Comprehension Questions

    "The Coddling of the American Mind" - Lukainoff and Haidt

    1. The authors write that the current trend of providing trigger warnings and calling out microaggressions is more than a simple resurgence of political correctness. What is different now?
    2. What is vindictive protectiveness? Why are they concerned about it?
    3. Trace the causal chain the authors lay out to explain how the current culture evolved.
    4. How do the authors connect emotional reasoning to the problem they see on college campuses?
    5. Lukainoff and Haidt assert, "Schools may be training students in thinking styles that will damage their careers and friendships, along with their mental health." How do they arrive at this assertion? Trace the logic of their reasoning.
    6. Explain the connection the authors see between fortune-telling and trigger warnings.
    7. Why do the authors believe that trigger warnings are problematic?
    8. What problems do the authors see with micro aggressions? With zero tolerance?
    9. After laying out the problems on college campuses, Lukainoff and Haidt conclude, "Rather than trying to protect students from words and ideas that they will inevitably encounter, colleges should do all they can to equip students to thrive in a world full of words and idea that they cannot control." Respond to their conclusion: do you agree or disagree? Do you think there is a different way we should be looking at the situation?






    "Consider the Lobster" - David Foster Wallace

    1. Describe Foster Wallace's tone. Then provide three instances of diction choices that contribute to this tone.
    2. Whom do you believe is Foster Wallace's audience?  Explain your answer.
    3. Identify two effective pieces of evidence Wallace uses. Why do you believe this evidence is effective?
    4. Analyze four of Foster Wallace’s footnotes. Why do you believe he includes each of these? To which classical appeal do you think each footnote is appealing?
    5. What do you believe is Foster Wallace’s strategy in using footnotes? Why doesn’t he simply include the footnoted information in his text?
    6. Summarize the argument that Foster Wallace makes in his piece.
    7. Locate at least four great sentences. Then describe why you like them: Phrasing? Rhythm? Sentiment? Diction?

    "Letter From Birmingham Jail" - MLK

    1. To whom did King write the letter? Why did he write it?
    2. King faced criticism for being in Birmingham as an outsider.  How does he refute this criticism?
    3. Why does King list the four basic steps for a nonviolent campaign?
    4. What is King’s response to the advice to “wait”?
    5. Summarize King’s definitions of a just and unjust law.
    6. King refers to the holocaust to explain that people are morally obligated to act against unjust laws.  Why does he use the holocaust as an example?
    7. Why is King more disappointed with the white moderate than with the KKK?
    8. Why is King disappointed with the church leaders?
    9. List examples of striking language and describe its effect on the reader.
    10. Locate at least two areas where King subtly admonishes his audience.

    "The Numbing of the American Mind" - Thomas de Zengotita

    1. Explain how the Nietzsche epigraph connects to Zengotita’s argument.

    2. Summarize the point in each of the following sections: Fabrication, Flood, Finitude, Fast, Moving On.

    3. Discuss the following quotes:

    “Someday, it will be obvious that all the content on our information platforms converges on this theme: there is not important difference between fabrication and reality . . . “

    “Our minds are the product of total immersion in a daily experience saturated with fabrication to a degree unprecedented in human history.”

    “Conditioned thus relentlessly to move from representation to representation, we got past the thing itself well; or rather, the thing itself was transformed into a sea of signs and upon it we were borne away from every shore, moving on, moving on. What else could we do?”

    4. Identify two passages that you feel are important to the article or that you would like the class to discuss.


    Malcolm Gladwell - “Thresholds of Violence”

    1) Consider Gladwell's introduction.  Why does he introduce the essay with a long narrative?  What point does he make with his introduction?

    2) Immediately after the introductory narrative, Gladwell uses the listing technique.  What is the point he makes with the list?

    3) On page four, Gladwell asserts his first explicit claim.  What is it?

    4) How does Gladwell develop this claim?

    5) Identify Granovetter’s research question and his conclusions.

    6) How does Gladwell apply Granovetter’s riot or threshold theory to school shooters?

    7) John LaDue’s story is woven through the long essay.  What point does Gladwell emphasize through this narrative?


    Sherry Turkle - "Stop Googling. Let's Talk."

    1) What is Turkle’s thesis?

    2) What does Turkle see as the connection between conversation and empathy?  Why does Turkle distinguish a difference between “old conversation” and "new conversation"?

    3) Why does Turkle think solitude is important?  What is the difference between solitude and loneliness?

    4) List the three steps Turkle offers to help make face-to-face conversations a priority.

    5) What is the “app generation”?  How is Turkle connect this concept to empathy?

    6) Identify at least one of logos, ethos, and pathos appeal in the essay.

    7) Evaluate the evidence Turkle uses to support one of her claims.


