How Do I Write a Critique? Engaging the Writing Process
No two people compose in exactly the same way, and even the same person may go through the writing process in different ways with different assignments. Nevertheless, because no one can attend to everything at once, there are phases in handling any significant writing task. You explore the topic to get a sense of whether it will work for you and what you might be able to do with it; if the topic is working out for you, then you move into preparing to write, generating more content and planning your draft.
The next phase is drafting your paper, getting a version, however rough it may be, on screen or paper so that you can work toward the final draft. Getting there involves two further phases: (1) revising your draft, making major improvements in it, followed by (2) editing your draft, taking care of errors, sentences that do not read well, paragraphs lacking focus and flow, and so on.
Exploring Your Topic
To see how to explore the argument you are about to critique, we need an example argument to illustrate the process. Here is one on an issue of some concern on most college campuses. Read it once or twice, just to understand what it says and to form a first reaction to it.
Page 214 READING 9.4 Open Your Ears to Biased Professors DAVID FRYMAN
David Fryman was a senior at Brandeis University when he wrote this opinion column for the school’s newspaper, the Justice. He is offering advice to younger college students who often encounter professors with political opinions different from those endorsed at home or in their local communities. Fryman’s question is, How should they respond?
ne of the most important lessons I’ve learned in three years of higher education is the value of creativity and critical thinking, particularly when confronted with a professor whose ideology, political leanings or religious viewpoint fly in the face of what I believe. In fact, with a good professor, this should happen often. It is part of a professor’s job to challenge you, force you to reconsider, encourage you to entertain new ideas and the like. My first year here, it bothered me. Some professors subtly endorsed certain ways of thinking over others without always justifying their biases. They offered opinions on issues beyond their academic expertise. Many showed partiality to the political left or right.
How should we react when a professor with a captive audience advances a perspective we find offensive, insulting or just ridiculous? Perhaps we would benefit from treating our professors, who often double as mentors and advisers, the same way that we’re taught to approach great works of literature: with critical respect.
The truth is many faculty members are at the top of their fields. They read, write and teach for a living. We’re generally talking about the most welleducated and wellread members of society. So when a professor has something to say about politics, religion, war or which movie should win the Academy Award, I think it’s a good idea to take him seriously.
It certainly doesn’t follow, though, that there’s a direct relationship between what a professor says and what’s true. In fact, there may be no relationship at all. While our professors generally are leading scholars, some are also biased and fallible. I don’t mean this as an insult. Professors are human beings and, as such, carry with them a wide array of hangups and prejudices.
Interestingly enough—if not ironically—our professors often teach us how to deal with biased and opinionated scholars like themselves. When we read novels, journal articles, essays and textbooks for class, we’re taught—or at least this has been my experience—to be critical. We’re expected to sift through material and distinguish between what holds water and what doesn’t, what is based on reasoned analysis and what is mere speculation.
If we treat our professors similarly it should no longer bother us when they use the classroom as their soapbox. They have important things to say and we’re here to learn from them. I’ve come to appreciate professors’ opinions on a variety of issues not directly related to the subject at hand, and I think it helps us build relationships with them. While it’s unfair for a professor to assign high grades only to students who echo their view or to make others feel uncomfortable to disagree, I prefer that professors be honest about what they think.
While it’s a disservice to our own education to be intimidated or too easily persuaded by academic clout, it’s just as problematic, and frankly silly, to categorically reject what a professor has to say because we take issue with his ideology, political leanings, religious views or cultural biases.
It’s become popular, particularly among conservatives responding to what they perceive as a liberal bias in academia, to criticize professors for espousing personal views in the classroom. The ideal, they argue, is to leave students ignorant about their instructors’ beliefs.
First of all, I think there’s a practical problem with this strategy. It’s more difficult to be critical if we’re unsure where our professors stand. For the same reason that it’s often helpful to have background information about an author before analyzing his work, it’s useful to see our professors’ ideological cards on the table. For instance, if I know my professor loves hunting and believes everybody should have firearms in his basement then when I hear his interpretation of the Second Amendment, I’m better equipped to evaluate his thoughts.
Secondly, if we proscribe what views may or may not be expressed in the classroom, we limit our own access to potentially useful information. Even if most of the extraneous digressions aren’t worthy, every once in a while we might hear something that goes to the heart of an important issue. To limit this because we don’t trust our own critical abilities is cowardly.
To return to the question I posed above: How should we respond to politicallycharged, opinionated, biased professors? I think we should listen.
Forming a First Impression
Forming a First Impression It is impossible to read an argument without having some kind of response to it. Start by asking yourself, “What is my first impression?”
ACTIVITY 9.1 Writer’s Notebook State Your First Impression
State your reaction simply and directly. Write it down in your notebook or a computer file reserved for this assignment. Read the selection again. Is your reaction changing? How? Why? ▀
Most of our students’ first response to Fryman was favorable. He offered practical advice, and more appealing yet, safe advice. You may have had an entirely different reaction. First reactions cannot be right or wrong, good or bad. They just are what they are. The important thing is that you know what your reaction is.
Page 216 Asking Questions: Achieving Critical Distance through Analysis
Asking Questions: Achieving Critical Distance through Analysis Critiques require critical distance from first responses. “Critical distance” does not mean “forget your first response.” On the contrary, first impressions often turn out to be sound. Critical distance does mean setting your first response aside for a while so that you can think the argument through carefully.
Use the questions for critiquing an argument in Best Practices to guide your analysis.
BEST PRACTICESQuestions for Critiquing an Argument
1. What is the context for this argument? As we said earlier (pages 202–3), arguments take place in contexts—situations that prompt people to write. Ask, therefore, “Who wrote this? What prompted him or her to write? What might explain his or her perspective?”
2. What is the author claiming? Find the main point or thesis that the writer wants you to believe and/or be persuaded to do. Sometimes the claim will be stated, sometimes implied. Then ask: Is the claim clear and consistent? Is it absolute, no exceptions allowed? Is it reasonable, desirable, practical?
3. What reasons does the author provide for accepting the claim? Reasons answer the question: Why? Given the claim, what explains or justifies it? Like the claim, reasons will be stated or implied. Then ask: Does each reason actually explain or justify the thesis? How convincing is the reason? If the author reasons by means of an analogy (comparison, reasoning that what is true in one case should be true in a similar case), does the comparison really stand up to inspection?
4. What evidence has the author given to support the reasons? Reasons need support using examples, data, or expert opinion. Look at the evidence offered for each reason and ask: Does the evidence actually support the reason? How convincing is each piece of evidence, and how convincing is the evidence for each reason taken together?
5. What are the key terms, and what do they mean? Writers use words, often without defining them, that should be carefully examined. When a claim is justified, for instance, as the right or moral thing to do, we need to ask what “right” or “moral” means in
6. What is the author assuming? It is impossible to argue without assuming many things, and “assumed” means “not stated.” Ask: What must I believe to accept that claim, or reason, or piece of evidence? Is the assumption “safe,” something that any reasonable person would also assume?
7. What are the implications of this argument? The implications are what the argument suggests or implies. Like assumptions, implications are usually not stated. To uncover them, ask: If I accept this position, what logically follows from it? Are its implications acceptable or not?
8. What values motivate the argument? What priorities does the author have? What other priorities or values conflict with those of the author?
9. What voice and character are projected in the argument? We talk about voice and presence in writing, and these are important to an argument’s effectiveness. How would you describe the speaker and on what evidence from the text?
10. Who is the audience for the argument? Who is likely to agree with this argument? Who might want to refute it? What might an opponent object to and why? ▀
Example: Critiquing an Argument
Here is a model of how some of these questions could be applied to Fryman’s argument (pages 214–15):
1. Thesis: What is the author’s main claim?
Fryman: College students should listen with critical respect to biased and opinionated professors.
Comment: Be clear about the argument’s main point. Note that with this argument you have to piece together the thesis from several statements Fryman makes.
2. Context: What prompted the author to write the argument?
Fryman: In paragraph 8, Fryman explains the situation that prompted him to write this argument. Conservative students had been protesting what they saw as an abuse of academic freedom by liberal professors.
Comment: Fryman is not arguing directly to conservative activists. Whom do you think he sees as his audience? How would his argument be different if he were to address the more politically active protestors?
3. Reasons: What are some reasons, and how well do they hold up to examination?
Fryman: One reason given is: “Many faculty members are at the top of their fields.”
Comment: Clearly, this statement is a reason—it explains why the author thinks students should accord professors respect. We can respond by saying, “Yes, some professors are quite accomplished in their fields. But when they venture outside them, do their opinions count for more than any other relatively wellinformed person’s?”
