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Home Notes for English Comp I
Notes for English Comp I
~~ Comparing Apples and Oranges ~~
Here's an apple and an orangeI'm comparing them and I discover that they're both round, they both have skin, and they're both sweet. On the other hand, they're different; I can contrast them. One is red and the other is orange; one has a hard skin that's not edible and one has a softer skin that is edible; the orange has fruit that's divided into sections, but the apple is not sectioned. The apple and the orange are similar and different at the same time.
Realistically, though, unless you're looking at something as simple as apples and oranges, you won't discover important similarities and differences unless you look closely and think, think, think. Substantial kinds of similarities and differences may be subtle, almost invisible, and you'll have to look really, really closely. And, unlike comparing and contrasting apples and oranges, usually there's more of a substantive point to be made, some kind of conclusion to be drawn, at the end of those observations. If it was just apples and oranges we were working with all time, we might find ourselves saying, yes, they're similar and different...so what?
So it seems appropriate
to say a few words about why we do comparison and contrast, why it's such a
useful rhetorical strategy to have around. Why it isn't all just a waste of
time, a lot of hot air, like comparing apples and oranges.
The fact is we use comparison and contrast for all kinds of profound intellectual reasons, and for a lot of practical ones, too. It might be that we're trying to decide in some way between two things, and we're using comparison and contrast in order to evaluate which one is better, or more suitable in some sense. Which college should I go to? Which career should I specialize in? Which one of these sources would be better for my research paper? Which of these DVD players should I spend my hard earned paycheck on? Which boyfriend well you get the idea. In each case, what are you doing? You're (even unconsciously) establishing some kind of criteria, some set of questions, or what we call a basis to work from. Then, your comparison and contrast takes shape as you apply your questions equally to each of your choices. How they compare and contrast leads you to a conclusion in which you decide which one rates higher.
For example, suppose you're trying to decide on a career, a major, and your advisor or guidance counselor has suggested engineering and computer science. What if you're not sure which would be right for you? Suppose you have a sneaking suspicion that you aren't too interested in eitherthat you want to study sociology? You begin to generate the questions that will form the basis of your comparison and contrast.
Every person will have a slightly different list of criteria, right? But before you can decide on the career that's right for you, you'll have to compare and contrast all of your choices based on your criteria.
Even if it's something simple likewhat movie should I go to this weekend, we go through the same basic process.
One of the basic
principles of learning theory, as I understand it, is that we acquire new concepts
most readily if we can see how they are similar and different from concepts
we already know. And so you are constantly using comparison and contrast in
order to understand new ideas, to build on your previous learning and experience.
Every time we experience something similar to an experience we had before, it
reinforces the lessons of that experience; it strengthens them. Conversely,
every time we have an experience that's counter to, or contrasts, an experience
we had before, we begin to think in new ways, go in new directions. Analysis
is the intellectual activity that gets us looking closely so that we're open
to finding out whether our assumptions about the subject we're studying will
be reinforced or challenged.
Questions? Contact me.
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