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The emphasis in this chapter is on thinking and reading critically and developing visual literacy. The
chapter also offers useful preparation for writing about literature and for writing research papers since
students need to evaluate their research material by distinguishing among inferences, facts, and
Interpreting a Cartoon
Your students will offer a multitude of inferences; here‘s a sampling:
Only menial jobs available for high school graduates
Servicing rather than producing goods the norm
Foreign imports ruining opportunities for American high school graduates
Salaries uniformly low
Further education clearly necessary
The interesting jobs (i.e., cartoonist) filled
American high school education inadequate
The American system failing its youth
This exercise can be assigned as homework, with students bringing their written responses to class. Or
you may want to do it in class with students offering inferences, which you then write on the board as
students volunteer them. Either way, students need to supply supporting facts from the cartoon. If the
basis of a particular inference is unclear, ask the student to explain her reasoning. The exercise can lead
to interesting discussion.
Thinking Critically About Your Own Thinking
This exercise works well when done in class. Students can share their responses with a neighbor or two,
or a few can read their responses to the class for group analysis. You might track the discussion by
listing on the board, for example, the inference followed by the supporting facts. Students as a class
could then evaluate the strength of the inference.
“How Facts Backfire” by Joe Keohane
1. Keohane asserts that our beliefs can often ―dictate the facts we choose to accept.‖ Beliefs
can ―lead us to uncritically accept bad information‖ as reinforcement for our beliefs. He
describes ―motivated reasoning‖ as our tendency to accept facts that support our existing
beliefs and ―dismiss information that doesn‘t.‖ His position is the opposite of our standard
assumption that ―an informed citizenry‖ is the basis of good government as Thomas
Jefferson said. Facts, we think, will lead to clear, enlightened thinkers, but Keohane suggests
that this may not be the case. You might ask students to explain what Keohane suggests is
the cause of this surprising finding and what they think a solution might be.
Discussion may be more coherent if students read the essay and answer the questions on their own first.
Distinguishing Between Facts, Inferences, and Judgments
1. This is a fact that can be verified.
2. The phrase ―should not‖ implies the writer‘s disapproval of censorship, making this statement a
judgment as well as an inference since all judgments are also inferences.
3. ―For sale,‖ ―three-bedroom house,‖ and the price, ―$475,000,‖ are facts; ―lovely,‖ ―forest
setting,‖ ―easy commute,‖ and ―bargain‖ are judgments.
4. This is a fact that can be verified.
5. This is a judgment.
6. This is a judgment, one which rests on definition. What constitutes a drinking problem? Anyone
making this judgment would have to define his terms.
7. It is a fact that Ben Brantley called the production ―exhilarating,‖ but his statement about the
production is a judgment.
8. That the football player took the recommended vitamin pills is a fact, but ―Those pills sure did
the trick‖ is a judgment and possibly a faulty inference, an example of post hoc reasoning (see
Drawing Logical Inferences
A. ―Traffic Facts‖
You can expect considerable variation as you discuss the inferences students draw from these ―Traffic
Facts.‖ You might add to the discussion by asking if any of these facts will influence their driving
A footnote: as Joe Keohane points out in his essay ―How Facts Backfire‖ earlier, facts can sometimes be
misleading. In response to Traffic Fact #13, a reader questioned the reliability of the claim about
daylight statistics. ―Your ‗debunking‘ of the idea that dark and rainy roads are the most dangerous may
be flawed. I suspect that fewer people drive in those adverse conditions, so naturally there would be
fewer crashes than during dry, daylight hours. What we need is the rate of crashes per miles driven.‖
The editor responded that she was right: ―According to the most recent data…the rate of fatal crashes
per miles driven is 7½ times higher at night than it is during the day.‖
You may want to revisit this survey when covering inductive reasoning in Chapter 7, ―Deductive and
Inductive Argument.‖ ―Thinking Critically About Surveys and Statistics.‖
B. ―Dry Manhattan‖
The most obvious inference to be drawn is that Prohibition didn‘t work. Based on these statistics, the
prohibition of alcohol appears to have increased the desire for it and made the selling of it more
profitable than when it was legal.
Solving Riddles, Reading Poetry
John Cotton: 1. Music 2. Stars 3. A mirror 4. A bubble 5. A ring 6. Mist (or fog)
Sylvia Plath: A mirror. A pregnant woman
―Totleigh Riddles‖ by John Cotton first appeared in the Times Literary Supplement (London) in 1981.
The author provided the answers, but students often come up with some inventive solutions of their own.
Close reading of the stanzas will always bring them back to Cotton‘s expressed intent. The two Plath
poems offer similar riddles. All the poems provide another opportunity to include a study of literary
language (as we suggest with the Richard Wilbur poem in Chapter 1), since all are rich in metaphor and
In ―On Me!‖ by Philip Levine, the man of the poem, when he was a boy, did not understand why boys
committed crimes, fought, or overdosed on drugs. He also didn‘t understand his father‘s violence. But as
a man, he understands that ―a man with nothing, without money or the prospect of money‖ is unable to
pay, unable to toss a bill down on the bar and say, ―On me!‖ Not being able to ―pick up the tab‖ or to
have a future where that would be possible makes the boys and his father angry and violent. Analysis of
the poem could lead to a discussion of a man‘s role in society.
Sentence #1: A statement of fact. This information can be verified.
Sentence #2: ―For generations organized medicine has focused on saving lives‖ is a statement of fact, a
commonly held belief of the medical profession and our culture. ―No matter what the price in emotional
trauma, physical pain, or economic cost, because we are a death-denying society‖ is an inference and
implied judgment, one that would require support (examples, statistics, etc.) to convince the reader.
Sentence #3: ―But keeping people alive in the face of a painful death should not be inevitable‖ is a
judgment, as indicated by the ―should.‖ That Drs. White and Rosenbaum maintained this position ―when
they shut off artificial life-support for their brain-damaged patient at the urging of his family‖ is a fact
capable of being verified.
Sentence #4: A judgment as indicated by the ―should‖ in the first and second clauses. Even though the
majority of us would agree with the claims in this sentence, they are expressed as judgments made by
Sentence #5: A judgment as indicated by ―should.‖
Sentence #6: ―The definition of ‗brain-dead‘ remains a controversial issue‖ is a statement of fact; it can
be verified. ―But not one which should halt humane medical decisions‖ is a judgment as indicated by
Overall, this article is based on judgments, and we would expect to find it in the editorial section of the
WRITING ASSIGNMENT 2
Reconstructing the Lost Tribe
We have found over the years that students can have considerable fun with this assignment, although
many fall into the trap of describing a tribe that they seem to have seen rather than using only the
linguistic clues to create their impressions. It is very important to go over the instructions offered in the
text in both The Approach and in Audience and Purpose to help students avoid such errors and to be
sure they understand the importance of stating the facts given, providing the inferences they draw, and
explaining how they arrived at these inferences. Organizing all this material into a coherent essay can
present challenges for some. Lists, outlines, and preliminary drafts can be helpful. If you think your
students are having trouble, you may want to intervene at stages during their composing process. We
have received a wide range of successful papers on this topic, some thorough and serious, others
inventive and cleverly constructed. We include one here as an example but by no means as a universal
In addition to covering the material well and making appropriately tentative inferences, the student has
created a fluent, coherent paper with transitions and well-developed sentences, especially appositional
structures covered in Chapter 5. We have printed it on separate pages for easy copying should you
decide to use it with your students after they complete their own papers. We encourage you to select
successful papers from your own class as well.
Olympia–A Culture Revealed
Whether it be via newspaper, television, magazine, radio, or billboard, the media constantly bombard us
with what we should eat, drink, smoke, wear, or drive. ―The Latest in Pleasure—Newport Stripes‖; ―If
Peer Pressure Has Kept You from Getting a Saab, Get New Peers‖; ―With a Jenn-Air, There‘s Never a
Bad Time for a Barbecue.‖ But plagued with rating games, colored by dollar signs, the media provide
tainted rather than sound insights into a given society—its values, customs, ideologies. A society‘s
language, however, rarely lies. For ―concealed in the structure of language are a whole set of
unconscious assumptions about the world and the life in it‖ (Clyde Kluckhohn). Applicable not only to
our own society but foreign civilizations as well, the latter theory becomes an invaluable tool for
evaluating the broader world around us. For example, armed with just a brief list of key linguistic clues
that Anthropology Today recently published in its January issue, we can take a relatively unknown
society—Olympia—and paint a fairly comprehensive picture of its environment and of its social,
cultural, and political traditions. All this from a simple list of linguistic facts.
