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Common Core Standards: ELA - Literacy

Grade 11-12

Reading RH.11-12.5

RH.11-12.5. Analyze in detail how a complex primary source is structured, including how key sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text contribute to the whole.

Up

There are many accounts about the origins of playing cards. Wherever they come from, they are a ubiquitous item in America with many throwing down money because they think they can play Texas Hold’em since they watched it on TV. However, there is another use for cards that is perhaps more challenging than any poker game. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the champion house of cards stands at 13 feet high and is located in Italy. Previous records included a replica of the Capitol Building made entirely of freestanding playing cards . Any champion card stacker would know that it is all about the structure; a carefully planned blueprint of how the building will be structured is necessary, as well as a clear overall picture of what the card constructions should look like. One card out of place and the structure could flutter to the ground in a heap of hearts and spades. A text’s structure is equally as important when a reading is analyzed and explained. If the card castle had a weak structure it wouldn’t stand, it would be a mess of cards; if a text had a weak structure it would be a mess of words, with unclear ideas or assertions.

Example

Structure, Inc.

The task at hand is to determine the strength of the text’s structure; in other words, is this a card castle or a card cottage? Many of the more complicated historical texts do not have a structure that students can put into a formula and identify, like cause and effect or sequence of events. This is where this question gets difficult. Students won’t always have a “go to” answer for this kind of question; it takes careful scrutiny of a text, but here are some steps to success:

  • Determine the purpose of the text first. Just as a house of cards needs direction, so does a text. A writer won’t just start writing away with no defined goal; there is usually a method to the madness. This may seem like a daunting task with primary sources, but it is especially applicable. If you know the purpose, then study of the structure will be better informed and how key points contribute to the overall meaning as a whole will be more easily determined.
  • Break it down and build it up. Once you understand the holistic purpose, you can begin deconstructing the reading into its base components (sentences, paragraphs, etc.) in order to determine how they stack up to shape the overall message.
  • Look for patterns. Though it may not be a clear and comfy pattern like compare and contrast, there could be patterns in the writing that are used to explain various assertions made by the author. This can be especially true in readings that are information based as in first-hand accounts of events.

Text Story

You hold all the cards to textual analysis. You just have to stack up the components to see how they fall. A solid structure starts with a solid purpose; find that and you’ll be all aces.

Drill

A Complex Primary Source (settle in for the long haul)

The following excerpts are taken from Thomas More’s Utopia13 regarding a philosophical conversation between Hythloday and More. There are three pieces presented in the same order they would appear in the original manuscript. 

“So much learning as you have, even without practice in affairs, or so great a practice as you have had, without any other learning, would render you a very fit counsellor to any king whatsoever.”  “You are doubly mistaken,” said he, “Mr. More, both in your opinion of me and in the judgment you make of things: for as I have not that capacity that you fancy I have, so if I had it, the public would not be one jot the better when I had sacrificed my quiet to it.  For most princes apply themselves more to affairs of war than to the useful arts of peace; and in these I neither have any knowledge, nor do I much desire it; they are generally more set on acquiring new kingdoms, right or wrong, than on governing well those they possess: and, among the ministers of princes, there are none that are not so wise as to need no assistance, or at least, that do not think themselves so wise that they imagine they need none; and if they court any, it is only those for whom the prince has much personal favour, whom by their fawning and flatteries they endeavour to fix to their own interests; and, indeed, nature has so made us, that we all love to be flattered and to please ourselves with our own notions: the old crow loves his young, and the ape her cubs.  Now if in such a court, made up of persons who envy all others and only admire themselves, a person should but propose anything that he had either read in history or observed in his travels, the rest would think that the reputation of their wisdom would sink, and that their interests would be much depressed if they could not run it down: and, if all other things failed, then they would fly to this, that such or such things pleased our ancestors, and it were well for us if we could but match them.  They would set up their rest on such an answer, as a sufficient confutation of all that could be said, as if it were a great misfortune that any should be found wiser than his ancestors.  But though they willingly let go all the good things that were among those of former ages, yet, if better things are proposed, they cover themselves obstinately with this excuse of reverence to past times.  I have met with these proud, morose, and absurd judgments of things in many places, particularly once in England.”  “Were you ever there?” said I.  “Yes, I was,” answered he, “and stayed some months there, not long after the rebellion in the West was suppressed, with a great slaughter of the poor people that were engaged in it.”

