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Logic Writing: Keenan
This whole exercise is intended as an introduction to the process of evaluating value claims made by one online
writer about another. It is not intended to change your mind about any political issue, nor is it intended to influence your opinion of the kinds of writers involved in this dispute.
What the whole exercise is intended to do is to give you practice in making a step-by-step, point-by-point analysis of a single short article criticizing another short article. This particular dispute was chosen because a friend posted a link to one of these articles on FaceBook, and it struck me that the claims made in each article were clear, simple, easy to check and easy to analyze. For this reason, I thought that this would make an effective exercise by which to introduce students to the idea of critical thinking.
I’m expecting about four pages, although longer is acceptable. Shorter is also acceptable if it adequately meets the assignment. There is no upper limit. No cover sheet.
Your present task is to create a clear and completely accurate account, in your own words, of exactly what Nancy Keenan is really saying in her press release. (For purposes of this exercise I want you to treat NARAL and Keenan as identical. Don’t worry about whether a particular statement is attributed to NARAL or to Keenan. As far as we are concerned, it is all Keenan.)
Follow the next link to Nancy Keenan’s press release, or read it below:
STATEMENT ON MITT ROMNEY’S SELECTION OF REP. PAUL RYAN FOR HIS VICE-PRESIDENTIAL RUNNING MATE
Washington, D.C. , Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, issued the following statement regarding former Gov. Mitt Romney’s selection of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) as his vice-presidential running mate. Rep. Paul
Ryan’s extreme anti-choice record shows just how serious a threat Mitt Romney’s presidency would be for women, Keenan said. "He has cast 59 votes on reproductive rights while in Congress and not one has been pro-choice. Rep. Ryan has also repeatedly voted to defund family-planning programs and supported the “Let Women Die Bill, which would allow hospitals to refuse to provide a woman emergency, lifesaving abortion care, even if she could die without it. It comes as no surprise that Romney would choose a like-minded running mate who is just as out of touch with our nation’s values and priorities as he is. The Romney-Ryan ticket is dangerous to women’s health." Rep. Ryan’s anti-choice record includes: Repeatedly voting to deny women in the military, who defend our freedom overseas , the right to use their own, private funds for abortion care at military hospitals. Repeatedly voting to defund Planned Parenthood, which would deny millions of women access to comprehensive reproductive-health care and preventive services. Cosponsoring and repeatedly voting for the Federal Abortion Ban, a law that criminalizes some abortion services, endangers women’s health, and carries a two-year prison sentence for doctors. Voting for an appropriations bill that defunded Planned Parenthood, eliminated the Title X family-planning program, and reinstated the D.C. abortion ban. The occupant of the White House wields more power over reproductive rights than any other person. The U.S. Constitution and American tradition give the president a wide variety of means to influence the laws and policies that govern freedom of choice. Depending on who occupies the office, that unique authority can be used either to protect or to take away reproductive rights. Mitt Romney’s choice of Rep. Ryan as his running mate reminds us of why elections matter when it comes to our ability to make personal and private medical decisions, Keenan continued. "The outcome of the 2012 presidential election very well could determine whether abortion remains legal and accessible for the next generation of American women. Romney has pledged that taking away women’s rights will be a priority for him and his choice of Ryan amplifies that promise to the extreme anti-choice backers of this ticket. My organization’s priority is to make sure President Obama remains in the White House.
A student recently pointed out that what Keenan is doing here is making political rhetoric, which means that she’s making a statement that’s intended to persuade people to do certain things, and which is addressed to a particular audience which share’s Keenan’s views and thus might be especially likely to be persuaded. This means that your task might usefully be thought of as a translation problem. You could look at this as requiring you to do two things:
1. Translate Keenan’s press release out of the heated, partisan language of political rhetoric into the calm neutral language of everyday, nonpartisan, matter-of-fact speech. Basically, you are digging the gold of factual claims out of the dross of political rhetoric. If you like, you can comment of the emotional color of her phrasing, or on the implications of what she says, but be careful. The colors you describe must actually be there, and the implications you describe must actually be implied by the things Keenan actually says.
