Critical Thinking Herculodge Mcmahon


Office: H121P; extension 5673  

Office Hours: M and W: 2:45-3:45 and 5:30-6; T and TH 12:15-1 and 3:30-4:15  

Students with Disabilities: 

If you have a documented disability and wish to discuss academic accommodations, please contact me as soon as possible.   

Course Catalog Description:        

This course focuses on the development of critical thinking skills. Students will apply these skills to the analysis of written arguments in various forms and genres, both classic and contemporary, and to the writing of effective persuasive essays. Students will learn to evaluate and interpret data, to recognize assumptions, to distinguish facts from opinions, to identify and avoid logical fallacies, to employ deductive and inductive reasoning, and to effectively assert and support argumentative claims. 

Course Objectives: 

One. Evaluate arguments in terms of bias, credibility, and relevance.

Two. Assess an argument's claims by examining assumptions, by differentiating between facts and inferences, by recognizing errors in logic, by analyzing support, and by identifying both explicit and implied conclusions.

Three. Recognize and assess argumentative claims embedded in literary works, advertisements, political tracts, and presentations in other media.

Four. Express critical viewpoints and develop original arguments in response to social, political, and philosophical issues and/or to works of literature and literary theory.

Five. Demonstrate the ability to evaluate electronic sources and databases, to incorporate research from on-line and print media, and to compose unified, coherent, fully supported argumentative essays that advance their claims by integrating primary and secondary sources, and by employing the tools of critical interpretation, evaluation, and analysis.

Student Learning Outcomes:

Upon completion of this course, students will:

One. Compose an argumentative essay that shows an ability to support a claim using analysis, elements of argumentation, and integration of primary and secondary sources.

Two. Identify and assess bias, credibility, and relevance in their own arguments and in the arguments of others, including primary and secondary outside sources.

Three. Write an essay that is correct in MLA format, paragraph composition, sentence structure, grammar, spelling, and usage. 

Essay Requirements (based on 6,000 words): 

English 1C SLO-aligned Assignment (Updated for Fall 2016)

The assignment designed using these criteria will be used to assess the course SLOs and should be assigned as a later (or last) essay.

Students will write a 4-5 page essay, not including Works Cited page, which is also required (but does not count towards length requirement.  In the essay, the students will do the following:

One. Express critical viewpoints and develop original thesis-driven arguments in response to social, political, and philosophical issues and/or to works of literature and literary theory.  This argumentative essay will be well organized, demonstrate an ability to support a claim using analysis and elements of argumentation, and integrate primary and secondary sources.

Two. Use at least three sources and not over-rely on one secondary source for most of the information.  The students should use multiple sources and synthesize the information found in them.

Three. Address issues of bias, credibility, and relevance in primary and secondary sources.

Four. Demonstrate understanding of analytical methods and structural concepts such as inductive and deductive reasoning, cause and effect, logos, ethos, and pathos, and the recognition of formal and informal fallacies in language and thought.

Five. Use MLA format for the document, in-text citations, and Works Cited page.

Six. Integrate quotations and paraphrases using signal phrases and analysis or commentary.

Seven. Sustain the argument, use transitions effectively, and use correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation. 

Course Catalog Description:         

This course focuses on the development of critical thinking skills.  Students will apply these skills to the analysis of written arguments in various forms and genres, both classic and contemporary, and to the writing of effective persuasive essays.  Students will learn to evaluate and interpret data, to recognize assumptions, to distinguish facts from opinions, to identify and avoid logical fallacies, to employ deductive and inductive reasoning, and to effectively assert and support argumentative claims. 

English 1C Grammar Policy and Grading

Students in English 1C are expected to write clear, college-level essays with logical paragraph composition and sentence structure as well as correct grammar, spelling, word usage, and punctuation. If you feel you cannot be successful in this class due to struggles with grammar or other elements of essay composition, please see the instructor as early as possible to discuss resources and strategies for your improvement.  

Policy on Plagiarism   

Any attempt to commit fraud, misrepresenting someone else’s writing as your own, including turning in essays from previous semesters, will result in an automatic F grade, zero points, which mathematically, will disqualify you from earning a grade higher than a C for the semester. You will not be allowed to rewrite for a higher grade and because of the breach of trust it will be preferred that you drop the class. I will use turnitin to investigate plagiarism.  

Each essay must be submitted to where it will be checked for illegal copying/plagiarism.

 I cannot give credit for an essay that is not submitted to this site by the deadline.   

The process is very simple; if you need help, detailed instructions are available at 

You will need two pieces of information to use the site:  

Class ID and Enrollment Password, which I’ll give you first week of class. 

Late Essays Are Deducted a Full Letter Grade 

You cannot turn in a late paper more than a week after the due date.

You Cannot “Ride” the Class: You cannot miss over 10 percent of the classes while not keeping up with the assignments because you are not fulfilling the Student Learning Outcomes. Therefore, you will have to be dropped if you are “riding” the class.  

Books You Need for This Class:

One. The Professor in the Cage by Jonathan Gottschall

Two. The Overcoat by Nikolai Gogol (Dover edition is $3 or free online)

Three. Bartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville (Dover edition is $3 or free online)

Four. From Critical Thinking to Argument by Barnet and Bedau, Fifth Edition

Five. This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff

Other Materials: 2 large blue books for in-class final writing exams

Online Stories We'll Be Reading

"Winter Dreams" by F. Scott Fitzgerald

"The Other Woman" by Sherwood Anderson

All 5 Typed Essays Need 3 credible sources to be used for in-text parenthetical citation and MLA formatted Works Cited page.

All five typed essays are 1,000 word typed and double-spaced.  They are due at the beginning of Week 4, 7, 10, 13, and 16.

Grading Based on 6,000 words and 1,000 total points

First four 1,000-word essays are worth 150 points each (600 points)

Fifth essay, your Final, is 1,000 words and worth 200 points.

Two in-class reading exams are 500 words each and worth 100 points each (200).

Attendance and Class Participation

Deductions of 50 for more than 4 absences (two tardies equal one absence). Repeated use of smart phone in class or leaving class repeatedly to "take a call" counts as a tardy.

More than 5 absences is a loss of 100 points. These rules are designed so that we will be complaint with Title 5 Contact Hour Laws prescribed by the State of California.


It’s reasonable to be late a couple of times a semester, but some students consistently show up late to class, and this distraction compromises the learning environment significantly. Therefore, starting on the fourth tardy, 50 points must be deducted from total grade and another 25 points must be deducted for every tardy after that. Being on your smartphone in class is equivalent to being tardy.

Essay One for 150 Points Based on Choosing One of the Following Options

Option 1

In the context of Gottschall’s The Professor in the Cage, develop an argumentative thesis about the relationship between masculinity and ritualized violence. Your essay should be 1,000 words and have a Works Cited page with 3 sources, including one from the El Camino College database.


Option 2

Support, refute, or complicate the assertion that Steve Almond's "The NFL Is Morally Reprehensible" is a compelling argument against Gottschall's case that ritualized violence is a natural and essential part of masculinity. 

Essay Two for 150 Points (Life of Image Vs. Life of Substance)

Option One: To an audience of college students, write a persuasive essay that addresses the contention that "Bartleby, the Scrivener, "Winter Dreams" or "The Other Woman" illustrates the moral principles in David Brooks' online essay "The Moral Bucket List." You might also consult Pascal's famous Pensees:

We do not content ourselves with the life we have in ourselves and in our own being; we desire to live an imaginary life in the mind of others, and for this purpose we endeavour to shine. We labour unceasingly to adorn and preserve this imaginary existence and neglect the real. And if we possess calmness, or generosity, or truthfulness, we are eager to make it known, so as to attach these virtues to that imaginary existence. We would rather separate them from ourselves to join them to it; and we would willingly be cowards in order to acquire the reputation of being brave. A great proof of the nothingness of our being, not to be satisfied with the one without the other, and to renounce the one for the other! For he would be infamous who would not die to preserve his honour. 

