Raise the Issues: An Integrated Approach to Critical Thinking (2nd edition)

September 2004 — Volume 8, Number 2

Raise the Issues: An Integrated Approach to Critical Thinking (2nd edition)

Carol Numrich (2002)
White Plains, NY: Pearson Education
Pp. xv + 237
ISBN 0-201-62100-2 (paper)

Abstract: This review is an examination of what’s new and what’s not in Carol Numrich’s 2nd edition of the popular Raise the Issues written “In Cooperation with National Public Radio.” With half of the first edition replaced, instructors can decide whether the new material suits their classes and learn about revisions to the remaining units. In addition, the reviewer provides some caveats about new editions in general, and why newer isn’t always better.

Let me begin with a confession: I am a National Public Radio junkie. Linda Worthheimer, Daniel Shorr, Click and Clack–I can’t live without them. So you can imagine my joy years ago when I was handed Carol Numrich’s first edition of Raise the Issues, featuring NPR commentaries. It was perfect for my high intermediate Listening and Speaking classes and a solid supplementary text for Integrated Skills.

Now Longman has released a second edition.

I was concerned. Would it be as good as the first edition? Would it be any different? Would it be–if only–better? Publishers have been updating copyright dates on their best sellers since the turn of the millennium. Since only ten percent of a text needs be different–and not necessarily new, some publishers make negligible changes to get their “new” edition for a new copyright date. For example, in one popular grammar book, the only differences between the publisher’s splashy new twenty-first century edition and an earlier one were a variation in picture placement, larger pages (and, thus, a heavier book), a CD-ROM, and, of course, a higher price. The content was the same, and worst of all, many errors from the previous edition remained.

Thankfully, Raise the Issues rises above this level.

Five of the original ten units have been dropped. Gone are gun control, heroes, English as the official language of the United States, inequality in education, and censorship. Replacing them are three internationally hot topics: the Internet, globalization, and genetic engineering, and two more narrowly focused subjects: single-sex versus coeducation and legalized gambling. Interestingly, a common thread among at least three of the new units–deliberate or not–is the problem protecting individual privacy in a technology-driven world.

The text’s winning structure is still intact. Each unit begins with an issue cartoon and meaningful background reading. Then comes an NPR commentary that shapes the central listening activity of the unit. Next, a second, contrasting opinion is provided. This is followed by a section synthesizing the two viewpoints. The unit concludes with speaking and writing activities that give students ample opportunities to explore and present their own points of view. [-1-]

Carry-over Units

The five chapters that remain from the first edition are essentially untouched, except for two or three fewer vocabulary words per unit. At a time when the demand of vocabulary development is growing, reducing the number of vocabulary words is an odd decision. Most of the small changes to the carry-over units are improvements, however. These include simpler direction lines, a few more graphic organizers, charts that no longer spill over to a second page, and numbering for exercise items. Numrich has also added a model answer for each writing exercise, which establishes a helpful benchmark for students.

The main problem with these units is the age of the material. The first edition was published in 1994, which means the essays, commentary, and related readings are over ten years old; in fact, a number are from the 1980s. Moreover, the statistics, issues, and activities in those units were not updated. In the intervening years, the content of some topics has moved beyond the material in the book. For example, a more up-to-date chapter on in vitro fertilization would probably include the issue of stem-cell research, and a case study about a revision to Harvard’s core curriculum is doubly dated because it’s being revised once again.

There is also one unfortunate design “enhancement”: instead of setting readings apart with a faint screen or second color, each reading has ragged edges with shadows, as though they had been ripped from some other document and were floating over the pages of the book. This attempt at adding “visual interest” is needlessly distracting.

New Material

Numrich added a nice, straightforward Scope and Sequence, making explicit the critical thinking skills and outlining the four skill areas in each unit. She also maintains the strong variety of speaking activities from the first edition: role-plays, task-based discussions, and purposeful debates. The Grammar section is at an appropriate level and evolves from the readings. Moreover, it ties in directly with the writing activities, providing good support and modeling.

The best new chapter is called “Beyond Darwin.” Whether you view genetic engineering as a promise of nirvana, a path to Brave New World, or something in between, the content is inherently dramatic and works wonderfully in Numrich’s adversarial, point-counterpoint structure. Cloning is featured, of course, but so is a provocative essay by James D. Watson, a 1953 Nobel Prize winner who, along with Francis Crick, is credited with discovering the structure of DNA. His essay reminds us of the ambivalence that historically has met new scientific advances.

The balance of new chapters is thoughtful and current, if a bit flat. The first chapter, for example, focuses on the Internet’s role in society, yet it misses an opportunity to examine some of the truly problematic or divisive issues of the Internet, such as how students can discern valid from faulty research, or how to protect children from Internet predators. The only section of the unit that hits any kind of nerve is in the case study in the Speaking section. And the unit on the global village tries so hard to be even-handed that it loses any sense of the real emotions globalization generates on both sides. [-2-]

The two other new topics may not be especially appealing to international students: unisex, especially all female, schools versus co-education and the pros and cons of legalized gambling. This is too bad, because it has always been the content in this book that drives classroom discussions.

I was pleased to see that the answer key and listening transcripts were transferred from the back of the text to a separate answer key booklet. Pleased, that is, until I found out its cost: A list price of $11.50 for a 20-page booklet–with no cover, no art, and no teaching advice. Remember, this booklet only contains answers and a collection of scripts written by NPR commentators–not by the author–with half cut-and-pasted directly from the first edition. This booklet wasn’t written; it was merely compiled, and with negligible production costs, the price is still over 60% of the text itself. This one ought to be an explicit giveaway.

Whatever it faults, however, Raise the Issues is still the best of its kind. I would definitely use it again and recommend it for high intermediate and advanced students in courses that emphasize critical thinking and comprehensive discussions.

Christy M. Newman, Ed.D.
Weston Editorial, Weston, MA

© Copyright rests with authors. Please cite TESL-EJ appropriately.

Editor’s Note: Dashed numbers in square brackets indicate the end of each page for purposes of citation..