Friday, March 19, 2010


Common Core English, Informational Text, Standard 4:

Interpret how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term or terms over the course of a text (e.g., how Madison defines faction in Federalist No. 10 and No. 51).

Federalist No. 10, second paragraph:

By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.

Um... ok, I think I understand how Madison defines "faction." If this was a question on a standardized test, I don't know what I'd add about his further refinements to the meaning, as that definition seems clear, concise, and consistently applied throughout the rest of the text.

I suppose what is weird about this is how stiltedly structural it is. Perhaps its presence in the context of standards on "reading informational texts." I can imagine picking up a test that said "Describe Dewey's concept of 'democracy.'" I'd be surprised if it said "Interpret how Dewey uses and refines the meaning of 'democracy' over the course of Democracy in Education."

It is just peculiarly indirect -- not "interpret the meaning of the term itself" but "interpret how the author uses and refines the meaning of the term. Am I supposed to be looking at the rhetorical strategies that underlie his use of "faction?" Polarization? "Us vs. Them?"

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