On the Duty of Civil Disobedience
When reading a long, complicated text, coming to terms with the author’s point of view can be a gradual process. One useful method for beginning this process is double-entry note-taking, which forces one to slow down, read carefully, and think about specifics.
The method is pretty straightforward: fold a page in half or draw a line down the center of it (or replicate this idea digitally). In the left-hand column write down passages from the text that catch your attention or that seem to contain key ideas. If a phrase is short—a sentence or two—write down the entire quote.
If it is longer, write down the first sentence and the last sentence of the passage with an ellipsis (…) connecting the two. Beneath the quote, in parenthesis, write down the page number. Use the right-hand column to respond to the quote with your own thoughts. If the quote seems important, explain why you think it is important and how it connects to the overall text.
If the quote is confusing or difficult to understand, use the right-hand column to grapple with its meaning. If you disagree with the content of the quote, explain why you take issue with it. The right-hand column should be a record of your thoughts as you read. When it comes time to analyze the text later you will find that your task is easier because you will have already begun the process of thinking critically about it and forming ideas in response to it.
For your homework read Thoreau’s “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience.” As you read, practice double-entry note taking in order to begin thinking critically about Thoreau’s ideology. What is Thoreau’s attitude toward the advancement of society? What does Thoreau value and what ideas and assumptions does he challenge? What does Thoreau believe in? Are there areas of agreement between Thoreau’s ideas O’Sullivan’s? Do any of Thoreau’s ideas or attitudes disturb or complicate O’Sullivan’s? And what do you think of Thoreau’s text? What are your first impressions and reactions? These are simply questions to keep in mind as you practice double-entry note taking. Create three full pages of double-entry notes. Your notes may be paper or digital, as long as you can access them during class and print them out to submit as part of your journal. Make sure you give yourself enough time—an hour and a half or more—to complete this assignment.
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