Essay Assignment

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GWRTC 103: Spring 2011
Kevin Jefferson

Essay 2 PromptDinner Table Conversations

Due: a 4-5 page paper formatted as shown on your syllabus that uses a springboard source, pays attention to kairos, and employs sources found through JMU databases to argue a perspective on an issue you care about, one that reasonably intelligent people could disagree on (perhaps they don’t care about it as you do, or don’t understand it properly, or need a nudge to be willing to act upon it properly.


1.  Our class discussion, as well as your research, should help you to decide on a specific issue.   

  • Make sure your focus interests you. Better an issue that you have definite opinions on or reactions toward than something you are neutral about, or that you know is safe. 
  • A lot is fair game. There are some big issues out there in the local, educational, public, political, and international arenas, and our readings should serve as starting points, rather than limits.   
  • Be focused. You cannot take on everything. See point 2 below.

2.  Find a relatively recent argument (perhaps an editorial or commentary or report) that expresses an opinion on an issue in which you are interested. The article you select should be argumentative—it should take a stance and at least attempt to defend it—and it shouldn’t be by some wacko. Articles that have actually been vetted by an authority are then probably better than the disjointed midnight ramblings of some guy living in a small cabin in Montana. This is your SPRINGBOARD SOURCE, a source you can use to focus your thinking and to narrow your scope. I recommend that you DISAGREE with it, or with some aspect of it. OUTRAGE is a good place to start (though not a place to stay in). As you look for this “springboard source” and for other sources which will either inform or help you to make your argument, remember that there are literally hundreds of articles out there: take some time, look around, follow the trails that names or references suggest to find more interesting, pertinent, original, or useful sources.

3.  Offer your argument in response to your “springboard source.” Set your argument up by identifying the context (what is the situation into which your source throws its two cents, and what is the question at issue). Identify the principle claim of your source and then announce your stance clearly and strongly.

If you think about it, this is exactly how many letters to the editor are formatted.  Here are two sample letters, from the October 6, 2010, Opinion section of the Los Angeles Times:

Debating the 1st Amendment

Re "Funeral protests test 1st Amendment right," Oct. 4

How is it that a protestor can be shown actually stepping on the American flag at a funeral for a U.S. Army soldier — who defended the very right of that protestor to be free — just so he can actually express that freedom of speech in such a cruel and inhumane manner?
A disagreement with something or someone does not call for the desecration of the very thing that represents our freedom.
Why doesn't the entire Phelps-Roper family, with their intolerant, hypocritical attitude, just move off American soil and live in a great place such as Afghanistan, or Iraq, or North Korea, where they can really see what the cost of freedom is like.
Freedom of speech, eh?

Andy Myers
San Clemente

As Americans, we have an absolutely wonderful guarantee that many places do not have — to be able to speak our minds freely, without fear.
Sadly, we often forget that for us to have this cherished right, we must also grant it to others who not only disagree with us but may hold what we deem despicable views.
Such is the case with the disgusting display of bigotry shown by the protesters at Army Lt. Todd Weaver's funeral, who were heartlessly displaying signs such as "God hates fags" and "Thank God for dead soldiers."
This is a real test for those of us who believe that our 1st Amendment not only guarantees freedom to express views with which we agree, but also guarantees it to those who we believe to be misguided and ignorant.
In order to keep this fundamental freedom, we must live up to the challenge presented by this exhibition of cruelty.

Milt Rouse
Dana Point

4.  You might work through a properly formatted strong thesis (the A + B because A + C structure that we will talk about). You can certainly decide that the “A + B because A + C” form does not sound nice as part of your paper (this often happens when we try to jam complex ideas into single sentences), but your love of beauty should not deter you from composing and working through a strong, focused, logical thesis. 

5.  In the body of your paper, show how and why your readers should understand the issue as you do:

  • You will need to cover the common ground you have with your primary source and with your audience. What background information must your audience have in order to see the issue clearly (you can incorporate other sources here), and where do you agree with the source and the argument it represents (you can incorporate other sources here)?
  • You will need to work through your single best reason for believing the issue should be understood as you understand it, and not as your source does. Doing so will a. allow you to engage the argument offered by your primary source, b. allow you to introduce, incorporate, use, build upon other, perhaps more “friendly” sources. c. allow you to “earn” your claim for how the issue should be understood, and d. position you to offer commentary that you perhaps couldn’t offer on page 1.
  • You will need to be fair to your sources. You are not disagreeing simply to disagree, and not saying things strongly simply to be strong. If a source makes good points, concede them. Where it fails, engage them carefully and analytically, supporting your own understanding with research that you engage and make yours.
  • This is an argument. You are arguing. You working to help others see matters as you do. This understanding does not necessarily mean you have to sound “academic.” Readers like voice, they like originality, and they like what they read to be interesting.

6.  You must use proper documentation and you must use (introduce, engage, analyze, and cite) at least five sources.  At least two of these sources must be sources you find through JMU databases. You can use texts we use in class, but you should also use and include texts you found on your own, and you can make your own texts (interview people, or survey people). Include a Works Cited page as a last page of your paper. 


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