4. Key terms: What words are important to the argument, and would there be any confusion about what they mean?
Fryman: “How should we react when a professor with a captive audience advances a perspective we find offensive, insulting or just ridiculous? … with critical respect.”
Comment: It is important to note that Fryman is not saying that students have to agree or even be neutral but rather that they should think critically as they listen.
5. Assumptions: Does the author make any assumptions you might question?
Fryman: He is assuming that professors airing their views in class will not take away from class time devoted to material that must be covered or will not distract from the course material.
Comment: We might respond by suggesting that Fryman should have qualified his argument by putting a limit on how much class time might be devoted to professors airing their biases.
6. Implications: What happens in reality if we accept the argument?
Fryman: He implies that students should tolerate whatever the professor dishes out.
Comment: We can respond by saying, “How much student toleration is too much toleration? Suppose that a professor is openly sexist, for instance? Shouldn’t we not only reject the opinions but also report the behavior to university authorities?”
7. Analogies: How well do comparisons hold up?
Fryman: He compares the approach students should take to opinionated professors with the critical respect accorded great works of literature (paragraph 2).
Comment: We can respond by saying, “Great works of literature have typically survived for years. We call them classics. Does it make sense to meet the casual opinions of professors the same way that we approach Shakespeare?”
ACTIVITY 9.2 In Your Own Work Exploring Your Argument
If you are working alone on an argument, use the ten questions in Best Practices: Questions for Critiquing an Argument (pages 216–17) to find possible content for your critique. Record the results in your notebook, your computer file for this assignment, or online—for example, as a blog that presents the argument and your analysis of it.
If all members of your class are critiquing the same argument, divide into small groups of about three or four people and do an analysis. Share what your group found with the class as a whole in discussion. Summarize what each group came up with in your notebook, computer file, or online as a blog entry or email addressed to the entire class. Indicate which analytical comments you consider strongest. ▀
Personal Engagement in Critiques
Personal Engagement in Critiques Critique focuses on what an argument says. The challenge of critique is to discover what you can say back.
Part of a good critique is to test the argument against what you know about reality. Test what the argument says against your experience with life and the world, and against what you know about the topic. Add to your knowledge of reality by gathering information through research.
Asking Questions: What Information Is Relevant to My Critique?
Asking Questions: What Information Is Relevant to My Critique? The following questions should help you add insights about an argument:
1. What is my own experience with the topic or issue or problem the argument takes up? In the case of Fryman’s argument, when have the comments of “biased teachers” been illuminating or helpful to you? When have they been boring, irritating, or useless? What’s the difference between the two?
2. What relevant information do I have from reading or from some other source? Perhaps you have heard other students complain about professors pushing their political convictions on their students. What did the students say? Did their complaints seem justified? Why or why not?
3. What could I find out from research that might be relevant to assessing the argument? Most arguments suggest opportunities for at least checking up on information relevant to the argument. For instance, you might investigate the idea of academic freedom. How does it apply to professors? How does it apply to students?
4. If the argument reasons from data, in what other ways might the data be interpreted? What other data might contradict the information given? Research will often lead you to other arguments that interpret the same or similar data differently or that supply additional data the argument you are critiquing did not know or ignored. For example, arguments for stronger border patrol enforcement sometimes fail to mention that about 40 percent of undocumented immigrants came here legally and simply stayed. Enhanced border control obviously will have no effect on that group.
See Chapter 16, pages 412–24, for detailed guidance on ways to research any topic.
ACTIVITY 9.3 In Your Own Work Assessing the Fit of Argument and Reality
In your notebook or computer file, sum up the results of applying the above questions. Freewrite about what you might add from your own experiences and observations, or from research. Highlight the best insight you gained. It could be a major point in your critique, perhaps even the central point around which you structure it. ▀
Preparing to Write
Thoughtful exploration of an argument—responding to what it says and pondering its fit with reality—results in much you could say. However, a critique is not a collection of comments or a list of criticisms. Rather it’s a coherent evaluation from a particular point of view— your view. Consequently, formulating your position, your main point about the argument’s validity, matters most.
Formulating Your Position
Formulating Your Position Your critique will need to focus on one main point: your position about the merits of the argument. You can reject an argument in general but see value in a part of it. You can accept an argument in general but with major reservations.
