© 2015 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.

CHECK OUT SHMOOP'S FREE STUDY TOOLS:

Essay Lab | Math Shack | Videos

Common Core Standards: ELA - Literacy

Grade 11-12

Reading RH.11-12.3

RH.11-12.3. Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.

The Curse of the Black Domino

Students, imagine a lazy summer indoors when you couldn’t drive, parents were at work, there was nothing on TV, and video games or computer games were still in the works. I don’t mean to scare you but it was once a reality. Every kid in this situation would eventually turn to two alternatives: massive blanket forts, or making huge Domino configurations. Believe it or not, Dominoes is a game that doesn’t involve lining them up and knocking them over for giggles, but it is more fun that way. It is clear that a chain reaction of that sort starts with one piece, and every fall occurs as a direct result of that first tiny topple. In a text, however, the events do not always follow so clearly; sometimes there is a measure of uncertainty in terms of causality for a given event.

Example

Dead Man’s Cookie

So let’s take, for example, the infamous case of the Cookie Monster. For the last couple of years there has been a movement among parents that has blown up blogs and discussion sites about the Cookie Monster’s poor influence and possible cause of childhood obesity. It’s true that the C-Monster has been around for decades, many children have grown up witness to his sweet habit, and obesity for children has risen in the last decade. But perhaps, given the fact that the vast majority of children who have watched the snickerdoodle addict are not obese, the cause is not Cookie himself, but the fact that little chubs was plunked in front of the TV for hours at a time with a Big Mac to keep him company. So the question to ask in this evaluation would be, does the creation and presence of Cookie Monster account for the growing number of overweight children, or does this argument leave something to be desired for the justification of tubby tots? It may take some in-depth research and analysis to come to a well-developed opinion on a sequence of events, especially when it comes to historical events.

  • Keep your eyes on the prize: Don’t lose sight of the actual event in question when assessing writings based on it. When a text does not reference the original event or action, it’s time to acknowledge the short-comings of the explanation.
  • Don’t be a loner: Avoid simply evaluating one isolated explanation of an event without reference or relation to the historical happening under scrutiny. The explanation that offers the best assertion with support from the text wins the gold.
  • Make the call: If the question of justifiable explanations comes down to ethical, philosophical, or humanitarian judgment, you’ll have to make an educated assertion to justify your choice. How to sound educated? Support from all evaluated writings and application to the historical event being explained.

At Reading’s End

The events may fall in line like a simple line of dominos, but if an analysis is weak, lacking and details, and disproportionately focused, then it will falter quicker than an unstable blanket fort.

Drill

Read the following example responses, and then respond to the questions or complete the tasks. 

Excerpt One

Piracy in the Americas is something that has been repeatedly satirized in past and current movies. Though savvy pirates are all fun and games now, they were once a real threat to America when she was still in diapers. The scurvy dogs have been absent from our shores for so long that they are free game as romanticized characters in film, literature, and the kid’s aisle at the Halloween store. There was a time, however, when congressmen and ambassadors were forced to negotiate ransoms, pay tributes, and even declare war on the seafaring swashbucklers. According to Gerard W. Gawalt8, this really important guy in the Library of Congress, the Pirates of the Barbary Coast, “were the scourge of the [seas]; capturing merchant ships and holding their crews for ransom [providing] the rulers of these nations with wealth and naval power.” These pirates had their thumbs on several European nations as well as America, including the big dogs like England and France. This became an ongoing issue for ships that didn’t have established or strong-handed maritime presences in the treacherous waters.

While still hiding under Britain’s skirt, pre-Revolution America traversed the schooner-playground with little concern for piratical bullying. However, once the cord was cut the American vessels had to fend for themselves or form other alliances. They did a little of both; however, there seemed to be no end to the bothersome buccaneers of North Africa. Gawalt maintains the historical rendering of the pirates, explaining that, “Trouble began the next year, in July 1785, when Algerians captured two American ships and the dey of Algiers held their crews of twenty-one people for a ransom of nearly $60,000” (Library of Congress). A little known American named Thomas Jefferson was on the case; he essentially told the greedy brigands no thanks and was determined not to give in. Eventually a happy peace was found via treaties and various war-time alliances with other major sea-powers, with America ending all tributes a full fifteen years before the rest of the tribute-paying nations (Gawalt). There is one place that pirates will never cease to invade; with bedazzled skull-and-crossbones, polyester costumes, and limitless blockbusters, American culture is the scallywag’s complaisant captive.