“When I was in England the King depended much on his counsels, and the Government seemed to be chiefly supported by him; for from his youth he had been all along practised in affairs; and, having passed through many traverses of fortune, he had, with great cost, acquired a vast stock of wisdom, which is not soon lost when it is purchased so dear.  One day, when I was dining with him, there happened to be at table one of the English lawyers, who took occasion to run out in a high commendation of the severe execution of justice upon thieves, ‘who,’ as he said, ‘were then hanged so fast that there were sometimes twenty on one gibbet!’ and, upon that, he said, ‘he could not wonder enough how it came to pass that, since so few escaped, there were yet so many thieves left, who were still robbing in all places.’  Upon this, I (who took the boldness to speak freely before the Cardinal) said, ‘There was no reason to wonder at the matter, since this way of punishing thieves was neither just in itself nor good for the public; for, as the severity was too great, so the remedy was not effectual; simple theft not being so great a crime that it ought to cost a man his life; no punishment, how severe soever, being able to restrain those from robbing who can find out no other way of livelihood.  In this,’ said I, ‘not only you in England, but a great part of the world, imitate some ill masters, that are readier to chastise their scholars than to teach them.  There are dreadful punishments enacted against thieves, but it were much better to make such good provisions by which every man might be put in a method how to live, and so be preserved from the fatal necessity of stealing and of dying for it…’  

“…But I do not think that this necessity of stealing arises only from hence; there is another cause of it, more peculiar to England.’  ‘What is that?’ said the Cardinal: ‘The increase of pasture,’ said I, ‘by which your sheep, which are naturally mild, and easily kept in order, may be said now to devour men and unpeople, not only villages, but towns; for wherever it is found that the sheep of any soil yield a softer and richer wool than ordinary, there the nobility and gentry, and even those holy men, the dobots! not contented with the old rents which their farms yielded, nor thinking it enough that they, living at their ease, do no good to the public, resolve to do it hurt instead of good.  They stop the course of agriculture, destroying houses and towns, reserving only the churches, and enclose grounds that they may lodge their sheep in them.  As if forests and parks had swallowed up too little of the land, those worthy countrymen turn the best inhabited places into solitudes; for when an insatiable wretch, who is a plague to his country, resolves to enclose many thousand acres of ground, the owners, as well as tenants, are turned out of their possessions by trick or by main force, or, being wearied out by ill usage, they are forced to sell them; by which means those miserable people, both men and women, married and unmarried, old and young, with their poor but numerous families (since country business requires many hands), are all forced to change their seats, not knowing whither to go; and they must sell, almost for nothing, their household stuff, which could not bring them much money, even though they might stay for a buyer.  When that little money is at an end (for it will be soon spent), what is left for them to do but either to steal, and so to be hanged (God knows how justly!), or to go about and beg? and if they do this they are put in prison as idle vagabonds, while they would willingly work but can find none that will hire them; for there is no more occasion for country labour, to which they have been bred, when there is no arable ground left.”

“…If you do not find a remedy to these evils it is a vain thing to boast of your severity in punishing theft, which, though it may have the appearance of justice, yet in itself is neither just nor convenient; for if you suffer your people to be ill-educated, and their manners to be corrupted from their infancy, and then punish them for those crimes to which their first education disposed them, what else is to be concluded from this but that you first make thieves and then punish them?’”

“Thus, Mr. More, I have run out into a tedious story, of the length of which I had been ashamed, if (as you earnestly begged it of me) I had not observed you to hearken to it as if you had no mind to lose any part of it.  I might have contracted it, but I resolved to give it you at large, that you might observe how those that despised what I had proposed, no sooner perceived that the Cardinal did not dislike it but presently approved of it, fawned so on him and flattered him to such a degree, that they in good earnest applauded those things that he only liked in jest; and from hence you may gather how little courtiers would value either me or my counsels.”

13. Moore, Thomas; Morley, Henry ed. (2005). Utopia. Project Gutenberg. retrieved April 16th, 2012, from http://www.gutenberg.org/files/2130/2130-h/2130-h.htm.

4. Short Response: Identify at least three phrases that may be used in support of the idea that Hythloday is an unrealistic counselor with views that would be intolerable to the Monarchy of More’s time. Justify your answer with original commentary and personal knowledge or research. [Hard]

  • Proper answers won’t simply address Hythloday’s causality for such travesties as the punishment of thieves, but will focus on the absence of effective solutions or credit to other counselor commentary. The full text may be preferred for this kind of study. 

5. Short Response: Construct a counter-argument to one of Hythloday’s premises using key words and phrases from the text provided as a basis for your claims. [Medium]

  • This is primarily an exercise in identifying key words and phrases, and understanding the holistic concept to the extent that the assertions may be spun to the counter-point. 