    Sherry Turkle - "The Flight from Conversation"

    1)  What is Turkle's thesis idea?
    2)  What specific changes in human behavior does Turkle suggest result from our use of electronic devices?
    3)  Why does Turkle think conversation is preferable to "sips" of online connnections? Provide at least three reasons.
    4)  What is Turkle say about solitude?
    5)  Do you agree with Turkle's argument?
    6)  Consider the many ways our society uses technology.  List at least ten.  Then choose one idea and write a paragraph about what changes in society that technology has brought about--the changes can be positive, negative, or both.


    Diane Ravitch - "American Schools in Crisis"

    1. How does Ravitch spark interest in her introduction?

    2. Why does Ravitch provide a brief history (from the 1840s to current day) of public schools?

    3. List two problems Ravitch sees in the No Child Left Behind legislation.

    4. Describe Ravitch's main problem with Race to the Top.

    5. According to Ravitch, what evidence supports the policies of NCLB and Race to the Top?

    6. Name one of Ravitch's criticisms of charter schools.

    7. What does Ravitch believe is the primary cause of poor student performance?

    8. What problem does Ravitch see with voucher programs?

    9. Describe what Ravitch sees as the "fork in the road" in America’s pursuit to improve student achievement.


    Garrett Hardin – “Lifeboat Ethics”

    1)  Explain Hardin's lifeboat analogy to foreign aid.

    2)  What is "the tragedy of the commons"?  List the types of commons Hardin sees.

    3)  How does Hardin see the World Food Bank as a "commons in disguise"?

    4)  Why does Hardin see the success of the Green Revolution as an "irrelevant point"?

    5)  Locate one of Hardin’s counterpoints and assess how well he handles it.  Does he help or hurt his credibility by his treatment of the counterpoint?


    Jonathan Rauch – “Will Frankenfood Save the Planet?”

    1)  Consider how Rauch chooses to frame his argument.  What is the singular lens through which he views genetically modified foods?  (To answer this question, you might want to list some to the arguments you’ve heard for and against GM food and then compare that list to the argument Rauch makes.)

    2)  Who is Rauch’s target audience?  Generally, what can you surmise about how readers of The Atlantic view GM food?

    3)  What values, beliefs, and assumptions do you think Rauch’s target audience holds about GM food?

    4)  Chart Rauch’s skeletal structure.  Then explain how each of Rauch's main claims appeals to the values, beliefs, and assumptions of his target audience.



    Pathos appeal within thesis

    Pathos appeal within TS
    Pathos appeal within TS


    Finally, why do you think Rauch presents the order of his claims as such?

    5)  Assess Rauch's strategy of sticking to audience-based reasons.  Do you think it enhances his argument?  Limits it?

    6)  Describe Rauch’s tone.  Does it help build his credibility?

    7)  Identify two areas where Rauch anticipates the counterpoint.  Do you think he effectively refutes each one of them?

    8)  Choose one of Rauch’s main claims and locate his support for the claim.  Evaluate the support using STARR criteria.

    9) Identify and evaluate three pathos appeals.


    Michael Pollan – “Playing God in the Garden”

    1)  Explain what Pollan means by, “[t]his convenient version of reality” in the third paragraph.  How does it explain American ambivalence toward GM foods? How does it explain Europe’s resistance to GM foods?

    2)  Pollan writes that organic farmers, conventional farmers, agribusiness corporations, government officials, and environmentalists agree that the industrial food chain needs reform.  Why do all stakeholders agree that the current model of industrial farming unsustainable?

    3)  Explain Pollan’s point in each of the following sections: Sprouting, Growing, and Flowering.

    4)  What is Pollan’s implied argument about the safety of bioengineered foods and the U.S. regulatory system (the USDA, FDA, and EPA)?

    5)  Who are the metaphorical “beetles” in the section “Meeting the Beetles”?  What does each of these beetles represent?

    6)  What is Pollan’s implicit argument about the sustainability of organic farming?

    7)  What does Pollan see as the real problem facing farmers?



    Steven Pinker - “In Defense of Dangerous Ideas”

    1)  How does Pinker define a dangerous idea?

    2)  What historical examples does Pinker offer to suggest that “ intellectual intimidation . . . inevitably shapes the ideas that are taken seriously in a given era”?

    3)  List the three perceptions of “dangerousness” that Pinker develops in his essay.

    4)  Describe the two types of dangerous ideas that Pinker wants explored.

    5)  List Pinker’s reasons for exploring dangerous ideas (at least two or three).

    6)  List the reasons for not exploring dangerous ideas that Pinker offers (at least three or four)


    Tangey, Kahan, and Stryker

    1) Explain what Tangney sees as the distinction between shame and guilt.
    2) Why does Kahan support the use of shame as an alternative to imprisonment?
    3) Describe Stryker's stance on public shaming.