In response to Fryman’s argument, a wide range of stances are possible. Someone in agreement could say:
Fryman acknowledges that biased professors can be annoying, but he makes an effective argument that opinions have a role in the education process.
Someone disagreeing could say:
Fryman would have a stronger argument if he did not imply that students should open their ears but not their mouths.
Or, among many other possible positions, someone could say:
It is easy to agree with this argument in the abstract because Fryman avoids actually quoting any of the biased views he has heard.
ACTIVITY 9.4 In Your Own Work Formulating Your Position
Using the suggestions above, write a position statement. If you are having difficulty, consider the following possibilities:
Return to your first impression. Perhaps a revised version can be your stance.
Review the statements in the argument that you found open to question. Is there a pattern in your criticisms? Or perhaps one statement stands out from the rest and seems central? Your position may be implied in your most important criticism.
Do you detect one place where the reasoning breaks down? You could focus your critique on the major weakness in the argument’s case, that is, its claim, reasons, and evidence.
Look for places where the author’s view of reality and/or what is needed or desirable part company with yours. Your position might be that the argument sounds logical but is not realistic or practical.
Talk through possible positions with another student or your instructor. Just talking helps, and sometimes a comment from someone else can help your stance emerge.
Sometimes you will discover the best statement of your position only through writing a first draft. For now, try out the stance that appeals to you most. You can always revise and rewrite. ▀
Drafting Your Paper
In your first draft, focus on organizing and voicing your main points fully and clearly.
Page 221 Thinking as a Writer: What Voice Is Appropriate for a Critique? Voice
VoiceThe voice of critique or analysis shares much in common with the voice of casemaking: State your position clearly, directly, and forcefully, using a style more formal than conversation but less formal than a public speech. Remember that critique is not namecalling, insults, outrageous claims, or partisan bickering, but rather the calm voice of reason, opinions stated precisely and defended well.
See Chapter 10, page 249, for a discussion of voice in casemaking.
Here is a good example of the voice for critique from Hanson’s introductory paragraph:
In “Responses to Arguments against the Minimum Drinking Age,” the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) identifies arguments against the minimum legal drinking age and then suggests counter arguments. But in doing so, it plays fast and loose with the facts, a common tactic in politics.
It is acceptable to say that an argument “plays fast and loose with the facts” or that it is illogical or inconsistent, providing that you can back it up and make your accusations stick, as Hanson does in the rest of his article.
Your voice in critique, therefore, depends largely on how you assess the quality of the argument you are critiquing. Hanson boldly accuses the NIAAA’s argument of being politically motivated, not supported by available data, and poorly reasoned. But his voice is intelligent, informed, and logical because he develops his counterarguments thoroughly.
ACTIVITY 9.5 Writer’s Notebook Reader, Purpose, and Voice
Add notes about the key variables to your position statement. Answer these questions: Do you intend to address the same readers that the argument does? Why or why not? How exactly does your version of the truth differ from the author’s, and how great is the difference? How friendly to the author do you want to sound? ▀
Thinking as a Writer: Developing and Organizing Your Critique Organization
OrganizationWhether you write first drafts in chunks and then fit them together or write from a plan more or less in sequence, have the following organizational principles in mind:
Begin by identifying the argument you are critiquing: who wrote it and for what group of readers, when and where it appeared, what it is about, and the position the author takes.
Make your own stance clear and give it an emphatic position, near the end of your introduction.
Page 222 Body
From everything you found questionable in the argument, select only what is relevant to your stance. No one expects a critique to deal with everything an argument says or everything that can be said about it.
Don’t let the order of the argument determine the order of your critique. Organize around points that develop your position, and think about what order would have maximum impact on your readers.
If you can say positive things, deal with these points first. Readers listen to the negative more willingly after hearing the positive.
ConclusionShort critiques of short arguments do not need summarizing conclusions. Strive instead for a clincher, the memorable “parting shot” expressing the gist or main thrust of your response.
DevelopmentFor each part of your critique, you have many options for development. Here are some of them.
IntroductionBesides identifying the argument and taking your stance, you can also include material about context, background information, and a preview of your critique. A critique of Fryman’s argument, for instance, might place it in the context of efforts to restrict academic freedom; research about the author might reveal relevant background information, such as what was happening at Brandeis University when he wrote the article. Previews summarize the points you are going to make in the order in which you are going to discuss them.
