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How the Language Really Works:
The Fundamentals of Critical Reading and Effective Writing
Reading / Writing
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Inference
Choices
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Example: America

Example: Beard's History

Example:
Breast Feeding

Choices: The Choice of Content

People obtain information and ideas from many sources. They meet people, attend classes, and overhear conversations. They watch television, listen to the radio, read newspapers, and surf the Internet. Some information they gain vicariously, some they seek out. They experience some things first-hand, on their own; others they experience second-hand, through the reports of others.

Any two people will have different experiences. They will be in different places and see different things. They will meet different people and be influenced by different values and information. They will come to be interested in different topics, concerned with different issues, and hold different beliefs.

From our unique knowledge and experience, we each make sense of the world. We come to accept different assertions as "the facts" of the matter. We make evaluations, form opinions, assert priorities, and arrive at conclusions. We reach—and preach—different perceptions and understandings of the world.

Example: America

Imagine someone asked to list examples of American culture. They might mention the space shuttle, rap music, "Jeopardy," teen pregnancy, or Little League baseball. All of these are examples of American culture, yet each portrays America differently. The picture offered depends on the evidence chosen. America is all of them, you say? But it is also so much more. Any list would be incomplete, but one portrayal of reality Example: Time Capsules.

Example: Beard's History

At one time, many considered Charles Beard's A Basic History of the United States the authoritative text in its field. Students wanting to know American history read Beard. At some point in each student's career, however, each came to the realization that Beard's history of the United States offered just that—not the history of the United States, but Beard's history of the United States. Beard, himself, was quite aware of the subjectivity of his own work:
Every student of history knows that his colleagues have been influenced in their selection and ordering of materials by their biases, prejudices, beliefs, affections, general upbringing, and experience . . . . Every written history—of a village, town, county, state, nation, race, group, class, idea or the wide world—is a selection and arrangement of facts, of recorded fragments of past actuality. And the selection and arrangement of facts—a combined and complex intellectual operation—is an act of choice, conviction, and interpretation respecting values, is an act of thought. Facts, multitudinous and beyond calculation, are known, but they do not select themselves or force themselves automatically into any fixed scheme of arrangement in the mind of the historian. They are selected and ordered by him as he thinks.

Charles Beard, "Written History as an Act of Faith,"American Historical Review, vol. 39, no. 2, p. 220.

Like any other text, Beard's offers but one of many credible accounts and interpretations. We can expect no more.

Using the notion of fiction to suggest the extent to which all authors must transmit their own vision of the world, another writer observed:

Reality presents a random, infinite supply of details, and the job of writers—whether you consider yourself a historian, a biographer, or a novelist—is similar: to create a coherent narrative. You can't select everything, and in making choices, thus putting an emphasis here and diminishing it there, you invariably move into the realm of fiction. {Jay Parini, “Delving Into the World of Dreams by Blending Fact and Fiction,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, February 27, 1998, p. B4.}
A recent high school American history text, Build Our Nation, covers the Depression Era and the entire term of President Roosevelt in thirty-three lines. On the other hand, it devotes two full pages to Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken, Jr.'s breaking of Lou Gehrig's “Iron Man” record for consecutive baseball games played. What image of America do these examples, taken together, portray?

Example: Breast Feeding

The New York Timesposed the following question:
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies be breast-fed for at least one year and beyond " for as long as mutually desired." Do you agree?
The opposing answers appear below.
YES
Ruth A. Lawrence, M.D.
Professor of Pediatrics, University of Rochester

Our society has been so critical of women who have nursed beyond one year. It is perfectly normal. It is done around the world and has been for centuries. Babies wean at different times; in fact, many anthropologists think the normal time to breast-feed is about four years. In multiple studies, we find that babies who are breast-fed beyond one year, instead of clinging to their mothers, are stable, self-assured children. The sexualization of the breast does not occur in this age group under ordinary circumstances. Babies associate the breast with nourishment and have no reaction that may be considered sexual. As for the father's role, it is equal but different. Every baby needs a non-nutritive cuddler. That's the father.

NO
Joan K. Peters
Author, "When Women Work: Loving Our Children Without Sacrificing Our Selves"

Late nursing limits the father's involvement and means that the husband can't take on some of the most intimate child-rearing tasks. His parenting is not about that close bonding, making it harder for him to participate. Late nursing is also difficult for working women. When 66 percent of mothers of children under 6 work, who is available in that way and who wants to create that kind of dependence that such nursing engenders? It may be medically correct, but all decisions about children must be weighed, medical vs. social vs. psychological. What is best for a family must be considered, and that includes what is best for a child, because ultimately it means what is going to create the happiest atmosphere.

"Pro & Con: When to Say When To Breast-Feeding,"The New York Times, November 24, 1998. p. D8.

What are we to make of the disagreement? Indeed, why do the two respondents differ?

The answer comes in examining the nature of the pattern of examples they each offer. The first looks at the effect on the baby, arguing that the practice is accepted as in the baby's best interest by the world, anthropologists, and studies. It rejects arguments related to adverse affects on sexuality and a denial of the father's role in the baby's life.

The second looks at the effect on the parents and parenting, in fact granting the medical argument that it might be in the baby's best interests.

In each case, the choice of content both determines and reflects the overall perspective and understanding.


Related Topics
Choices: The Ingredients of Texts
Recognizing What Examples Are ExamplesOf
Controlling Inferences: Patterns of Content
Patterns of Content: An Example
Choices: The Choice of Language
Choices: The Choice of Structure


Reading / Writing
Critical Reading
Inference
Choices
Ways to Read
Grammar

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