Thinking Broadly, Creatively, Deeply

7 February 2024
By Mileana Borowski ’25

Louis Newman’s new book goes beyond college prep to training for life.

When it comes to student success in college, Louis Newman, a Carleton professor of religion from 1983 to 2016, emphasizes that it’s not so much what you learn as how. He shares an analogy. “You could be a good cook by knowing how to follow recipes meticulously, or you could be a great cook by knowing why those recipes work and why things come out tasting the way they do,” he says. “Then you have the ability to be creative.”

Blue book with red text on the cover: "thinking critically in college; the essential handbook for student success" by Louis Newman

“The ability to understand the process involved and not just the mechanics of the steps you have to take,” he adds, “is the ability to understand how knowledge is created.”

This notion is at the heart of Newman’s book, Thinking Critically in College: The Essential Handbook for Student Success, published in March 2023. Now retired, Newman served in many capacities at Carleton over 33 years, from chair of the religion department to director of the Perlman Center for Learning and Teaching, all of which informed his writing.

“I did a lot of reflection on my own teaching and the things that I expected of students in the classes I taught,” he says. “Then I tried to summarize that in a way that felt both conversational and useful.”

The writing process brought Newman, who specializes in Jewish ethics, in contact with a broad range of topics, including quantitative reasoning, metacognition, and disciplinary thinking. He relied on student focus groups, professors at colleges across the country, and practitioners in fields like the pedagogy of teaching writing to “pull together both expertise from people who really had expertise in particular fields but also the lived experiences of college students.”

Newman considers Thinking Critically in College a love letter to a liberal arts education. While he followed his time at Carleton with a six-year stint at Stanford, he links this passion to his time in Northfield, where he “came to understand how valuable a liberal arts education can be in helping students grow and learn about the world and themselves.” The book makes the case that the real benefit of this kind of education is developing skills around “thinking broadly, creatively, and deeply.”

“The specific subject almost doesn’t matter,” he says. “The book is really about the ways you learn to approach the world and how to look at something from multiple perspectives, things Carleton does so well.”

Posted In

Appears in Issues: