Identifying the Main Idea

Directions: Circle the letter of the statement that best expresses the main idea of each reading.

Note: Before reading the selections, look over the vocabulary each one introduces. Then watch for those same words as they appear in the reading.

Reading 1

Words to Watch for in Reading 1

paleontologist person who studies forms of life existing in prehistoric times
habitat the area in which a particular animal is likely to be found
reticent reluctant, reserved
protégé one whose welfare and training are aided by another
skittish nervous, jumpy
astute clever
integrated joined with something else
tenable capable of being believed or maintained
documented presented evidence for
provocation reason for action or anger
albeit admittedly

Our Lady of the Chimps

Imagine this scene. You have just arrived in Africa, in the jungle of Tanzania to be exact. You are twenty-seven years old and have had no special training making your way in the jungle. Shivering from a fever brought on by malaria, you have been warned that a leopard has been seen prowling in the area. As if that weren't enough to make your hair stand on end, you have just watched a cobra slither away into the night. What do you do? Well, if you are like most of us, you pack your bags as quickly as you can and head for home, where you can crawl into bed and drink ginger ale till you feel better. That, however, is not what you do if you are Jane Goodall, the woman who almost singlehandedly introduced the world to the ways of chimpanzees.

When Jane Goodall arrived in Tanzania close to fifty years ago, she was all of twenty-seven years old. She had been chosen by world-famous paleontologist Richard Leakey to discover everything she could about the habits and habitat of chimpanzees. Leakey had purposely chosen Goodall, someone without academic training, because he wanted an observer who had no preexisting biases. He also wanted someone who could sit patiently waiting for the normally shy and reticent chimps to approach, even if that meant sitting in one place the entire day. In Jane Goodall, Leakey believed he had found the perfect person to unlock the secrets of chimpanzee life, but even he couldn't have imagined how successful his protégé would be. Before Goodall arrived in Africa, almost nothing was known about chimpanzees. Now, thanks to her, we know a great deal about their complex and emotionally rich society.

Skittish of humans, the Tanzanian chimpanzees Goodall had been sent to observe were slow to approach. For almost six months they would disappear in panic-stricken flight at the very sight of her. Day after day, she sat under the African sun, armed only with a pair of binoculars. Wearing beige colored clothing and avoiding quick movements, Goodall tried to become an unthreatening part of the chimps' landscape. Eventually, her strategy paid off, and Goodall's subjects grew to trust her. After months of waiting, she unexpectedly came upon two chimps grooming each other. Instead of fleeing in terror, they stared at her for a long moment and then continued their grooming. They didn't even run after she sat down next to them—so close she could hear their breathing. Jane Goodall, the chimps had decided, was a creature they could trust.

In assuming that Goodall could be trusted, the colony of chimps had showed their usual astute intelligence. Over the next few years, Goodall followed the Tanzanian chimps from tree to tree and place to place, almost becoming one of them. She integrated herself as much as she could into their society, without ever intruding or forcing her presence upon them. As she followed them through the forest, she made one breakthrough discovery after another.

Before Goodall went to Tanzania, it was assumed that humans were distinguished from animals by their ability to make and use tools. However, once her research was published, that claim was no longer tenable. Chimps make tools out of twigs to help them find, catch and eat the juicy insects they like to snack on. They also use tools to construct sturdy nests, where they sleep high in the tops of trees.

Goodall also documented the complex social relationships that knit chimps together and sometimes tear them apart. They can be devoted mothers who delight in the antics of their offspring, and, like us, they know the bonds of friendship. But, as Goodall was the first to observe, they also know the depths of revenge and rage. With the right provocation, one group may turn on and attack another, returning to attack again and again. Formerly considered dedicated vegetarians, chimps, it turns out, occasionally eat meat. In rare instances, they will even eat one another. In her years of research, Goodall discovered that chimpanzees, albeit infrequently, will engage in cannibalism, particularly when they feel threatened by a rival that must be disposed of by whatever means necessary.