Launching our study of Olympia, we will first consider its physical environment, that which sets the
boundaries and gives shape to Olympia‘s socioeconomics. Looking at the three phrases—―absolutely
flat,‖ ―rolling,‖ and ―slightly hilly‖—Olympians use in describing their terrain, we can assume that
Olympian society rests somewhere in the lower elevations. The midnorthern lower elevations, perhaps,
because the Olympian language—though it includes several words designating rain—includes only one
for snow. With little snow and probably much rain, we can infer that Olympia boasts considerable lush,
green vegetation. And, as dozens of terms indicating grains exist in the Olympian language, perhaps
Olympia also boasts prime farming land. We can further assume that Olympians live well inland, for
their language is completely devoid of a word meaning ocean. Perhaps then, a shipping import/export
business contributes little to the Olympian economy just as seafood contributes little to the Olympian
diet. Light on seafood, the Olympian diet also appears devoid of red meat as a lack of words signifying
pork, beef, mutton, or veal indicates. Since they do have words for the animals themselves—calf, cow,
sheep, and pig—it is possible that they use dairy products. But grains seem to comprise the bulk of the
Olympian diet since they have dozens of words representing ―grain,‖ in fact eight for wheat alone.
Socially, the Olympians seem to highly value the family, the arts, and knowledge. With words for
woman synonymous with ―mother‖ and ―wife,‖ words for man synonymous with ―father‖ and
―husband,‖ Olympians appear to identify themselves within traditional family roles. And the Olympian
word for sex—translating as ―to plant a wise one‖—seems to reinforce this notion as it refers to nothing
but childbearing. The child, in fact, appears central to the Olympian family tradition. With several terms
representative of ―children‖ in Olympian language and seven words alone describing the states of life
from birth to puberty, yet only one from puberty to death, the Olympians apparently place great
emphasis on childhood. It is also conceivable, however, that Olympians simply live relatively brief lives,
lives that end shortly after childhood. But Olympian society seems to hold its children in the highest
esteem, referring to them as ―wise one,‖ ―wise small one,‖ or ―innocent leader.‖ Perhaps the children of
Olympia, the ―innocent leaders‖ and ―small wise ones,‖ play a large role in governing this community.
Olympian children after all may be, literally, the leaders running the Olympian government. Or perhaps
Olympian leaders simply look to their children for answers, simple, straightforward, noncynical answers
found only in the honesty and simplicity of youth.
Highly regarding the child, Olympians also appear to value the arts and knowledge. With twenty words
meaning ―book‖ in their language, we can assume that Olympians spend a fair amount of time reading,
learning, concentrating, and enjoying times of peaceful solitude. Or perhaps Olympians, participating in
community readings and discussions of literature, experience books in an entirely different manner from
that to which we are accustomed. In fact, literature may be as central to Olympian entertainment as the
arts and theatre appear to be. With nine words meaning artist and four words representing the theatre,
Olympians are perhaps great supporters of artistic endeavors. In addition, as drama often involves a
sense of community, of working together, collectively, of collaborating in a group effort, perhaps then
the Olympians are a very community-oriented people.
If not socially, the Olympians are almost certainly politically a communal people. A language in which
the several terms for leader all translate into the plural surely indicates a society favoring a collective
form of governing. Though we may consider several possibilities, including a democratic, rule-bycommittee, or parliamentary government, we can determine only that Olympians favor a collective
ruling system—a system in which peace is the bottom line, war nonexistent. No word for war, no term
for violent conflict, suggests that Olympians do live a relatively peaceful existence, one perhaps free of
nuclear, territorial, or government-related threats. In fact, ―peacemaker‖ and ―conciliator‖—the
Olympian terms for praise—further emphasize the value Olympians place both on peace and on those
who advance and facilitate it. Extending their nonviolent tendencies beyond politics as well, Olympians
apparently do not butcher animals for their own consumption. Though words for calf, cow, sheep, and
pig exist in the Olympian language, corresponding terms for veal, beef, mutton, pork, and leather do not,
as mentioned earlier.