BodyTake up one point at a time. Each point will challenge either the reasoning of the argument or its fit with reality. If the former, be sure to explain inconsistencies or contradictions fully so that your reader understands exactly where and why the reasoning went wrong. See Hanson’s critique (pages 208–10) for examples. If you want to show that it is unrealistic, provide counterevidence from personal experience, general knowledge, or research.
ConclusionTo clinch your critique, consider the following possibilities: a memorable quotation with a comment on it from you; a return to a key statement or piece of information in your introduction that you can now develop more fully; a reminder to the reader of your strongest point with additional support or commentary.
Revising Your Draft
Write a brief assessment of your first draft. Exchange draft and assessment with at least one other student, and use the critique revision questions in Asking Questions on page 223 to help each other decide what you each need to improve.
Page 223 ASKING QUESTIONSRevision Checklist for Critiquing an Argument
1. Look at all places where you have summarized or paraphrased the argument. Compare them against the text. Are they accurate? Do
they capture the author’s apparent intent as well as what she or he says?
2. Locate the argument’s context—the existing view or views the argument’s author addressed. If the critique does not mention context, would it improve if it did? If so, where might a discussion of context work best?
3. Critiques seek the truth about some controversial issue or question. What is the issue or question the argument addresses? Is it stated in the critique? Does the difference between the argument’s view of the truth and the view in the critique emerge clearly? If not, what could be done to make the difference sharper?
4. Underline the critique’s main point or stance. Is it stated explicitly and early in the essay? Examine each critical point. How does it develop, explain, or defend the stance? Consider cutting anything not related to the stance.
5. Check the flow of the critical points. Does each connect to the one before it and the one after? If not, consider rearranging the sequence. How might one point set up or lead to another better?
6. What voice do you hear in the critique? The tone should be thoughtfully engaged, fair, balanced, and respectful, but also confident and forceful. Look for places where the tone might make the wrong impression. Consider ways to improve it. ▀
Exchanging your draft with at least one other student and going over the Critique Revision Checklist together can help you decide what you each need to improve. Page 224 Formulating a Plan to Guide Your Revision
Formulating a Plan to Guide Your Revision The plan can be a single sentence or two: “I’ll cut this, rearrange that, and add a section here.” Or if you work better from an outline, develop one now. The important thing is to have a definite, clear idea of what you want to do and what moves you will make to get the results you want.
Student Example: Excerpts from J. R. Solomon’s Draft
The following passages are excerpted from student J. R. Solomon’s draft critique of David Fryman’s argument, “Open Your Ears to Biased Professors.” These examples all illustrate common problems in first drafts of critiques.
Excerpt 1: Position statement not forceful enough
Fryman believes that students should treat professors’ personal opinions with critical respect. I agree, but think that his view is onesided and therefore not fully persuasive.
All arguments present one position on an issue, so to say an argument is “onesided” does not offer a valid critique. In fact, Solomon meant that the argument was unbalanced, tipping too far in favor of professors’ powers. Here is the revised version:
“Open Your Ears to Biased Professors,” by David Fryman, a student writing for the Brandeis University paper, The Justice, deals with a common complaint among students: teachers who express their political or religious views in class. Fryman believes that students should listen to the personal opinions of professors with “critical respect.” I agree, but the argument is not persuasive because Fryman describes an unbalanced situation where the professors have all the rights and the students have all the responsibilities.
Excerpt 2: Paraphrase or summary not accurate
In my ethics class last year, my teacher … believed strongly in the right of homosexuals to marry. Some of the students, including myself, did not agree with her. Yet, when we tried to discuss our side of the issue, she cut us off. Fryman neglects to discuss such instances when a teacher’s opinions infringe on the students’ right to open debate. I believe that if teachers can express their opinions openly in class, the students should be able to express theirs.
The bolded sentences do not accurately represent Fryman’s argument. Fryman also believes that students should feel comfortable expressing disagreement with the professor and says so in his paragraph 6. Here is the revised version:
Unfortunately, some professors do not want students to form their own opinions but rather convert to the professor’s ideology. In my ethics class last year, the teacher told us she was a lesbian. In one of our discussions we spoke about gay rights, and whether or not marriage should be legal for homosexuals. She believed strongly in the right of homosexuals to marry. Some of the students, including myself, did not agree with her. Yet, when we tried to discuss our side of the issue, she cut us off. Although Fryman says “it is unfair for a professor to assign high grades only to students who echo their view or to make others feel uncomfortable to disagree,” he does not go far enough to emphasize professors’ responsibility in ensuring students have a voice.
