Reflections on the Five-Point Assignment


The 5 points assignment turned out, to my surprise, to be a difficult one.  The problem here is that it involves the concept of causality, cause and consequence, and this is not an easy concept.  I should have given you a model to work from to begin with.  I apologize for not having thought of this.  You have one now (c in the Week 3 handout), but let me try to go once more through this exercise, to help us clarify what's involved here (this is important for next week's test, for the logic is the same):

The Assignment was:

I. Read: World War I (pp. 226-50) OR The World at Arms (pp. 6-39). Write: For me, the five most significant points about this reading were . . . (Each point should consist of 2-6 sentences, explaining to someone who knows nothing about WWI the point you are referring to and its significance to you).


Let's look at one example.  Here is one actual revision I've received. 


The Versailles Treaties were significant because it (THEY) was (WERE) slap in the face to Germany. Germany was defeated and now forced to sign less than honorable agreements. They were the blueprints to (OF) World War II. 


Now, to begin with, this is pretty good, for it does give a single fact, and then does explain why this fact is important.  So, grade-wise, it's about a C+.  But it still has problems.  How could this be brought to the A level? 


First, it is far too short.  Remember, you are not writing for me, but for someone who knows nothing about the subject.  That is one of the key rules in college writing, for only this allows your professor to decide if you know what you are talking about.  Next, the connection between the event and its significance has to be developed, spelled out clearly.  Let me try to put these two deficiencies together and give you an example of how the above could be transformed into an A:


DESCRIPTION OF POINT: The way the war was concluded was highly significant.  With Germany running out of steam and manpower, with the daily arrival of thousands of fresh troops from America, with despair and malnutrition in the homefront rising, and with the prospects of Russian-style social transformation appearing on the horizon, Germany felt compelled to sue for peace.  At the peace conference, the German delegates were treated as untouchables, not consulted, placed behind barbed wire, and given a take-it-or-leave-it peace terms, while their population was still being starved by the naval blockade.  Harsh peace terms were imposed by the allies, including massive reparations and French occupation of the Rhine region.  The Germans, believing that the 14 points would serve as the basis for peace, that they were owed something after 4 years of war in which they proved themselves the military superiors of all European combatants (but not of the Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, and Americans) felt cheated. 


So far so good.  We made it clear to our readers that we know and understand the facts whose significance we are trying to explain.  We next must explain why we single out this event as one of the 5 most important events of the war (indeed, this was perhaps the single MOST significant event). 


SIGNIFICANCE OF POINT:  I believe this treaty was highly significant because it made Germany feel, with some justification, that it was stabbed in the back, and because it lacked decisiveness and foresight.  Germany was neither dismantled, nor treated fairly.  Instead, the Allies adopted an idiotic middle ground.  As many observers AT THE TIME noted (e.g., the economist Keynes), the allies in their foolishness were writing the script for WWII.  Their only rational choices were making sure that Germany never recovers, or treating the Germans fairly, to avoid bitterness and a second round.  They chose neither, and started the count for chaos in Germany, the rise of Adolph Hitler, and all the tragedies that followed.


That is more or less what I had in mind.  Describing fully just one point, so that the reader knows what you are talking about.  Then making it clear that you move to the significance part of your answer by saying something like:  "This point was significant because . . ."  That way, I can readily follow the progression of your argument.  Finally, showing the impact of that point on the future, on subsequent events, on how that single point shaped the future course of WWI, or of history, or of our lives.  Now, if all this is unclear, we'll carry out a critical thinking exercise next class, to further clarify.


Finally, let me give you an example from another field:


Oldest human-like fossil uncovered in South Africa

By Frank Gaglioti

30 December 1998

"The discovery of the oldest complete fossilised hominid or human-like skeleton in South Africa announced on December 9 will greatly enhance scientific knowledge of evolutionary history by enabling an unprecedented examination of the bone structure of a primitive human."


Here is the fact of the discovery.  Later, the articles fleshes out this fact: "Dr Ron Clarke of Witwatersrand University of South Africa made the discovery of the 1.2-metre adult Australopithecus (southern ape) in the Sterkfontein caves near Johannesburg. Australopithecus is the immediate ancestor of the genus Homo, the biological classification that includes modern man or Homo sapiens. The skeleton has been dated at between 3.22 and 3.58 million years old by the Geomagnetism Laboratory at the University of Liverpool. Previously the oldest complete hominid skeleton was a 1.5 million-year-old Homo erectus discovered in Kenya."


Significance:  "It will greatly enhance . . ." (that is, its impact on future events).  Later, the article gives another related point:  "The analysis of "Little Foot" has already yielded some valuable insights into the hominid's ability to walk upright."


I'm spending so much time on this because it a highly significant (pun intended) part of thinking well.  Some events in history, science, are very important, and we're often called upon to describe and explain them, and then to state WHY they are important.  That is the exercise I had in mind.  It is one of the central threads that define good thinking, and it can be acquired.


So, what we should have done is this:  I. Choose one fact.  II. Describe and Explain it. III.  Explain its future impact. 

That is the basis for grading your assignment.

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