APPLYING CRITICAL THINKING TO AMERICAN HISTORY



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FACT, OPINION AND INFERENCE  

Being able to distinguish between a statement of fact, an opinion or an inference is an important skill to critical thinking. It involves knowing what can be proven directly, what is a legitimate implication derived from the facts, and what is fair to conclude from the historical record.  

Historians typically interweave statements of fact, inferences they derive from the facts, and statements of their own opinion into a seamless historical narrative. Critical thinkers must be able to distinguish among these three types of communication.  

FACT: reports information that can be directly observed or can be verified or checked for accuracy.

OPINION: expresses an evaluation based on a personal judgment or belief which may or may not be verifiable.  

INFERENCE: a logical conclusion or a legitimate implication based on factual information.  

Generally, facts are constants in historical study. But a compendium of facts is inevitably incomplete and deathly dull to read. Historians construct history by closing the gaps in their knowledge about the past, enlarge our under- standing, and enliven their narrative by drawing logical inferences from their assembled facts. Often, they then use their expertise to arrive at a considered judgment about the wisdom or significance of past decisions and events.  

Distinguishing statements of fact, opinion, and inference may at first seem difficult to do. That is because they are often closely interwoven. Develop your own critical thinking abilities by placing an "F" before each factual statement, an "O" before each opinion, and an "I" before each inference in the practice exercise below.  


This type of critical thinking exercise is used often in quizzes and tests.  

_____ 1. The real rulers of the "black Republican" governments of the South were white "scalawags" and "carbetbaggers."  

_____2. Scalawags were by far the more numerous of the two.

_____3. Blacks lacked experience in politics and were mostly poor and uneducated.  

_____4. That blacks should fail to dominate southern governments is certainly understandable.

_____5. Graft and callous disregard of the public interest characterized government in all regions and at every level during the decade after Appomattox.

_____6. However, the corruption must be seen in perspective.  

_____7. The New York City Tweed Ring probably made off with more money that all the southern thieves, black and white, combined.  

_____8. The evidence does not justify southern corruption.

_____9. The evidence suggests that the unique features of Reconstruction politics do not explain it either.  

____10. In fact, Radical southern governments accomplished much.  


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