A nonviolent people, humanitarian and community-oriented, the Olympians have revealed themselves
through their language, through a mere sixteen linguistic clues that anthropologists observed, gathered,
and published. Applying Clyde Kluckhohn‘s theory has enabled us to decode features of the language of
Olympia and the traditions of its people. It would appear that our known world today could learn some
important lessons from such an unusual but admirable society.
WRITING ASSIGNMENT 3
Making Inferences About Fiction
―The Story of an Hour‖ by Kate Chopin
The Audience and Purpose for this story are the same as for ―Hostess‖ that follows.
Most students will recognize that Louise does not die of joy but of horrified disappointment. All
students will profit from the careful examination of the story necessary to support that inference,
beginning with the moment when she utters the words ―free, free, free!‖ concluding with the author‘s
remark that her friend Richard tries to shield her returning husband from her expression. After students
find the series of facts that reveal her joy as she reflects on her newfound freedom they will recognize
the irony of the doctors‘ diagnosis—joy at seeing her husband return. Some students will also recognize
the descriptive passage earlier in the story where imagery foreshadows her emerging sense of freedom:
trees ―aquiver with the new spring life,‖ the ―delicious breath of rain,‖ distant song, ―twittering
sparrows,‖ and ―blue sky showing through the clouds.‖
This story can serve as an illustration of how great writers make every word count, how subtly Kate
Chopin builds her story in so brief a space, revealing the narrative through small gestures, a few words,
supportive imagery. Finding meaning in such works requires close reading, attention to detail, and
critical think—reading fiction like a sleuth.
WRITING ASSIGNMENT 4
―Hostess‖ by Donald Mangum
Students will arrive at different evaluations of the hostess, most admiring her, a few finding mixed
messages between the lines of the story. Among the wide range of possible responses:
A caring, compassionate woman, concerned about those around her, emotionally involved, friendly,
energetic, capable of infinite empathy—the supreme caretaker, an aggressive comforter, the archetypal
hostess. One incident after another supports such inferences.
Some will find her fastidious: ―I‘m going to put you a bowl on the floor in the utility room. The rest of
the trailer was carpeted.‖ Some will find her controlling and interfering, based on her reaction to her
husband‘s small wager and her remarks to R.L. Many will comment on her boldness: ―You know what
you can kiss.‖ Others will address the question of her economic and social class and her regional dialect.
The success of such an analysis will depend on the student‘s ability to reveal the relevance of such
issues to the conclusions about her character. More perceptive readers will note that she is the narrator
and comment on the question of reliability. Some will look closely for clues about tone, ironic layering,
subtle innuendo. Class discussion could revolve around reader response and what each reader brings to
Analyzing Two Historic Images
Both photos remind us of painful moments in our modern history: World War II in the Pacific and the
attack on the World Trade Center in New York.
Iwo Jima: This photo of five American marines and a navy corpsman planting the American
flag on the Pacific Island of Iwo Jima on February 23, 1945, captured a historic
moment in World War II when battle-weary American troops finally began to see
victory ahead following one bloody battle after another in the Pacific. The picture
shows the ravaged landscape and the enormous effort of American troops
emblematic of the war. Joe Rosenthal took the picture, which won the Pulitzer
Prize that year and was said to be perhaps the most reproduced photo ever. Of the
six in the picture, three died in the battle; the three survivors became heroes.
―Falling Man‖ N.Y.: This photo of the plunging figure against the skyscraper wall caught the horrible
moment when people trapped in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001,
had to either perish by fire or leap to their death. Unlike many photos of people
falling from the Twin Towers that day, this man is not flailing about in the panic
of his fall, but is assuming a symmetrically vertical posture that perfectly
corresponds with the vertical lines of the building behind, giving to the picture
and the moment a balance and timeless quality. Seasoned Associated Press
photographer Richard Drew took a long sequence of falling-body photos, but
instantly recognized this iconic picture as ―the one.‖ It appeared in hundreds of
newspapers across the world.
Students can add their own reactions to these images.