Suggested Structure

Paragraph One: Summarize Brooks' essay.

Paragraph Two: Summarize the story. 

Paragraph Three. Frame the debate of your argumentative thesis by asking how and why the story addresses the major ideas in Brooks' essay. Then answer your question with a thesis. 

Paragraphs 4-7: Supporting paragraphs: They support your thesis' mapping components. 

Paragraph 8: Write your counterargument-rebuttal paragraph.

Paragraph 9: Conclusion: Restate your thesis with emotion (pathos) and show its broader ramifications.   

Option 2: Develop a thesis that analyzes "Bartleby, the Scrivener, "Winter Dreams" or "The Other Woman" in terms of the Faustian Bargain described in the essay "Love People, Not Pleasure," by Arthur C. Brooks. Be sure your essay at least 3 sources. You could use a structure similar to one in Option 1. 

Essays 3-4 (various based on debates in current events)


Essay #5: Final Capstone Essay for 200 Points: Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life and Gogol’s “The Overcoat”:

One. Develop an argumentative thesis that compares the quest for identity in Wolff’s memoir and Gogol’s "The Overcoat." Consider maladaptation and the chimera as traps resulting from the search for identity.

Two. A wise man once said, having a chimera will kill you, but not having a chimera will also kill you. Develop an argumentative thesis that shows how this saying applies to Wolff’s memoir and Gogol’s "The Overcoat." 

English 1C Reading and Writing Schedule Spring 2017

2-14 Introduction to Critical Thinking

2-16 The Professor in the Cage; “Bully” video from Louie TV show. FCTA Chapter 1 Critical Thinking

2-21 The Professor in the Cage; FCTA Chapter 2 Critical Reading; Chapters 8 and 9 Toulmin Argument and Fallacies

2-23 The Professor in the Cage; FCTA Chapters 3 and 5 Going Deeper into Arguments

2-28 The Professor in the Cage; FCTA Chapters 6 and 7 Argument and Using Sources

3-2 Blue Book Exam 1 will test your reading comprehension of The Professor in the Cage.

3-7 Essay 1 Due; “The Moral Bucket List” by David Brooks and "Relationships Are More Important Than Ambition" by Emily Esfahani Smith; Pascal Pensees

3-9  “Choose Experiences Over Stuff" by Carl Richards, "Ambition Explosion" by David Brooks, and "Why Millennials Value Experiences Over Owning Things" by Blake Morgan; excerpts from Peter Kreeft's The Three Philosophies of Life.

3-14 “Bartleby, the Scrivener” Part I

3-16 "Bartleby, the Scrivener" Part II and "Unconscious Duplicity" by William B. Dillingham

3-21 “Winter Dreams”

3-23 “The Other Woman”

3-28 Essay 2 Due; “The Case Against Democracyand should you leave Twitter? See Lindy West essay.

3-30 "How Facebook Warps Our World"; "The Real Reason to Quit Facebook"; "6 Reasons to Delete Your Facebook Account Right Now"

4-4 Ta-Nehisi Coates' "The Case for Reparations"; Coates and Bernie Saunders on Reparations; "The Enduring Solidarity of Whiteness";"An Open Letter to Ta-Nehisi Coates and the Liberals Who Love Him"; "Ta-Nehisi Coates' Case for Reparations and Spiritual Awakening"; "The Case Against Reparations"; "Race without Class"; "The Radical Chic of Ta-Nehisi Coates""The Case for Considering Reparations"; "The Impossibility of Reparations"; "The Radical Practicality of Reparations"; "An Ingenious and Powerful Case for Reparations in The Atlantic"; "Ta-Nehisi Coates and the Case for Reparations"

4-6  "The Reign of Recycling"; "Environmentalism Is a Religion"; teach with Stephan Asma's "Green Guilt"

4-18 Universal Basic Income debate

4-20  NFL debate including “Hooked for Life”

4-25 Essay 3 Due; “Those Who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursula Le Guin and John Oliver video on child labor in the garment industry. 

4-27 “Against Empathy” by Paul Bloom. 