Page 225 Excerpt 3: Unfocused and underdeveloped paragraphs
Because he is writing only to students, Fryman has very little to say about how professors should conduct themselves. He deals with the problem of bias as if only what students should do matters. Actually, professors have more responsibility. They’re older, more knowledgeable, and more experienced. I think if professors are going to express their political and religious views in class, they should do so in certain ways or not do it at all.
These sentences move from professors to students and back to professors, ending with a vague point about what professors should do. In the revised essay, Solomon used the two main points to organize his entire critique. You can see parts of this draft paragraph in paragraphs 2 and 5 of the revised draft.
Editing Your Revised Draft
There is almost no revised draft that could not improve with proofreading for habitual errors and editing to tighten up the writing and make some points more clear. The highlighted words below indicate where the passage could be tightened up.
The edited version that follows reduces the repetition and tightens up the style by using the pronoun it.
In my ethics class last year, the teacher told us she was a lesbian. When the class discussed gay rights and homosexual marriage, she expressed her view that it should be made legal. Some of the students, including myself, did not agree with her.
One grammatical problem remains in the edited passage. The word myself is a reflexive pronoun; it should not be used unless the word I has already been used in a sentence (“I hurt myself”). However, the ethics class anecdote does not use the word I; the pronoun is treated as an object and should reflect this. This mistake—using myself instead of me—is common in casual talk; we tend to make it when we write too. Be alert to reflexives in your drafts.
See “Common Errors” in the Handbook, Section W1, for more explanation of reflexive pronouns.
Page 226 Edited Version
Some of the students, including myself, did not agree with her.
ACTIVITY 9.6 In Your Own Work Editing Your Paper
Edit your own draft to eliminate errors, such as confusing plurals with possessives, using singular pronouns to refer to plural nouns, and misusing the reflexive pronoun “myself.” Exchange your edited paper with another student. Help each other find and correct any remaining errors. ▀
REVISED STUDENT EXAMPLE
Page 228 Sample Readings for Critique
READING 9.5 Does Patriotism Matter? THOMAS SOWELL
A high school dropout who returned to school and completed a doctorate in economics at the University of Chicago, Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, author of a dozen books, and an awardwinning newspaper columnist. The following article came from the Jewish World Review website.
he Fourth of July is a patriotic holiday but patriotism has long been viewed with suspicion or disdain by many of the intelligentsia. As far back as 1793, prominent British writer William Godwin called patriotism “highsounding nonsense.”
Internationalism has long been a competitor with patriotism, especially among the intelligentsia. H.G. Wells advocated replacing the idea of duty to one’s country with “the idea of cosmopolitan duty.”
Perhaps nowhere was patriotism so downplayed or deplored than among intellectuals in the Western democracies in the two decades after the horrors of the First World War, fought under various nations’ banners of patriotism.
In France, after the First World War, the teachers’ unions launched a systematic purge of textbooks, in order to promote internationalism and pacifism.
Books that depicted the courage and selfsacrifice of soldiers who had defended France against the German invaders were called “bellicose” books to be banished from the schools.
Textbook publishers caved in to the power of the teachers’ unions, rather than lose a large market for their books. History books were sharply revised to conform to internationalism and pacifism.
The once epic story of the French soldiers’ heroic defense against the German invaders at Verdun, despite the massive casualties suffered by the French, was now transformed into a story of horrible suffering by all soldiers at Verdun—French and German alike.
In short, soldiers once depicted as national heroes were now depicted as victims—and just like victims in other nations’ armies.
Children were bombarded with stories on the horrors of war. In some schools, children whose fathers had been killed during the war were asked to speak to the class and many of these children—as well as some of their classmates and teachers—broke down in tears.
In Britain, Winston Churchill warned that a country “cannot avoid war by dilating upon its horrors.” In France, Marshal Philippe Petain, the victor at Verdun, warned in 1934 that teachers were trying to “raise our sons in ignorance of or in contempt of the fatherland.”
But they were voices drowned out by the pacifist and internationalist rhetoric of the 1920s and 1930s.
Did it matter? Does patriotism matter?
France, where pacifism and internationalism were strongest, became a classic example of how much it can matter.
