Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Misreading an Oddly Worded Teacher's Manual?

Longman Academic Reading Series 4
Reading Skills for College
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In my College English course, we're using the textbook Longman Academic Reading Series 4: Reading Skills for College (Pearson Education, 2014), by Robert F. Cohen and Judy L. Miller, and we're working through Chapter 8, "Psychology: Aggression and Violence," which takes up pages 195-220.

One exercise is on Note-Taking: Identifying the Author's Assertions and Explanations (page 209), and it concerns an article titled "Reflections on Natural History" (pages 203-204), by Stephen Jay Gould. In the exercise, we find Gould's Assertions and Gould's Explanations, and we have to fill in the blanks in the former and write down the explanations in the latter.

Number 3 states the following:
Man is a           species.
To find the answer, we turn to Gould's article, paragraph 3, which follows a passage asking if we expect a punch in the nose half the time we address a stranger. This query segues into the following denial:
No, nearly every encounter with another person is at least neutral and usually pleasant enough. Homo sapiens is a remarkably genial species. Ethnologists consider other animals relatively peaceful if they see but one or two aggressive encounters while observing an organism for, say, tens of hours. But think of how many millions of hours we can log for most people on most days without noting anything more threatening than a raised third finger once a week or so. (page 203)
The bold, blue-fonted word stands out as one of the chapter's important vocabulary words and is pretty obviously the answer to enter into the blank:
Man is a genial species.
But then comes the 'official' explanation - offered in Longman Academic Reading Series 4, Teacher's Manual, Student Book Answer Key - defending the choice of "genial" by focusing on animals:
animals are relatively peaceful, described that way despite one or two aggressive acts; hardly any aggressive acts noted after millions of hours observing humans (page 130)
I had to re-read this explanation several times before I could figure out what the manual was saying. It at first seems to be answering a question about animals, as if the assertion had been that "Animals are genial species"! That led to my reading the next line as if animals were rarely aggressive even "after millions of hours observing humans"! As though to say that if anything would drive animals to violence, this one horrific thing would, namely, "observing humans." But animals are so peace-loving that even their long-term observation of us only rarely results in aggressiveness on their part.

But the absurdity of such a reading soon led me to a correct understanding of the manual's explanation. The word "hardly" should be understood as if preceded by "ethnologists acknowledge," as in, "ethnologists acknowledge hardly any aggressive acts noted after millions of hours observing humans."

So . . . am I particularly dense, or does anyone else initially misread the 'official' explanation as I did?

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At 5:44 PM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...

Man is a kick-ass species. Yeah.

I don't think you're dense at all. The problem sounds like a misplaced modifier along the lines of that gaffe-tastic classic, "The woman chased the dogs in the police car."

At 6:22 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Good to know I'm not crazy. Wait a second. Kevin Kim says I'm normal? Uh-oh . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:40 AM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...

This rates an "uh-oh" only if "not dense" equates to "normal." There's still plenty of room for crazy.

At 4:46 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

In other words, I may be crazy, but I'm not stupid . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:42 PM, Blogger Antony Trepniak said...

You're not dense at all; it's just shockingly poor English.

At 8:16 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks. If I were getting denser, I'd have to give up my day job . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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