To this day, Jane Goodall continues her work with chimpanzees, but she spends far less time in their jungle habitat. Instead she travels the world trying to make the chimps' closest relatives, humans, aware of how the animals suffer when confined in badly managed zoos or treated as research subjects thought to be lacking in all emotion or feeling. Although the world may be awed by her accomplishments, Goodall can only think of how much more needs to be done to save the creatures she considers her friends. On her web site (www.janegoodall.org), Goodall describes her bouts with insomnia, tracing them to the memories of "tiny chimps in tiny prisons." In her words, "Once you've seen it, you can't forget." And even if we wanted to, Jane Goodall wouldn’t let us.

Main Idea:

a. Because Richard Leakey wanted an unbiased observer to study chimpanzee society, Jane Goodall was the perfect choice; she had no academic training either in animal behavior or in methods of research.

b. Richard Leakey had high hopes for Jane Goodall’s research, but even he didn’t know what astonishing discoveries she would make about the social and emotional life of chimpanzees.

Reading 2

Words to Watch for in Reading 2

monastery a building that houses a community of people who have dedicated their lives to religious pursuits
meditation the act of concentrated reflection or thought
browses looks over
Vatican the home of the pope in Rome
homepage an Internet site about a person or organization
downloads copies a file from one computer to another
cyberspace a term used to describe the world of the Internet and the world created by computers in general
web browser a software program that allows an individual to go from site to site on the Internet
abbot the head of a monastery
web page a document available on the World Wide Web, which in itself is a system of computerized documents that form a vast information network
distraction something that draws attention away from where it should be focused
presumably taking for granted
implicit suggested but not directly stated

Monks in Cyberspace

The order of Trappist monks was established in 1664 at La Trappe Monastery in northwest France. To this day, the order is in existence. In fact, until recently, the routine of the Trappist monks had varied relatively little from the routine followed hundreds of years ago. The monks would rise early, between three and four in the morning. They would pray, read, and do chores until breakfast was served around six. The rest of the day would be spent in prayer, meditation, and study.

Now, however, many Trappists monks all across the country are following the example of Father Placid McSweeney, a Trappist monk at Spencer Abbey in Worcester, Massachusetts. After breakfast, Father Placid logs onto the Internet and surfs the web. He answers E-mail, browses the Vatican home page or downloads articles for research. Like dozens of monks all over the world, Father Placid has entered cyberspace. For that matter, so too has the monastery to which he belongs. (Tell your web browser to take you to www.spencerabbey.org and you’ll discover a color picture of Spencer Abbey, along with its history, a sketch of its mission, and a list of the jams, jellies, and syrups available from the Trappists.)

While Father Placid has an official reason for being on-line—he is the secretary to the monastery’s abbot—other monks with less official reasons are also likely to be in cyberspace for at least some part of the day. In cyberspace, they can download some of their favorite music such as Joan Baez and Public Enemy. They can also check out what is happening at other monasteries across the country since many have followed Spencer Abbey’s example and created a web page of their own.

Because the Trappists take a vow of silence in their community and are forbidden television or radio, the presence of computers has aroused a good deal of criticism. Says Father Harvey Egan of Boston College, "One of the reasons for silence is to still one’s internal noise. I see E-mail as internal noise. It is communication...and distraction." Father Placid, and presumably others like him, do not agree: "If you are using [the Internet] for entertainment, then it is out of place...But it is a practical tool." From Father Placid’s perspective, the Internet aids the monks in their work and study; thus it is not in the same category as television or radio, both of which are banned from the monastery. Then, too, a monk cannot simply order a lap top and hook up to the Internet. In each and every instance, a case has to be made for permitting Internet access, and the monk requesting permission has to explain the Internet’s value to the larger community.

Father Robert Morehouse, also a monk at Spencer, is more conflicted about the Internet than is Father Placid. In his words, "monks seal themselves off from the world to have a culture entirely dedicated to God." Implicit in that statement is a simple fact: The Internet has broken the seal, and no one is quite sure what it will bring into the monks’ once quiet and peaceful world. (Information for this selection comes from: www.boston.com/dailyglobe 3/24/99 andwww.spencerabbey.org)

Main Idea

a. Across the country, more and more Trappist monasteries are using the Internet, a fact that has aroused controversy among those not sure what that means for the Trappists’ vow of silence.

b. Now that computers have found their way into monasteries, most expect that the Trappist monks will have much more exposure to the outside world and, as a result, dramatically change their way life.

Last change made to this page: Jan. 8, 2007

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