Excerpt Two

Throughout the 18th century, it is well known that the Barbary States of Tripoli and Morocco, among others, were such a threat to merchant vessels of all sea-faring countries, that ransoms and tributes were commonplace. The comparison of this emergent conflict of America, and contemporary war practices, has become something of interest to many, with some reporting exaggerated untruths. Though the skirmish of the Corsairs had been a familiar conflict during the time period, the United States did not face serious threats and such major naval decisions until it gained independence from the British. While this was a welcome victory for the States, it opened the newly founded country to vulnerability in the face of maritime trade threats. Many American ships were seized and held for ransom or hoarded to strengthen the Corsairs’ fleet. In its first few years as a nation, America paid nearly one million dollars in tribute and ransom monies. One of the primary advocates for declaring war on the Corsairs and ceasing all tributes was a young Statesman, Thomas Jefferson. According to Nathan Williams, an HNN correspondent, Jefferson was adamantly opposed to continuing the payments as was the wish of John Adams, who was also advising Washington’s administration. In fact, Williams states,“ Jefferson vehemently disagreed, appealing not only to an American sense of honor, but also to the notion that a single, decisive war might be more cost-effective than annual bribes for perpetuity” (2001)9.

This war involving a young America only continued to escalate during the presidency of Jefferson, who set up a blockade to defend the trading waters with the help of some allied forces. Some akin this first war to the more recent war on terror. According to Williams, an American negotiator named William Eaton said of the Corsairs, “’There is but one language which can be held to these people, and this is terror.’” Williams notes that Algiers contributed to the “type of war” American was more recently faced with, and came to be known as The War on Terror. This arguable assertion by Williams sets the stage for vastly exaggerated statements regarding the causes and effects of the War on Terror. For example, City Journal writer Christopher Hitchens also directly accounts for the modern war with references to Jefferson’s piratical problem with loaded language, including his article’s title Jefferson versus the Muslim Pirates. Hitchens is shamelessly appealing to the patriotic empathy related to attacks on America when he states, “The infant United States had therefore to decide not just upon a question of national honor, but upon whether it would stand or fall by free navigation of the seas” (2007)10. Claiming that this modern conflict is a product of an on-going skirmish from the birth of the nation is a narrowed line of propaganda at best.

8. Gawalt, Gerard (Library of Congress). America and the Barbary Pirates: An International Battle Against an Unconventional Foe. Retrieved March 15th, 2012; from http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/jefferson_papers/mtjprece.html

9. Williams, Nathan (2001). How Did the United States Defeat the Barbary Pirates? History News Network. Retrieved April 1st, 2012, from http://hnn.us/articles/287.html.

10. Hitchens, Christopher (2007). Jefferson Versus the Muslim Pirates. Urbanites. Retrieved April 1st, 2012, from http://www.city-journal.org/html/17_2_urbanities-thomas_jefferson.html

4. Using information from both texts as support, explain which excerpt accordingly employs the most effective integration of supporting text evidence or line references. [Hard]

  • Awesome answers will address the incorporation of the text evidence in both documents. It would also be beneficial to mention the tone and language usage as this plays an important role in the integration of supporting evidence. Excerpt one uses only one source, while excerpt two uses several; both reference the same historical event, but this is only a vehicle to explain modern cinema in the first and is a central topic of discussion in the latter.

5. Answer the following questions regarding both texts: [Hard]

a) What is the central assertion of the text?
b) What fallacies, or short-comings, are evident in the text? Give specific support from the texts.
c) How could the author adjust the text to rectify the fallacies, if any?

  • Multiple answers will be given with this question; however, the main assertions are discussed in the answer explanations for questions 2 and 3. Fallacies are in regards to the presentation of ideas; this is a variable answer dependent on the student’s observations and previous knowledge. Fixing the fallacy will be in regards to the wording of the text and the incorporation of the evidence used.

Quiz Questions

Here's an example of a quiz that could be used to test this standard.

Read the following example responses, and then respond to the questions or complete the tasks. 

Excerpt One

Piracy in the Americas is something that has been repeatedly satirized in past and current movies. Though savvy pirates are all fun and games now, they were once a real threat to America when she was still in diapers. The scurvy dogs have been absent from our shores for so long that they are free game as romanticized characters in film, literature, and the kid’s aisle at the Halloween store. There was a time, however, when congressmen and ambassadors were forced to negotiate ransoms, pay tributes, and even declare war on the seafaring swashbucklers. According to Gerard W. Gawalt8, this really important guy in the Library of Congress, the Pirates of the Barbary Coast, “were the scourge of the [seas]; capturing merchant ships and holding their crews for ransom [providing] the rulers of these nations with wealth and naval power.” These pirates had their thumbs on several European nations as well as America, including the big dogs like England and France. This became an ongoing issue for ships that didn’t have established or strong-handed maritime presences in the treacherous waters.

