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The Critical Thinking Co.

By Lisa Carroll, Staff Writer
The Critical Thinking Company is a long standing, well respected business that produces educational books and software for Preschool through High School students. They are committed to developing products that strengthen children’s critical thinking skills, in order to achieve better grades, higher test scores, and success in life. The curriculum they developed has won over 100 national awards.

The business has roots going back to 1958 in Birmingham, MI, then later on to California. Now the company has offices in California and Oregon.  Michael’s father, John Baker, started the company by publishing math books under the name Midwest Publications. Michael’s mom was a teacher, and Michael, who has a major in Philosophy, explained to me that he naturally gravitated toward what he knew when he entered the family business. He brought The Critical Thinking Co. to North Bend eight years ago. “The Santa Cruz/Monterey area was getting way too crowded,” Michael explains. “Elizabeth and I have three boys, and we wanted to raise them in a small town close to the ocean. We chose North Bend because it’s a nice area and the people are pleasant and hardworking, with good values.”

Located at 1991 Sherman Avenue, North Bend, the office is in the grand old ballroom of the historic Odd Fellows building, built circa 1923. “We thought it was a beautiful old building that needed some TLC, so my wife and I bought it to house our Oregon office, and to restore it,” Michael said. So far, they have repainted the building, fixed a lot of plumbing and electrical issues, installed a new gas boiler, replaced some windows, repaired the roof, and improved the security, making the building safer for residents and bringing back some of its former glory from days gone by.

Michael Baker, President of The Critical Thinking Co., says the more students think about what they are learning, the more students understand what they are learning.

Graphic artists, software developers, education specialists, writers, and editors are employed in the North Bend office, developing the software curriculum and producing the books and catalog. “School teachers use our materials in classrooms, and we do a lot of business with home-schooling groups, too, as well as church organizations who are involved in education,” Michael tells me. The people of The Critical Thinking Co. believe in what they do, and they have happily donated some books and software to local educators. Also, they practice “Critical Giving,” following a “One to Many” model in which with every purchase, two or more products are donated at no charge to children in need via non-profit organizations such as Kids Wish Network, Kids In Need Foundation, Gifts In Kind International, First Book, and many others. 

Authors of the material include college professors as well as classroom teachers. A lot of thought goes into developing the curriculum for each subject and grade level. “We look at the education standards for each grade and subject. We’ve got to teach those standards and concepts, but we want to do it in a way that leads the student to analyze the subject a bit deeper,” Michael explains. “It’s a proven fact in education that the more exposure a student has to critical thinking, the more likely they’ll transfer that skill to other areas of their lives.” 

Take the math “story problems” as an example. In the traditional story problem, every fact you are given is relevant, so you accept what you are told without thinking about it, and get to figuring out the math. In the Critical Thinking approach, all elements of the story might not be relevant to solving the math problem. The student has to figure out what which parts of the story are applicable to the problem at hand, and this develops deductive and inferential reasoning skills. “We define critical thinking as the identification and evaluation of evidence to guide decision making,” says Michael. “When we use critical thinking, we look for evidence and then evaluate all the available evidence to help us make the right decision.”
A quote attributed to Michael found on the website sums it up well: “If we teach children everything we know, their knowledge is limited to ours. If we teach children to think, their knowledge is limitless.”
The website, which offers this material at very affordable prices, has demos to try out at no charge. The material is bright, intelligent, fun and easy to use. There are also many good articles related to learning and cognitive health. Visit criticalthinking.com if you’d like to check it out. You can also call 1-800-458-4849 for more information.

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