Someone emailed me this question. Since it was asked so nicely, I thought I’d answer.

I have a question for you and I hope you have time to reply to it. I admire your essays and the indepth analysis of topics. You put a lot of critical and analytical thinking in your writing. Even when you argue, your ideas are coherent and well-thought out. I want to give this gift of analytical thinking and critical writing to my children.

Can you please let me know what I should basically cover in my homeschooling curriculum to touch those factors. I am basically an engineer and I can do all those magic in maths and science but not in humanities and arts. So, it would be highly beneficial if you can list out your thoughts on this. What are the major factors you consider when you are adapting a writing curriculum for your sons? What kind of reading will help my children to achieve that critical thinking and analytical mind?

My answer:

Well, since you ask so nicely!

I don’t have any magic or cutting-edge method in mind when it comes to getting H. and E. to be excellent critical thinkers. It’s simply called getting a liberal arts education. By reading “the best that has been thought and said”–since the best tend to be very thought-provoking–as long as the child is ready to be meaningfully challenged by it, they learn at the knees of the most brilliant minds of history. They learn to think well by regularly seeing good thinking. That’s what’s contained in the classics and in good books, both fiction and nonfiction.

It is also very important, I think, that children get lots of practice in writing. They should write every day, when they are able, 45-60 minutes a day, or that’s how long I have H. writing these days. What they write about and whether they systematically go through a program or something like that is not nearly as important as that they be motivated to formulate words in paragraphs. It is also very important that they get feedback and revise.

The combination of challenging (but not inappropriately so) reading and very regular writing with feedback–and, later, going through increasingly difficult science and math problems on a wide variety of science and math topics–are enough to make anyone capable of careful analysis.

It becomes especially important later on, from junior high school level on or so, that they get increasingly challenging feedback on their essays. The only effective way to learn how to write in an organized, logical, coherent fashion is to get copious critical reaction to one’s own writing.

I also learned a lot, myself, from 3.5 years of debate and forensics in high school  and lots of reading and study of philosophy (and study of logic as part of that surely didn’t hurt). More than any other subject, philosophy (in the classic tradition, and in the Anglo-American tradition) encourages analytical thinking and writing.