Letter for Saturday, September 23, 2017

• How to analyze and interpret claims

How to analyze and interpret claims

The publication of an opinion column recently sparked immediate reactions. This comes after lots of letters to the editor, opinion pieces and cartoons before and after the presidential election, some of which included some amazing claims. Please permit me to share some thoughts about the bigger picture, the process of analyzing and interpreting.

As a teacher, I have been called upon to teach several subjects. One of the most interesting ones to me is U.S. history. The first time I was given that course to teach, it was at an alternative high school. We had no textbooks and I was not a history major, so I had to be extra-creative to teach the course.

I hit upon a framework for teaching history. The framework can serve not only as a way of analyzing and interpreting history, but also as a way to analyze and interpret political speeches, opinion columns, books, political cartoons, and even advertising. I offer the framework as one way to approach the challenge.

w Step One: Look at the perspective of all parties. Example: The viewpoint of Columbus and his crew as they approached the West Indies was very different from that of the natives on the islands.

w Step Two: Consider the motivation of the actors. What made them do what they did? Was it a psychological reason of some sort? Was it a response to prior experience? Was it money? Was it a personal need for recognition? Something else? There are many, many motivators.

w Step Three: Does what you are examining fit a pattern? If so, do you expect the same result or something different to happen this time? If the latter, why?

w Step Four: Ask “What if?” about any decision. Had a different choice been made, what might have happened?

Logic is another key part of analysis and interpretation. Thankfully, middle school students are able to see very obviously false logic. Training in logical thinking is necessary to make good, informed decisions. Because schools rarely teach logic, it is no wonder that some adults seem to be unable to apply logic to statements, claims, events and so forth. I believe that the lack of training in logical thinking explains why many adults accept illogical statements as true without analyzing them.

Finally, common sense is a necessary part of sensibly analyzing and interpreting. It has been observed that common sense isn’t really very common anymore. That is unfortunate because stopping to apply common sense to claims and statements offered as true might cause a person to say, “Hold on! This just doesn’t make sense.”

To sum up, using the four-step framework, plus logic and common sense, gives a person a fair chance of analyzing and interpreting meaningfully. It may sound complicated, but it’s really not. It just takes a bit of practice.

Russ Josephson, Kapaa


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