6. Research and Analysis: Research the term anti-monarchist and locate a valid source article that discusses anti-monarchist sentiment today. Does this article employ the same tone or claim the same ideals as this historical piece? Use references from both sources to justify your answers and provided a complete comparison, point for point. [Hard]

  • This too should focus on the key phrases which contribute to the structure of the argument. A comparison or chart may be acceptable organizational methods.

Quiz Questions

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

A Complex Primary Source (settle in for the long haul)

The following excerpts are taken from Thomas More’s Utopia13 regarding a philosophical conversation between Hythloday and More. There are three pieces presented in the same order they would appear in the original manuscript. 

“So much learning as you have, even without practice in affairs, or so great a practice as you have had, without any other learning, would render you a very fit counsellor to any king whatsoever.”  “You are doubly mistaken,” said he, “Mr. More, both in your opinion of me and in the judgment you make of things: for as I have not that capacity that you fancy I have, so if I had it, the public would not be one jot the better when I had sacrificed my quiet to it.  For most princes apply themselves more to affairs of war than to the useful arts of peace; and in these I neither have any knowledge, nor do I much desire it; they are generally more set on acquiring new kingdoms, right or wrong, than on governing well those they possess: and, among the ministers of princes, there are none that are not so wise as to need no assistance, or at least, that do not think themselves so wise that they imagine they need none; and if they court any, it is only those for whom the prince has much personal favour, whom by their fawning and flatteries they endeavour to fix to their own interests; and, indeed, nature has so made us, that we all love to be flattered and to please ourselves with our own notions: the old crow loves his young, and the ape her cubs.  Now if in such a court, made up of persons who envy all others and only admire themselves, a person should but propose anything that he had either read in history or observed in his travels, the rest would think that the reputation of their wisdom would sink, and that their interests would be much depressed if they could not run it down: and, if all other things failed, then they would fly to this, that such or such things pleased our ancestors, and it were well for us if we could but match them.  They would set up their rest on such an answer, as a sufficient confutation of all that could be said, as if it were a great misfortune that any should be found wiser than his ancestors.  But though they willingly let go all the good things that were among those of former ages, yet, if better things are proposed, they cover themselves obstinately with this excuse of reverence to past times.  I have met with these proud, morose, and absurd judgments of things in many places, particularly once in England.”  “Were you ever there?” said I.  “Yes, I was,” answered he, “and stayed some months there, not long after the rebellion in the West was suppressed, with a great slaughter of the poor people that were engaged in it.”

“When I was in England the King depended much on his counsels, and the Government seemed to be chiefly supported by him; for from his youth he had been all along practised in affairs; and, having passed through many traverses of fortune, he had, with great cost, acquired a vast stock of wisdom, which is not soon lost when it is purchased so dear.  One day, when I was dining with him, there happened to be at table one of the English lawyers, who took occasion to run out in a high commendation of the severe execution of justice upon thieves, ‘who,’ as he said, ‘were then hanged so fast that there were sometimes twenty on one gibbet!’ and, upon that, he said, ‘he could not wonder enough how it came to pass that, since so few escaped, there were yet so many thieves left, who were still robbing in all places.’  Upon this, I (who took the boldness to speak freely before the Cardinal) said, ‘There was no reason to wonder at the matter, since this way of punishing thieves was neither just in itself nor good for the public; for, as the severity was too great, so the remedy was not effectual; simple theft not being so great a crime that it ought to cost a man his life; no punishment, how severe soever, being able to restrain those from robbing who can find out no other way of livelihood.  In this,’ said I, ‘not only you in England, but a great part of the world, imitate some ill masters, that are readier to chastise their scholars than to teach them.  There are dreadful punishments enacted against thieves, but it were much better to make such good provisions by which every man might be put in a method how to live, and so be preserved from the fatal necessity of stealing and of dying for it…’  