During the First World War, France fought on against the German invaders for four long years, despite having more of its soldiers killed than all the American soldiers killed in all the wars in the history of the United States, put together.
But during the Second World War, France collapsed after just six weeks of fighting and surrendered to Nazi Germany. At the bitter moment of defeat the head of the French teachers’ union was told, “You are partially responsible for the defeat.”
Charles de Gaulle, François Mauriac, and other Frenchmen blamed a lack of national will or general moral decay, for the sudden and humiliating collapse of France in 1940.
At the outset of the invasion, both German and French generals assessed French military forces as more likely to gain victory, and virtually no one expected France to collapse like a house of cards—except Adolf Hitler, who had studied French society instead of French military forces.
Did patriotism matter? It mattered more than superior French tanks and planes.
Most Americans today are unaware of how much our schools have followed in the footsteps of the French schools of the 1920s and 1930s, or how much our intellectuals have become citizens of the world instead of American patriots.
Our media are busy verbally transforming American combat troops from heroes into victims, just as the French intelligentsia did—with the added twist of calling this “supporting the troops.”
Will that matter? Time will tell.
READING 9.6 Right to Bear Arms LINDA CHAVEZ Page 230
Once the highestranking woman in the White House when Ronald Reagan was president, Linda Chavez is an author (best known for Out of the Barrio), columnist, and radio talk show host.
ashington, D.C., will become a safer place to live and work thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling Thursday against the city’s absolute ban on handguns. The Court ruled that the Second Amendment’s guarantee of the right to bear arms is an individual right, not just one that permits states to maintain militias, striking down one of the nation’s toughest antigun laws. As someone who lived in the District at the time the city imposed its ban 32 years ago, I say it’s about time.
I bought my first gun in 1974 after my husband was mugged in broad daylight just blocks from the White House. My husband was picking up our sixyearold son from school when a man approached him and demanded money. When my husband refused, the man picked up a twobyfour and hit him on the back of the head, knocking him to the ground.
The event traumatized all of us and sent me to a local gun shop to purchase a handgun. I properly registered the .357 Magnum, according to the District law in effect at the time, learned how to shoot it, and kept it safely in my home for the next two years.
But in 1976, the city changed its law, grandfathering in people like me who already owned guns, provided they bring their guns to a government building downtown to reregister them. By that time, I was pregnant with my second child. As the deadline approached, I tried a couple of times to stand in line to reregister the gun but gave up as the wait stretched into hours. On the final day, I went downtown again, gun in tow, only to see a line extending for blocks. As pregnant as I was, there was no way I could stand in line for several hours. So, I returned home, knowing my gun would be illegal if I kept it in my home.
For the next several years, I stored my gun in Virginia, where we owned a small cabin, to comply with the law. Ironically, there was no crime in the area where my cabin was located, so I had no need of the gun there. But I had several brushes with crime in D.C.
Soon after the gun ban went into effect, an intruder hid in my house one day in what was one of the most terrifying incidents in my life. I happened to see the man lurking near my staircase as I headed into the kitchen. I managed not to scream but continued walking away and quietly phoned the police. I confronted the intruder once I knew the cops were on the way. He acted as if I had somehow wronged him by calling the police but didn’t stick around to explain to the authorities what he was doing in my house.
Around the same time, a serial rapist started attacking women in our neighborhood, including two women who lived within a block of my house. And even though I still owned a gun, I couldn’t legally keep it nearby to protect myself. Police eventually caught the rapist, a teenager armed with a knife, but all of us in the neighborhood lived in fear for the weeks he was preying on victims.
Then, two years ago, I was again living in D.C. on Capitol Hill when I heard an awful racket through the walls of my townhouse. It sounded as if someone was being thrown down the stairs, with men shouting and doors slamming. When my husband rushed outside to see what was happening, he found our young neighbor visibly shaken. He had come home to find a man in his upstairs hallway, obviously burglarizing the house. Again, I wished I had my gun in D.C., but bringing it into the city would have made me a criminal.
These incidents were all near misses. Many other D.C. residents haven’t been as lucky. They fall victim to violent crimes in their homes yet can’t do anything to defend themselves.
The D.C. gun ban never made a dent in the city’s gun crime; it still ranks among the most dangerous places in America. At least now, the Supreme Court has acknowledged the constitutional right of lawabiding citizens to protect their own lives when the police can’t.