5-2 Morality of Food Choices in Malcolm Gladwell's Podcast; Malcolm Gladwell's Food Fight; Bowdoin's Defense Against Gladwell; Mother Jones Challenges Gladwell; Gladwell's Food Fight podcast on YouTube; Defense of Gladwell. Masters of time management will continue reading in preparation for final essay and in-class final exam.

5-4  "Addiction is not a disease";  Addiction is not a disease" reviewed by Laura Miller ;"Is Addiction a Habit or a Disease?" by Zachary Siegel;  "Addiction is a Disease and Needs to be Treated as Such"by David Sack.  See Ed Kressy’s autobiographical essay.

5-9 Vaccine Debate: "How to Change an Anti-Vaxxer's Mind"; "Why Vaccination Refusal Is a White Privilege Problem"; "What Everyone Gets Wrong About Anti-Vaccine Parents"; "Kid Vaccination Drama"; "We Seem to be More Frightened Than We've Ever Been"; "Anti-Vaxxers: Enjoying the Privilege of Putting Everyone at Risk". Masters of time management will continue reading in preparation for final essay and in-class final exam.

5-11 The Failed Promise of Legal Pot and Life with Legal Weed

5-16 Essay 4 Due; This Boy’s Life Lesson 1

5-18 This Boy’s Life Lesson 2

5-23 This Boy’s Life Lesson 3

5-25 This Boy’s Life Lesson 4

5-30 “The Overcoat” Lesson 1

6-1 “The Overcoat” Lesson 2

6-6 Essay 5 Final Essay Due; Blue Book In-Class Writing Exam Part I

6-8 Blue Book In-Class Writing Exam Part II

Critical Writing

Applying your critical thinking to academic writing 

You will find that your task as a writer at the higher levels of critical thinking is to argue. 

You will express your argument in 6 ways: 

One. You will define a situation that calls for some response in writing by asking critical questions. For example, is the Confederate flag a symbol of honor and respect for the heritage of white people in the South? Or is the flag a symbol of racial hatred, slavery, and Jim Crow? 

Two. You will demonstrate the timeliness of your argument. In other words, why is your argument relevant? 

Why is it relevant for example to address the decision of many parents to NOT vaccinate their children?

Three. Establish your personal investment in the topic. Why do you care about the topic you’re writing about? 

You may be alarmed to see exponential increases in college costs and this is personal because you have children who will presumably go to college someday. 

Four. Appeal to your readers by anticipating their thoughts, beliefs, and values, especially as they pertain to the topic you are writing about. You may be arguing a vegetarian diet to people who are predisposed to believing that vegetarian eating is a hideous exercise in self-denial and amounts to torture. 

You may have to allay their doubts by making them delicious vegetarian foods or by convincing them that they can make such meals. 

You may be arguing against the NFL to those who defend it on the basis of the relatively high salaries NFL players make. Do you have an answer to that? 

Five. Support your argument with solid reasons and compelling evidence. If you're going to make the claim that the NFL is morally repugnant, can you support that? How?

Six. Anticipate your readers’ reasons for disagreeing with your position and try to change their mind so they “see things your way.” We call this “making the readers drink your Kool-Aid.”  

Being a Critical Reader Means Being an Active Reader

To be an active reader we must ask the following when we read a text: 

One. What is the author’s thesis or purpose? 

Two. What arguments is the author responding to? 

Three. Is the issue relevant or significant? If not, why? 

Four. How do I know that what the author says is true or credible? If not, why? 

Five. Is the author’s evidence legitimate? Sufficient? Why or why not? 

Six. Do I have legitimate opposition to the author’s argument? 

Seven. What are some counterarguments to the author’s position? 

Eight. Has the author addressed the most compelling counterarguments? 

Nine. Is the author searching for truth or is the author beholden to an agenda, political, business, lobby, or something else? 

Ten. Is the author’s position compromised by the use of logical fallacies such as either/or, Straw Man, ad hominem, non sequitur, confusing causality with correlation, etc.? 