“…But I do not think that this necessity of stealing arises only from hence; there is another cause of it, more peculiar to England.’  ‘What is that?’ said the Cardinal: ‘The increase of pasture,’ said I, ‘by which your sheep, which are naturally mild, and easily kept in order, may be said now to devour men and unpeople, not only villages, but towns; for wherever it is found that the sheep of any soil yield a softer and richer wool than ordinary, there the nobility and gentry, and even those holy men, the dobots! not contented with the old rents which their farms yielded, nor thinking it enough that they, living at their ease, do no good to the public, resolve to do it hurt instead of good.  They stop the course of agriculture, destroying houses and towns, reserving only the churches, and enclose grounds that they may lodge their sheep in them.  As if forests and parks had swallowed up too little of the land, those worthy countrymen turn the best inhabited places into solitudes; for when an insatiable wretch, who is a plague to his country, resolves to enclose many thousand acres of ground, the owners, as well as tenants, are turned out of their possessions by trick or by main force, or, being wearied out by ill usage, they are forced to sell them; by which means those miserable people, both men and women, married and unmarried, old and young, with their poor but numerous families (since country business requires many hands), are all forced to change their seats, not knowing whither to go; and they must sell, almost for nothing, their household stuff, which could not bring them much money, even though they might stay for a buyer.  When that little money is at an end (for it will be soon spent), what is left for them to do but either to steal, and so to be hanged (God knows how justly!), or to go about and beg? and if they do this they are put in prison as idle vagabonds, while they would willingly work but can find none that will hire them; for there is no more occasion for country labour, to which they have been bred, when there is no arable ground left.”

“…If you do not find a remedy to these evils it is a vain thing to boast of your severity in punishing theft, which, though it may have the appearance of justice, yet in itself is neither just nor convenient; for if you suffer your people to be ill-educated, and their manners to be corrupted from their infancy, and then punish them for those crimes to which their first education disposed them, what else is to be concluded from this but that you first make thieves and then punish them?’”

“Thus, Mr. More, I have run out into a tedious story, of the length of which I had been ashamed, if (as you earnestly begged it of me) I had not observed you to hearken to it as if you had no mind to lose any part of it.  I might have contracted it, but I resolved to give it you at large, that you might observe how those that despised what I had proposed, no sooner perceived that the Cardinal did not dislike it but presently approved of it, fawned so on him and flattered him to such a degree, that they in good earnest applauded those things that he only liked in jest; and from hence you may gather how little courtiers would value either me or my counsels.”

13. Moore, Thomas; Morley, Henry ed. (2005). Utopia. Project Gutenberg. retrieved April 16th, 2012, from http://www.gutenberg.org/files/2130/2130-h/2130-h.htm.

  1. What is the primary organizational pattern present throughout the combined excerpts?

    Correct Answer:

    Sequence of Events

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (c). Though this narrative offers a clear problem to be addressed followed by possible solutions, it is presented in a fashion that is a reflective retelling of events that transpired from a given perspective.


  2. Which of the following lines contributes to the assertion that this satirical piece is a mock commentary on the role of good counsel in politically biased forums?

    • i. “Now if in such a court, made up of persons who envy all others and only admire themselves, a person should but propose anything that he had either read in history or observed in his travels, the rest would think that the reputation of their wisdom would sink, and that their interests would be much depressed if they could not run it down: and, if all other things failed, then they would fly to this, that such or such things pleased our ancestors, and it were well for us if we could but match them”
    • ii. “In this,’ said I, ‘not only you in England, but a great part of the world, imitate some ill masters, that are readier to chastise their scholars than to teach them.  There are dreadful punishments enacted against thieves, but it were much better to make such good provisions by which every man might be put in a method how to live, and so be preserved from the fatal necessity of stealing and of dying for it…”
    • iii. “…for if you suffer your people to be ill-educated, and their manners to be corrupted from their infancy, and then punish them for those crimes to which their first education disposed them, what else is to be concluded from this but that you first make thieves and then punish them?”
    • iv. “…the Cardinal did not dislike it but presently approved of it, fawned so on him and flattered him to such a degree, that they in good earnest applauded those things that he only liked in jest; and from hence you may gather how little courtiers would value either me or my counsel.”

    Correct Answer:

    All quotes contribute to the prescribed assertion

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (c). All of the quotes, and in fact many more lines, are dripping with loaded commentary, subtly claiming that the mock counselor is not only wiser than the other counselors there, but perhaps holds higher moral standards as well. Options (a) and (b) have no reason for the grouping as it is; they were meant to distract you.


  3. How does the line, “For most princes apply themselves more to affairs of war than to the useful arts of peace; and in these I neither have any knowledge, nor do I much desire it; they are generally more set on acquiring new kingdoms, right or wrong, than on governing well those they possess,” contribute to the overall tone of anti-monarchism?

    Correct Answer:

    This line asserts the ideals of anti-monarchism from the beginning by the bitter tone of the counselor Hythloday, in reference to an aggressive King.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (b). It is necessary to establish an understanding of tone if you are to discuss how words and phrases contribute to meaning or structure. Hythloday sets up the idea that Kings don’t listen to counselors, gives an example of one not listening, then explains to More that they didn’t listen. Therefor the tone of this particular piece is directly applicable to the structure.