1. Rewrite Keenan’s factual claims so that what she is saying is clear to a general audience. Keenan uses a vocabulary that is tailored to communicate with, and appeal to, a particular audience that tends to think and speak the same way she does. Try to figure out what Keenan means by the words she uses, and do what you can to make those meanings clear.
What to do
There are some very specific things I want you to do here.
1. Identify Keenan’s main point in the NARAL press release. This involves reading Keenan’s piece and figuring out the one idea she most wants to get across to people. After you’ve figured out what this point is, write a paragraph explaining this point in your own words, and making it clear that you are saying that this is what Keenan is saying. Thus you would start this paragraph with words like "Nancy Keenan says, or Keenan’s main claim is,or Keenan’s thesis is.
2. Identify Keenan’s main supporting claims. Pick out the five or six or seven or eight most significant factual claims Keenan makes in support of her thesis, and explain each one of these claims, in your own words, in a separate paragraph. Again, you should start each paragraph with some phrase indicating that Keenan is the person making this particular claim. Make sure you are as precise as possible in your paraphrasing so that you do not portray her as saying anything that she actually doesn’t say. This might mean that you take a whole paragraph to say what she says in a single sentence. The main thing is to be clear about what she does and doesn’t say. It’s also important to focus on factual issues, such as claims about specific things people are supposed to have done or not done, and not on characterizations, such as claims that things or people are bad or good. If you think that describing all of these claims would take you more than four pages, pick her two or three or four or five most important claims, and just describe those claims in your own words. If this fills up four whole pages, or more, you can consider yourself finished at this point.
3. Identify any other important claims made by Keenan, if you have room. If you have written less than three whole pages, you should look at Keenan’s paper again to see if she has made any other important claims. If you find that she has said something else that you think is significant or interesting, you can describe that thing in your paper.
4. Optional further comments. If you have still written less than four whole pages, you could also think about the logical structure of Keenan’s paper. What would it take to prove that Keenan’s paper was completely accurate? What would it take to prove that Keenan’s paper was partially inaccurate? What would it take to prove that Keenan’s paper was completely inaccurate? What would it take to prove that Keenan was wrong? What would it take to prove that Keenan was lying? Or you could comment on some other interesting or significant aspect of Keenan’s paper. (If you’ve already written over three and a half pages, this section is strictly optional. You don’t have to do it if you’ve already got nearly four pages.)
The main thing is to describe Keenan’s main claim and her most important supporting claims. I suggest printing out Keenan’s article and underlining her thesis and main points. Then circle the thesis, and write out the main points on some scrap paper. After than, put a “1” by her most important point and so on until you’ve numbered all the really important claims. Then you write a whole new paper that presents that exact same thesis and points, identified as things Nancy Keenan says, only said the way you would say it and organized the way you would organize it. It doesn’t matter if you leave out one or two minor points, as long as you state all her main points accurately, and don’t represent her as saying anything that she actually doesn’t say. It’s vitally important that you don’t misrepresent Keenan here. Your paper should not portray her as saying anything more than exactly what she does say, and it should not portray her argument as any weaker than it exactly is.
The point of this exercise is to come up with what you honestly and rationally think Nancy Keenan and NARAL are saying in the above press release. You should be able to look into your own mind and find that what you say she’s saying is exactly what you think she’s saying. And, if someone were to challenge you about your interpretation, you should be able to come up with logically strong reasons why people should interpret this press release your way and not some other way.
Stuff You Must Do
Your answer absolutely must contain certain things. If your answer doesn’t contain these things, it will fail. Your answer should include:
1. A more-or-less accurate statement of Nancy Keenan’s thesis. Ideally, this would be stated in one or more simple declarative sentences. (A description of the logical structure of her argument would be nice, but it’s not essential.)
2. Individual descriptions of all or most of Keenan’s supporting points, each in a separate and coherent paragraph. Again, these points should be delivered in simple, declarative sentences. (A list of these points given in your first or second paragraph would be nice, but it’s not essential.)
Stuff that contributes to a clear, precise, accurate and complete account of Keenan’s actual argument is the only kind of stuff that can earn you any points. Stuff You Should Not Do
Stuff that doesn’t tell me anything about what Keenan says does not earn you any points, and at least slightly irritates your instructor.
