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Spears: Developing Critical Reading Skills
Developing Critical Reading Skills, 6/e
Deanne Spears, City College of San Francisco


Exercise 1: Identifying Claims and Arguments

Before beginning this exercise, review the explanation of claims in arguments at the beginning of Chapter 8. Here again are the three types of claims, each of which is followed by an example:

claim of fact President Bush's tax cut did not prevent an economic recession.

claim of value Solar and wind power are better sources of energy than oil, gas, or coal.

claim of policy Hate crimes should not be considered as a separate category.

Now read these excerpts from newspaper and magazine editorials. In the first space, identify the type of claim. If there is a secondary claim, indicate that as well. In the second space, write a sentence stating the writer's claim or argument. The first one has been done for you.

[Barbara Del Pizzo, is a writer who lives in Nyack, New York. The editorial was written during the Clinton presidency and during Rudy Giuliani's tenure as mayor of New York City.]

New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani stirred a furor recently when he called for the abolition of methadone treatment for heroin addicts in the city-a position that put him at odds with the Clinton administration's drug czar, Gen. Barry McCaffrey. As a recovering addict, I can say that Mr. Giuliani is right: Promising addicts free methadone for life is not doing them a favor.

--Barbara Del Pizzo, "An Addict Against Methadone," The Wall Street Journal, November 13, 1998.

List both the Type of Claim and your argument in you answer

Type of claim claim of value;

secondary claim: claim of policy

Argument Treating heroin addicts by giving them methadone is wrong.

Secondary argument: Methadone clinics for addicts should be abolished.

Mayor Giuliani's proposal to abolish methadone clinics is a good idea.


The primary claim is one of value because the writer argues from a position of morality, which is implied in the phrase "not doing them [addicts] a favor." The first part of the excerpt is a claim of policy, because the writer agrees with Mayor Giuliani's proposal.

[John B. Breaux, a democrat, is Louisiana’s senior senator. Gale Norton was confirmed as Secretary of the Interior in George W. Bush’s administration. This editorial was written just after her nomination.]

Gale Norton’s confirmation hearings for the post of interior secretary begin today. I recently met with Ms. Norton, whose nomination I support, to have a frank discussion about how to increase America’s energy production, including exploring for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

If confirmed, Ms. Norton should make a priority of implementing an aggressive and environmentally sound policy to encourage domestic production. America must put in place a long-term national energy policy that includes finding and producing more of its own resources. As Ms. Norton moves to open up Alaska, she should also study how my home state of Louisiana, and other U. S. wildlife refuges, have succeeded both in energy extraction and environmental safeguards.

--John B. Breaux, "Let’s Drill for Oil," The Wall Street Journal, January 18, 2001.

List both the Type of Claim and your argument in you answer


Type of Claim:



[Norman Borlaug received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his accomplishments in agriculture. He is a professor at Texas A&M University.]

Science is under attack in affluent nations, where antibiotech activists claim consumers are being poisoned by inorganic fertilizers and synthetic pesticides. They also claim that newer genetic engineering technologies decrease biodiversity and degrade the environment. Neither claim is true, but fear-mongering could be disastrous for less-developed nations.

--Norman Borlaug, "We Need Biotech to Feed the World," The Wall Street Journal, December 6, 2000.


Type of claim:



[Diane Ravitch is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. She was also assistant secretary of Education in George Bush’s administration.]

Last summer, a suburban school district in New York advertised for 35 new teachers and received nearly 800 applicants. District officials decided to narrow the pool by requiring applicants to take the 11th-grade state examination in English. Only about one-quarter of the would-be teachers answered 40 of the 50 multiple-choice questions correctly.

As Congress considers reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, teacher education has emerged as a major issue. Many states. . . are clamoring to reduce class size, but few are grappling with the most important questions: If we are raising standards for students, don’t we also need to raise standards for teachers? Shouldn’t state and local officials make sure that teachers know whatever they are supposed to teach students?

--Diane Ravitch, "Put Teachers to the Test," The Washington Post National Weekly Edition, March 2, 1998.

List both the Type of Claim and your argument in you answer


Type of claim:



[James K. Glassman is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank that examines issues from a civil-libertarian point of view. In the first paragraph, Ellison refers to Larry Ellison, the CEO of Oracle Corporation.]

Ellison proposes bringing information from "myriad government databases (such as Social Security and law-enforcement records) together in a single national file." And Oracle will provide the software for free "with no strings attached," he offered. Ellison, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece, contends that we do not need "one national ID card." But that’s certainly what his proposal sounds like . . .

"If you have an ID card," says former Republican congressman Tom Campbell, now a law professor at Stanford, "it is solely for the purpose of allowing the government to compel you to produce it. This would essentially give the government the power to demand that we show our papers. It is a very dangerous thing."

Dangerous? Yes, there are dangers to a mandatory national ID card, but there may be greater dangers without one. The fact is, to live in a society as vulnerable as ours, we may have to give up something—but I disagree that what’s lost is freedom. Instead, it’s privacy, and maybe not even that.

In an interview with, Ellison expressed this reality . . . "This privacy you’re concerned about is largely an illusion. All you have to give up is your illusions, not your privacy."

The truth is that an ID card may force you to give up some of your privacy—though probably no more than driver’s licenses, Social Security cards, credit cards and even electronic toll-readers like FasTrak force you to give up now. But even if privacy is lost, the question is whether such an exchange is worth the benefits. More and more, I believe that it is.

--James K. Glassman, "Is It Time for a National ID Card?" San Francisco Chronicle, October 31, 2001.


Type of claim:



[Brent Staples is an African-American writer who frequently comments on race and gender issues. He is best known for Parallel Time.]

The civil rights movement had made spectacular gains in the courts—including Brown v. Board of Education—before Rosa Parks galvanized public opinion in a way that lawsuits had not. Ms. Parks became an emblematic figure when she was arrested in Montgomery, Ala., for refusing to sit in the "colored only" section of a bus. The sight of this dignified woman being denied the simplest courtesy because she was black crystallized the dehumanizing nature of segregation and rallied people against it.

Racism began to wane as white Americans were introduced to members of the black minority whom they could identify as "just like us." A similar introduction is underway for gay Americans, but the realization that they are "just like us" has yet to sink in. When it finally does, the important transitional figures will include State Representative Steve May, a 27-year-old Republican from Arizona.

Mr. May is a solid conservative who supports issues like vouchers and charter schools. He was raised a Mormon and recalls himself as the kid who "had to go out and bring in the wayward souls." He is a former active-duty soldier and an Army reservist, whose record shows that he could have moved up swiftly and been given a command.

But Mr. May is about to be hounded out of the Reserve for publicly admitting that he loves and shares his life with another man. This acknowledgement came last winter during a heated exchange in the Arizona legislature over a bill that would have barred counties from offering domestic-partner benefits, stripping them from gay couples who currently enjoy them.

Mr. May could have sat quietly, protecting his career. Instead he exposed the provision as bigoted and told the Arizona House: "It is an attack on my family, an attack on my freedom.

. . . My gay tax dollars are the same as your straight tax dollars. If you are not going to treat me fairly, stop taking my tax dollars.

. . . I’m not asking for the right to marry, but I’d like to ask this Legislature to leave my family alone."

--Brent Staples, "Why Same-Sex Marriage Is the Crucial Issue," (Editorial Observer), The New York Times, September 5, 1999.

List both the Type of Claim and your argument in you answer


Type of claim:


claim of policy


A British government commission soon may recommend lifting a ban on human cloning for "therapeutic" purposes, such as growing replacement organs and tissues. It would continue to bar "reproductive cloning," the nightmare scenario of cloning to produce copies of whole people. Despite this distinction, the proposal generates a powerful unease. If Britain lifts restrictions on human-cloning research, other European nations might follow. That in turn might create pressure to ease restrictions in the United States, where human cloning is banned (though the U.S. scientific establishment in 1997 adopted a voluntary moratorium) but is ineligible for federal research funding.

Do we want official support of human-cloning research in this country? Do we want it anywhere? Potential medical benefits make this a close call, but on balance the answer must be no. Scientists eager for cloning’s benefits sometimes interpret public discomfort as a reflection of how fast the field is moving. Three years ago, before Dolly the sheep, human cloning seemed decades away; now it appears almost in reach. But public anxiety stems from the sound intuition that, of the new techniques that reach into the basic mechanisms of human reproduction, cloning human embryos most clearly transgresses important ethical boundaries.

--"Don’t Clone People," The Washington Post National Weekly Edition, April 17, 2000.

List both the Type of Claim and your argument in you answer


Type of claim:



[Joe Robinson is an editor at Escape magazine.]

The economy may have boomed in recent years, but most Americans are ready to bust. You don’t hear much about that, with the national PR machine breathlessly trumpeting the longest peacetime expansion in U.S. history. But behind the doors of the apartments, ranch houses, and brownstones of the real folks who fuel this economy, there is a different story, one of contraction—lives and family and free time swallowed whole by work without end. Ask most working Americans how things are really going and you’ll hear stories of burnout and quiet desperation, of 50- and 60-hour weeks with no letup in sight. The United States has now passed Japan as the industrialized world’s most overworked land. In total hours, Americans work two weeks longer than the Japanese each year, two whole months longer than the Germans. On top of that, while Europeans and Australians are able to relieve the grind with four to six weeks of paid vacation each year guaranteed by law, Americans average a paltry nine days off after the first year (and that’s totally dependent on the whims of employers.) If you need some time to tend to an illness in the family or paint the house, your vacation time is pretty much shot. Forget about Tuscany, Yosemite, or even a few days at a nearby state park.

In the spring, Escape, the travel magazine I edit, launched a campaign to try to roll back the new Industrial Revolution time clock and open a national debate on America’s biggest sacred cow: work. Mind you, as an entrepreneur and business owner myself, I’ve got nothing against the work ethic. It’s the crazed, psychotic, overwork ethic that needs a pink slip. We here at Escape have formed a committee called Work to Live, whose goal is to increase vacation time in the United States—to three weeks by law after the first year on the job, and four weeks after three years.

--Joe Robinson, "4 Weeks Vacation for Everyone!" Utne Reader, September-October 2000.

List both the Type of Claim and your argument in you answer


Type of claim: