student Learning, Critical and Creative Thinking, the Art of Asking Essential Questions, Analytic Thinking, Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools (our most popular guide), Active and Cooperative Learning, How to Read a Paragraph, Scientific Thinking, and How to Study and Learn.

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These mailings:

  • Get attention. Ground mail is far more likely to be read than email, and by including a free guide, the teacher has something physical that can be kept for a free moment to peruse it.
  • Are convincing. Having a physical guide creates an inescapable desire to at least flip through it. 
  • Creates a feeling of momentum. Mailing something tangible carries the implication that there is a substantial movement of educators explicitly teaching critical thinking.
  • Can be passed around. It's a gift that cannot be as easily ignored as an email. Teachers are likely to share with each other.
  • Can be used immediately. Even teachers who don't buy additional guides will find the one gift useful.
  • Pay for themselves. Teachers who purchase guides more than offset the original cost of printing and shipping the mailings.

In addition, the Foundation for Critical Thinking is for the first time exploring options of promoting critical thinking through email campaigns and through Google ads on web searches for "how to teach critical thinking" and other phrases.

Over the last fifteen years, the Foundation for Critical Thinking has mailed out almost two million complementary thinkers guides to introduce educators to teaching critical thinking. It is the world's most effective promotion of critical thinking, and the highest leverage (but long term investment) way to build secularism. But we need your help to continue this project.


Impact

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Ground mailings are a proven technique for effectively convincing teachers to include critical thinking in their curricula. In the past decade, we have sent nearly a million guides to teachers in America, and met with enormous feedback. Every wave of mailings has results in purchases that pay for the letters and hundreds of phone calls and replies telling us how useful our materials are. Teachers adopt our materials because:

  • They can please bosses who've heard that critical thinking is a "hot topic"
  • It improves their Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), proving that they have impact
  • They feel more intellectual
  • They can stand out amongst their peers
  • They can help students be more independent and efficient
  • They can help students overcome emotional thinking
  • They can help defeat myths like astrology

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We forecast that:

  • 50% of mailings will be read and considered by the recipient
  • 20% of mailings will make an impact on teaching attitudes towards critical thinking
  •   5% of mailings will result in some form of contact, such as signing up for our newsletter
  •   2% of mailings will result in an average purchase of $150, covering all mailing costs
  • With a mailing to 500,000 educators, we will dramatically grow sales, helping to fund other projects at the Foundation for Critical Thinking, but more importantly, we will impact tens of thousands of educators, and a million students. There can be no higher impact on secularism than to plant the idea of skeptical inquiry into young minds.


Project Plan

The Foundation for Critical Thinking is working with the Secular Policy Institute to collect names and addresses of educators across the United States, using patented software that collects information from thousands of public websites.

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Number of Mailings to K-12  Schools
Superintendents 15,264
Assistant/Deputy Supt. 6,577
School Board Chairs 13,031
K-12 Principals 92,635
Assistant Principals 26,086
Curriculum/Instruction 7,233
Curriculum Directors 77,900
SUB TOTAL 238,726
Teachers 150,271
TOTAL 389,000
College/University
Presidents/Chancellors 3,897
Chief Academic Deans 3,527
Department Chairpersons 44,392
Provost 1,881
Deans, Continuing Ed 1,661
Academic Deans 6,458
SUB TOTAL 61,816
Faculty 150,271
TOTAL 212,000

The total number of guides mailed would be up to 600,000.

Depending on funding and the success of the project, we would adjust our targets and send additional mailings at the start of each new academic semester.


Needs

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We seek funding to collect street addresses and for up to 600,000 guides to be mailed.

We seek funding to explore online opportunities to promote critical thinking guides, which can be purchased on the Internet and shipped or downloaded.

We also seek celebrity thinkers who wish to be affiliated with the project, helping us create a media splash and agreeing to be mentioned in or to write a comment for our cover letters.

We seek volunteers to make follow-up phone calls to assess the impact of our mailings and help us better adapt our messaging and target educators likely to adopt critical thinking.


Contact

Organization: Foundation for Critical Thinking
Contact Name: Linda Elder
Contact Email: elder@criticalthinking.org