Do not go sentence-by-sentence through Keenan’s article. Read the whole article first, and then write down her main point in your own words, and so on. A line-by-paraphrase would be a horrible thing.
You should not include quotations from Keenan’s article. I’ve read Keenan’s article. I know the words she uses. I don’t need you to tell me the words she uses. I need you tell me what you think those words mean. Putting a sentence from Keenan into your paper tells me you can copy and paste. It does not tell me you understand the words you have quoted. Copying quotes into your paper is a waste of time. If you think that it’s important that Keenan uses some specific word or specific phrase, you can quote that specific word or phrase, but you must also say exactly what you think that specific word or phrase means. Putting in long quotations will hurt your paper, and will probably cost you points. A good thing to do is to periodically go through your paper and look for quotes. If you quote more than single words or short phrases, delete the quote from your paper, and replace it with your own explanation of what you think it means. If a single word or short phrase quote isn’t explained, explain it in your own words. Think of it this way. Imagine that when I see your paper in turnitin, each quoted letter is replaced by a capital X. Remember, I can’t give you credit for things Nancy Keenan wrote. You earn credit for writing stuff yourself.
Your paper should not include any color or characterizations of any part of Keenan’s text. For instance, you should not say that her thesis is “simple.” You should not say that her argument is “complex” or “complicated.” You should not describe her as “basically” or “essentially” saying what she says. You should not describe her points as clear or concise. You should devote all your cognitive energy to telling the reader exactly what Keenan actually says, and nothing else. Putting in characterizations will hurt your paper, and will probably cost you points. Your paper should not include any speculation about Keenan’s beliefs, attitudes or state of mind. You should not say anything about how Keenan feels about anything. If Keenan actually says that she feels a certain way, you can mention that, but you should not say anything about what you feel Keenan is feeling. Putting in speculations about Keenan’s thoughts or feelings will hurt your paper, and will definitely cost you points.
You should not make any overall commentary or characterization of Keenan’s paper. You should not say things like Keenan makes Ryan out to be a monster or Keenan demonizes Ryan. Again, if you think that it’s important that Keenan uses some specific word or specific phrase, you can quote that specific word or phrase, but don’t put in your own characterizations of what Keenan is doing. Putting in commentary about Keenan’s article will hurt your paper, and will probably cost you points.
You should not be vague. After you have stated your thesis, you should not say things like Keenan says that Ryan tried to do barbaric things or Keenan says Ryan wants to do things that are toxic to women. You should give precise details in statements like Keenan says Ryan made seven million pro-life votes in congress or Keenan said that Romney once said that kittens are icky. Vagueness hurts your paper and costs you points. Do not write emotionally. We will do the necessary research to evaluate Keenan’s claims later in the semester, but if you want to comment on the truth or falsity, fairness or unfairness of Keenan’s claims you absolutely must actually look up the facts. Making claims about Keenan’s honesty or intelligence based only on how you feel about her article. This is the exact opposite of critical thinking, and you will definitely lose points if you do it.
Do not pad your paper out with unnecessary material just to fill up four pages. If you think your paper is too short, compare what you’ve written to what Keenan said, and find ways to make your account of Keenan’s article more clear, complete and precise. If you have clearly and completely explained Keenan’s argument and absolutely every one of her supporting points in all important details, you can stop writing, because you’re done.
Look at each sentence in your paper and ask yourself what would happen if you removed that sentence from the paper.
If removing the sentence would mean that your readers would see less of what Nancy Keenan actually said, leave the sentence in. If removing the sentence would not result in your readers knowing less about the actual words Keenan wrote, you can take that sentence out.
One way to think about this is to see your writing as like music to which your instructor is listening. The parts of your paper where you stick strictly to the facts of what Keenan actually says are like Adele softly singing "Right as Rain." The parts of your paper where you give characterizations of Keenan’s text, comments on her state of mind, or vagueness are like as middle-aged white guy with no voice or sense of rhythm trying to sing gangsta rap at the top of his lungs. Imagine you are trying to listen to Adele when some old white guy starts in with poorly executed gangsta rap. That’s what it’s like to read a paper in which the careful representation of Keenan’s thesis and arguments is interrupted by characterizations, speculations, color commentary, vagueness and emotionalism.
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