While still hiding under Britain’s skirt, pre-Revolution America traversed the schooner-playground with little concern for piratical bullying. However, once the cord was cut the American vessels had to fend for themselves or form other alliances. They did a little of both; however, there seemed to be no end to the bothersome buccaneers of North Africa. Gawalt maintains the historical rendering of the pirates, explaining that, “Trouble began the next year, in July 1785, when Algerians captured two American ships and the dey of Algiers held their crews of twenty-one people for a ransom of nearly $60,000” (Library of Congress). A little known American named Thomas Jefferson was on the case; he essentially told the greedy brigands no thanks and was determined not to give in. Eventually a happy peace was found via treaties and various war-time alliances with other major sea-powers, with America ending all tributes a full fifteen years before the rest of the tribute-paying nations (Gawalt). There is one place that pirates will never cease to invade; with bedazzled skull-and-crossbones, polyester costumes, and limitless blockbusters, American culture is the scallywag’s complaisant captive.

Excerpt Two

Throughout the 18th century, it is well known that the Barbary States of Tripoli and Morocco, among others, were such a threat to merchant vessels of all sea-faring countries, that ransoms and tributes were commonplace. The comparison of this emergent conflict of America, and contemporary war practices, has become something of interest to many, with some reporting exaggerated untruths. Though the skirmish of the Corsairs had been a familiar conflict during the time period, the United States did not face serious threats and such major naval decisions until it gained independence from the British. While this was a welcome victory for the States, it opened the newly founded country to vulnerability in the face of maritime trade threats. Many American ships were seized and held for ransom or hoarded to strengthen the Corsairs’ fleet. In its first few years as a nation, America paid nearly one million dollars in tribute and ransom monies. One of the primary advocates for declaring war on the Corsairs and ceasing all tributes was a young Statesman, Thomas Jefferson. According to Nathan Williams, an HNN correspondent, Jefferson was adamantly opposed to continuing the payments as was the wish of John Adams, who was also advising Washington’s administration. In fact, Williams states,“ Jefferson vehemently disagreed, appealing not only to an American sense of honor, but also to the notion that a single, decisive war might be more cost-effective than annual bribes for perpetuity” (2001)9.

This war involving a young America only continued to escalate during the presidency of Jefferson, who set up a blockade to defend the trading waters with the help of some allied forces. Some akin this first war to the more recent war on terror. According to Williams, an American negotiator named William Eaton said of the Corsairs, “’There is but one language which can be held to these people, and this is terror.’” Williams notes that Algiers contributed to the “type of war” American was more recently faced with, and came to be known as The War on Terror. This arguable assertion by Williams sets the stage for vastly exaggerated statements regarding the causes and effects of the War on Terror. For example, City Journal writer Christopher Hitchens also directly accounts for the modern war with references to Jefferson’s piratical problem with loaded language, including his article’s title Jefferson versus the Muslim Pirates. Hitchens is shamelessly appealing to the patriotic empathy related to attacks on America when he states, “The infant United States had therefore to decide not just upon a question of national honor, but upon whether it would stand or fall by free navigation of the seas” (2007)10. Claiming that this modern conflict is a product of an on-going skirmish from the birth of the nation is a narrowed line of propaganda at best.

8. Gawalt, Gerard (Library of Congress). America and the Barbary Pirates: An International Battle Against an Unconventional Foe. Retrieved March 15th, 2012; from http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/jefferson_papers/mtjprece.html

9. Williams, Nathan (2001). How Did the United States Defeat the Barbary Pirates? History News Network. Retrieved April 1st, 2012, from http://hnn.us/articles/287.html.

10. Hitchens, Christopher (2007). Jefferson Versus the Muslim Pirates. Urbanites. Retrieved April 1st, 2012, from http://www.city-journal.org/html/17_2_urbanities-thomas_jefferson.html

  1. Both texts integrate which of the following historical events as the primary point of reference to convey the overt assertions?

    Correct Answer:

    The Barbary Wars

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (c). Both texts use the Barbary wars to make their separate points. The first option (a) and option (d) are mentioned briefly. The second option (b) happens after the fact. This reference is evident all over the place; the use of the word Barbary is even defined in one of the texts. We hope you were paying attention and not fantasizing about Pirate Barbie.


  2. Choose the statement that best explains the purpose of excerpt one with regard to the textual evidence applied.

    Correct Answer:

    Excerpt one uses references to the Library Congress to effectively illustrate the idea that Pirate mythology has become a growing fad in pop-culture, while its bloody beginnings have been forgotten.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (b). This answer not only is the single statement that correctly identifies the purpose of the text, it also aptly recognizes the use of the textual evidence.


  3. Choose the statement that best explains the purpose of excerpt two, with regard to the textual evidence.

    Correct Answer:

    Excerpt two argues the idea that the contemporary war cannot be accounted for by the historical war with the Barbary Pirates; quotes from the opposing view are used to effectively present the argument.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (a). This answer identifies the excerpt as argumentation, while attributing the references as faulty opposition to make the text seem more legit. The second option (b) is the opposite of the correct answer, don’t worry it happens to everyone. Options (c) and (d) are a little song-and-dance called misdirection; some info is correct, and some stuff is incorrect, just to mess with your mind.


Aligned Resources