Recognizing Thesis Statements

Directions: Underline the thesis statement in each of the following readings. If the thesis statement consists of more than one sentence, make sure to underline all the sentences essential to spelling out the general point of the reading.

Note: Before reading the selections, look over the vocabulary each one introduces. Then watch for those words as you read.

Reading 1

Words to Watch for in Reading 1

intervention: interference
moratorium: pause
garrison: place where soldiers stay
subsequent: following

The Meaning of Cinco de Mayo

Most Americans know that the fifth of May, now celebrated as Cinco de Mayo, is a significant date. Yet many -- except for those in the Chicano or Mexican communities -- do not know why the date is significant. They don’t realize that on May 5, 1862, the Mexican government announced to the world that foreign intervention in its affairs would no longer be tolerated. Although the Mexican-American War (1846-48) might have left the country weary and bankrupt, that did not mean foreign intrusion would be met with no resistance. The fifth of May, or Cinco de Mayo, proved that once and for all.

By mid-nineteenth century, the Mexican people were exhausted from battling the Americans and fighting their own civil war. Desperate to bring about an economic recovery, President Benito Juarez announced on July 17, 1861, that there would be a two-year moratorium on all payment of the country’s debt. England, Spain, and France, Mexico’s debt holders, were not pleased. They invaded Mexico, determined to collect the money owed them by whatever means necessary. Although the Spanish and the English eventually withdrew, the French did not. They were hungry for a new empire on Mexican soil.

At the time, the French knew that their presence in Mexico was in defiance of the Monroe Doctrine, which had pledged U.S. resistance to any invasion of Mexico. But they also knew that the United States had its hands full fighting a civil war. Without the threat of United States intervention, Napoleon was sure that Mexico would not have the strength or the will to resist. As it turned out, Napoleon, was very much mistaken.

On May 5, 1862, a garrison of 5,000 Mestizo and Zapotec Indians, under the command of General Ignacio Zaragoza, was attacked by the French. Poorly equipped in terms of weaponry, they nevertheless won a major victory. Suddenly, it was clear to all concerned that Mexico was not as ripe for the taking as some had thought. The battle that took place on the fifth of May had proven that Mexico could fight and win. In subsequent battles, it served as an inspiration.

When the United States civil war came to an end, President Lincoln kept the pledge he had made to President Juarez. Lincoln immediately demanded that all French troops be withdrawn from Mexican soil or face the combined power of the U.S. and Mexico. By 1866, U.S. troops were headed for Mexico’s borders. Napoleon, already discouraged by the long-running Mexican resistance to French rule, abandoned his plan to found a new empire in Mexico. One year later Maximilian, the dictator placed in power by the French, was captured and executed. Shortly after, all French forces withdrew from Mexico.

Reading 2

Words to Watch for in Reading 2

productivity: the amount of goods and services produced
insubordination: refusal to follow orders
innate: natural, inborn
subjective: personal, individual
anecdote: colorful story
data: factual information used to support a theory or argument
cynical: mistrustful of human nature

Does the "Hawthorne Effect" Really Exist?

In the 1920s, researchers in psychology began focusing on the workplace. Their goal was to discover what factors increased worker satisfaction and ultimately productivity. Perhaps the most famous of these workplace studies took place in 1924. This was the year a team of researchers went to the Hawthorne plant of Western Electric, located just outside Chicago. In an attempt to determine the effect of lighting on work, researchers turned the lights up in one room and kept the original lighting in another. Then they did the reverse, dimming the lights in one room and maintaining the normal level of light in another. From lighting, they went to coffee breaks, length of work week, location of work space, and method of payment. The results were astonishing. No matter what the researchers did, productivity rates in both the regular and the test group increased.

What accounted for that increase? According to the researchers, it was the time and attention paid to the subjects taking part in the experiment. In their view, increasing productivity had less to do with working conditions and more to do with a worker’s sense of importance. Their interpretation made social science history. As a result, numerous psychology textbooks have dutifully passed on to students the notion that the "Hawthorne effect" was a scientific finding firmly grounded in solid research. Yet, in reality, the Hawthorne effect was based on very shaky evidence.

According to Dr. Lee Ross, a psychology professor at Stanford University, the number of subjects in the Hawthorne experiment was ridiculously small. Only five workers took part in the study, and two were replaced midway for insubordination and low output. So why were the researchers ready to base such wide ranging conclusions on so little evidence? According to Dr. Ross, researchers trained in psychology have an innate bias. They tend to think that subjective factors matter a good deal. Inclined in that direction to begin with, members of the Hawthorne team were quick to jump to the conclusion they were hoping for: The determining factor in productivity was the worker’s sense of personal value.

Dr. Richard Nisbett, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan, is even more critical of the Hawthorne effect than is Dr. Ross. Dr. Nisbett calls it a "glorified anecdote." From his perspective, the fact that the Hawthorne effect made a good story is one reason why the skimpy evidence supporting it was ignored. In his words, "Once you’ve got the anecdote, you can throw away the data." Cynical as that sounds, it may be one reason why the Hawthorne effect still makes its way into textbooks even though criticism of its methods has been around for decades. It does, indeed, make a good story. (Information drawn from Gina Kolata, "Scientific Myths That Are Too Good to Die," The New York Times, December 6, 1998, p. 18)

Last change made to this page: Feb. 28, 2014

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