Making Inferences About Visual Images in the Media
Before your students address this exercise, go over with the class our discussion of the ads that precede
Exercise 2I. As with many inference exercises, you can expect a range of responses. You may want to
treat an exercise like this simply in terms of the response, or you might include the quality of the writing
as well in your evaluation.
Paul Mitchell: The image is of a family: husband, wife and young son with their dog, a
golden retriever. They are sitting together in an open field, the parents close,
the boy lying against the mother, the father smiling at the son, the wife
smiling at the husband. The setting is rural; no structures are visible. The man
in the picture is, in fact, Paul Mitchell, originator and owner of Paul Mitchell
hair products. Hair is not featured in this ad though the mother and the son
both have thick, attractive hair. Instead, we are given an image of family
harmony in a country setting. This ad doesn‘t declare or demonstrate the
virtues of its products; it associates the products with love and peace. The
dove, a symbol of peace, reinforces the message. The copy asks us to join an
organization to end hunger and poverty and protect the ―planet‘s water‖ and
―give hope to children worldwide.‖ We are to connect these values with Paul
Mitchell, who in this ad also appears to be a loving husband, father, and dog
owner. We are being sold Paul Mitchell the man as well as the products he
produces. It would be interesting to learn more about Paul Mitchell to see if
his personal life mirrors the image we are presented with here, if in fact the
woman and boy in the ad are his family.
The Norton Experience: The printed text of the ad is obviously not central to the message since it is so
small. Only the promise of ―freedom‖ stands out. More important, the picture
of the Commando 750 and particularly the glamorous young woman seated
astride the powerful machine tell the story. She presents a provocative eyecatching pose, hair lustrous, long, and wavy; legs spread wide and lips slightly
parted; her shorts revealing. In color, flashes of brilliant yellow on the panels
of the bike stand out. Like many ads, this one is selling its product with sex.
The young woman and the powerful motorcycle are offering a distinct kind of
―freedom.‖ Both suggest the same satisfaction and thus tempt the buyer
yearning for such an experience.
Guess: The ad shows a very attractive couple, the man astride a moped, the woman
astride the man, as they are parked in an ancient looking pathway. Needless to
say, the most attention-getting aspect of this ad is the sexual pose of the
couple, both with legs spread apart. They have been or will soon be sexual
intimates. The man‘s hair is long, suggesting that he is unconventional. The
setting and the moped suggest Europe, not the United States. They are both
wearing jeans; the purpose of the ad is to associate these jeans (the brand itself
is not identified) with travel, adventure, and sex.
The fine print beside the pilsner tells the viewer that only one tall beer can produce a buzz and lead to ―1
totaled vehicle.‖ ―Buzzed driving is drunk driving.‖ The severely injured young man in each picture has
suffered the same damage, whether a victim of ―drunk driving‖ or ―buzzed driving.‖
The sweating athlete is marked by a huge ―asterisk‖ as a user of steroids and, thus, as ―a fake‖ and ―a
fraud.‖ All the world can see, and he doesn‘t look happy with this deformity on his forehead. If students
are not aware of the antisteroid campaign using the asterisk, they may want to look it up. Sponsored by
the US Olympic Committee and drug maker Johnson & Johnson two or three years ago, this symbol
appeared on ads warning athletes about the dangers of steroids.
Students could write their own evaluations of how effective each image is and then share with the class
their reactions. The auto accident sequence may carry a clearer message than the steroid picture will.
Analyzing a Film
If you prefer, you might decide to show, or have students watch, another movie that you think serves the
purpose of the assignment. Perhaps students could suggest films that have ambiguous endings or suggest
multiple interpretations. The classic Japanese crime movie of 1950, Rashomon, could be another choice,
offering multiple interpretations of the events.
Exploring a Legal Case
As law professor Ray D. Madoff points out in a New York Times op-ed piece, March 28, 2011, the issue
of the right to one‘s identity is growing murky. We see the right to one‘s own personal profile being
questioned. Until recently, once dead, a person no longer had control over use of his or her identity. But
now institutions have bought the rights to certain famous people and demand permission before allowing
the use of such a person‘s name or effects. For example, Hebrew University of Jerusalem inherited
Albert Einstein‘s estate and thus his very identity. The list of other celebrities is long. You could have
students look up this interesting article, which carries many surprises.