Eleven. Has the author used effective rhetorical strategies to be persuasive? Rhetorical strategies in the most general sense include ethos (credibility), logos (clear logic), and pathos (appealing to emotion). Another rhetorical strategy is the use of biting satire when one wants to mercilessly attack a target.

Twelve. You should write in the margins of your text (annotate) to address the above questions. Using annotations increases your memory and reading comprehension far beyond passive reading. And research shows annotating while reading is far superior to using a highlighter, which is mostly a useless exercise. 

An annotation can be very brief. Here are some I use: 




Proof 1 


Good point






Full of himself



Two. How do we generate ideas for an essay?

We begin by not worrying about being critical. We brainstorm a huge list of ideas and then when the list is complete, we undergo the process of evaluation. 

Sample Topic for an Essay: Parents Who Don’t Immunize Their Children

  1. Most parents who don’t immunize their children are educated and upper class.
  2. They read on the Internet that immunizations lead to autism or other health problems.
  3. They follow some “natural guru” who warns that vaccines aren’t organic and pose health risks.
  4. They panic over anecdotal evidence that shows vaccines are dangerous.
  5. They confuse correlation with causality.
  6. Why are these parents always rich?
  7. Are they narcissists?
  8. Are they looking for simple answers for complex problems?
  9. Would they not stand in line for the Ebola vaccine, if it existed?
  10. These parents are endangering others by not getting the vaccine.

Thesis that is a claim of cause and effect: 

Parents who refuse to vaccinate their children tend to be narcissistic people of privilege who believe their sources of information are superior to “the mainstream media”; who are looking for simple explanations that might protect their children from autism; who are confusing correlation with causality; and who are benefiting from the very vaccinations they refuse to give their children.

Thesis that is a claim of argumentation:

Parents who refuse to vaccinate their children should be prosecuted by the law because they are endangering the public and they are relying on pseudo-intellectual science to base their decisions.

To test a thesis, we must always ask: “What might be objections to my claim?”

Prosecuting parents will only give those parents more reason to be paranoid that the government is conspiring against them.

There are less severe ways to get parents to comply with the need to vaccinate their children.

Generating Ideas for Our Essays

How do we prepare our minds so we have “Eureka” (I found it) moments and apply these moments to our writing?

The word eureka comes from the Greek heuristic, a method or process for discovering ideas. The principle posits that one thought triggers another.

Diverse and conflicting opinions in a classroom are a heuristic tool for generating thoughts.

Here’s an example:

One student says, “Fat people should pay a fat tax because they incur more medical costs than non-fat people.”

Another student says, “Wrong. Fat people die at a far younger age. It’s people who live past seventy, non-fat people, who put a bigger drain on medical costs. In fact, smokers and fat people, by dying young, save us money.”

Another heuristic method is breaking down the subject into classical topics:

Definition: What is it? Jealousy is a form of insanity in which a morally bankrupt person assumes his partner is as morally bankrupt as he is.

Comparison: What is it like or unlike? Compared to the risk of us dying from global warming, death from a terrorist attack is relatively miniscule.

Relationship: What caused it, and what will it cause? The chief cause of our shrinking brain and its concomitant reduced attention span is gadget screen time.

Testimony: What is said about it by experts? Social scientists explain that the United States’ mass incarceration of poor people actually increases the crime rate.

Another heuristic method is finding a controversial topic and writing a list of pros and cons.

Consider the topic, “Should I become a vegan?”

Here are some pros:

  1. I’ll focus on eating healthier foods.
  2. I won’t be eating as many foods potentially contaminated by E.coli  and Salmonella.
  3. I won’t be contributing as much to the suffering of sentient creatures.
  4. I won’t be contributing as much to greenhouse gasses.
  5. I’ll be eating less cholesterol and saturated fats.


  1. It’s debatable that a vegan diet is healthier than a Paleo (heavy meat eating) diet.
  2. Relying on soy is bad for the body.
  3. My body craves animal protein.
  4. Being a vegan will ostracize me from my family and friends.

