Maybe I'm too sensitive or skeptical, but receiving this sort of catalog actually offends me.
Better Grades & Higher Test Scores - Guaranteed!
More than 100 National Award Winners!
Empower the Mind!
Oh Freakin' PLEASE!!!
And I say this coming from a job and career that very highly value critical thinking. (Well, except for Mr. Horrible who has no idea what that means.)
In my line of work, as in many others, being able to separate the noise from the signal, the wheat from the chaff, is very important. I have two coworkers off whom I routinely bounce ideas -- who might have little knowledge of the specifics but who are able to isolate, analyze, evaluate; ask the right questions and guide me to the right answer. I have two other coworkers -- hired by Mr Horrible with no interview or vetting, hired only based on their loyalty and ability to kowtow and say YES -- who are sorely lacking in stepwise, methodical, logical reasoning.
By far the most able critical thinker I know is my dear husband, who never fails to strike me with his remarkable ability to think clearly and cut through a situation or discussion to its most valuable and relevant elements. This doesn't send your girlfriends into titters of "oooooh!" about your guy, but there's a solid reason I married him.
How do some get there and others not? I doubt it was from buying from catalogs like these.
As critical as I find critical thinking skills, I can't yet buy into the idea that they must be established in toddlerhood, or even childhood. I lean too far towards nature on the nature v. nurture argument. Some people are more inclined that way than others, and some just aren't -- thank goodness, because that's where out-of-the-box, creative, outrageous thinking and ideas come from. Some people are born with the inclination toward rational logical thinking, others are born with the inclination toward free random thinking; most of us fall somewhere inbetween. Each inclination greatly benefits from exposure and practice and experience in the other.
But selling "award-winning" "test prep" workbooks and toys oriented to paranoid parents who can't accept where their own kids fall on the art--science spectrum really irritates me. And that despite the fact that I tend to be a free-marketer: if you have a market for it and can sell it, go for it!
My life in a facts-ruled engineering department depends too heavily on critical thinking -- and the costs of its lacking -- for me to believe that this is important now, when my kids are still just kids. Maybe my thinking is rooted in the 1940s, or skewed by a firstborn who appears capable of little else besides critical thinking, but cripes, let kids be kids. Play, laugh, run, be silly, stare at the sky, cut a skein of yarn into 1000 tiny pieces as Katrina did tonight, be bored, draw random mazes, play for the hell of it and for no other reason. Not everything has to be "learning-oriented." I don't mean to be negligent in their education of course, but at this age (9-4), make it broad, make it cover the whole spectrum. The seriously critical thinkers and the seriously free thinkers will be so regardless.
Sell it if you can to the high-achieving set, but don't try to sell it to me.
p.s. I may have to retract everything I just wrote after noticing that this otherwise offensive catalog contains a "Moral Dilemmas: What Would You Do?" set of books. I'll bet they've never dealt with a kid who's so literal that he needs active training in empathy.