One. Checklist for Critical Thinking 

My attitude toward critical thinking: 

Does my thinking show imaginative open-mindedness and intellectual curiosity? Or do I exist in a circular, self-feeding, insular brain loop resulting in solipsism? The latter is also called living in the echo chamber. 

Am I willing to honestly examine my assumptions? 

Am I willing to entertain new ideas—both those that I encounter while reading and those that come to mind while writing? 

Am I willing to approach a debatable topic by using dialectical argument, going back and forth between opposing views? 

Am I willing to exert myself—for instance, to do research—to acquire information and to evaluate evidence? 

My skills to develop critical thinking 

Can I summarize an argument accurately? 

Can I evaluate assumptions, evidence, and inferences? 

Can I present my ideas effectively—for instance, by organizing and by writing in a manner appropriate to my imagined audience?

Study the Templates of Argumentation  

While the author’s arguments for meaning are convincing, she fails to consider . . .


While the authors' supports make convincing arguments, they must also consider . . .


These arguments, rather than being convincing, instead prove . . .


While these authors agree with Writer A on point X, in my opinion . . .


Although it is often true that . . .


While I concede that my opponents make a compelling case for point X, their main argument collapses underneath a barrage of . . .


While I see many good points in my opponent’s essay, I am underwhelmed by his . . .


While my opponent makes some cogent points regarding A, B, and C, his overall argument fails to convince when we consider X, Y, and Z.


My opponent makes many provocative and intriguing points. However, his arguments must be dismissed as fallacious when we take into account W, X, Y, and Z.


While the author’s points first appear glib and fatuous, a closer look at his polemic reveals a convincing argument that . . .

Ways to Improve Your Critical Reading  

  1. Do a background check of the author to see if he or she has a hidden agenda or any other kind of background information that speaks to the author’s credibility.
  2. Check the place of publication to see what kind of agenda, if any, the publishing house has. Know how esteemed the publishing house is among peers of the subject you’re reading about.
  3. Learn how to find the thesis. In other words, know what the author’s purpose, explicit or implicit, is.
  4. Annotate more than underline. Your memory will be better served, according to research, by annotating than underlining. You can scribble your own code in the margins as long as you can understand your writing when you come back to it later. Annotating is a way of starting a dialogue about the reading and writing process. It is a form of pre-writing. Forms of annotation that I use are “yes,” (great point) “no,” (wrong, illogical, BS) and “?” (confusing). When I find the thesis, I’ll also write that in the margins. Or I’ll write down an essay or book title that the passage reminds me of. Or maybe even an idea for a story or a novel.
  5. When faced with a difficult text, you will have to slow down and use the principles of summarizing and paraphrasing. With summary, you concisely identify the main points in one or two sentences. With paraphrase, you re-word the text in your own words.
  6. When reading an argument, see if the writer addresses possible objections to his or her argument. Ask yourself, of all the objections, did the writer choose the most compelling ones? The more compelling the objections addressed, the more rigorous and credible the author’s writing.

 To read critically, we have to do the following:

One. Comprehend the author's purpose and meaning, which is expressed in the claim or thesis

Two. Examine the evidence, if any, that is used

Three. Find emotional appeals, if any, that are used

Four. Identify analogies and comparisons and analyze their legitimacy

Five. Look at the topic sentences to see how the author is building his or her claim

Six. Look for the appeals the author uses be they logic (logos), emotions (pathos), or authority (ethos).

Seven. Is the author's argument diminished by logical fallacies?

Eight. Do you recognize any bias in the essay that diminishes the author's argument?

Nine. Do we bring any prejudice that may compromise our ability to evaluate the argument fairly?

Topic for an Argumentative Essay: The Costs and Benefits of College

Writing Assignment:

In a 4-page essay that addresses the major poings in "College Calculus" and "America: Abandon Your Reverence for the Bachelor's Degree," develop an argumentative thesis that addresses the question if college is worth the cost for your particular area of study. You may consult the following:

"3 Reasons College Still Matters" by Andrew Delbanco. 

"Is College Worth It?"

"College Is Still Worth It, Despite the Cost"






Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *