Essay Assignment

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Paper 2: Changing Debate / Debating Change

Jefferson, GWRIT 103
Fall 2008

Due:  a 4-5 page paper formatted as shown on your syllabus that uses a springboard source, works though a clear thesis, and employs sources found through JMU databases to argue for some understanding of a specific issue raised by the 2008 presidential and vice-presidential debates. 

1.  You need an issue: a manageable, debatable issue that will be at issue and of interest to your audience (imagine you’re writing for The Breeze). You’ll be arguing about how we should understand the issue, or about what we should do in response to it. Your issue must have been raised, however tangentially or distantly, by the 2008 presidential and vice-presidential debates.

2. You need a springboard source. You’ll be offering / framing your argument in response to your springboard source. In other words, you’ll launch into your focus and narrowly define it by identifying the context (the situation into which your springboard source throws its two cents), the question at issue you see your springboard source exemplifying, and the principle claim your source offers in order to announce your stance clearly and strongly.

Where to find your springboard source:

  1. the debates: something a candidate says and/or does.
  2. university newspaper editorials and opinion pieces: The Breeze or an article you find using the LexisNexis University Wire.
  3. the (national) world is your oyster: what are the potentially smart people with a legitimate audience saying? (nationally syndicated columnists like George F. Will or David Broder or Maureen Dowd, or pundits/hosts like Rush, Letterman, Leno, Colbert, Stewart….)

How you know when you’ve found your springboard source: your springboard source—the article, clip, speech, or even sentence—should be argumentative (it should take a stance and at least attempt to defend it) and it shouldn’t be by some wacko. I highly recommend that you DISAGREE with it, or with some aspect of it. Try to find a source whose issue or style of engaging the issue makes you see red. 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 potentially useful sources out there: take some time, look around, follow the trails that names or references suggest to find more interesting, pertinent, original, or useful sources.

People use springboard sources all of the time. Think, for instance of how many of the letters to the editor in newspapers and magazines are formatted. Here are two sample letters, from page E3 of the “Forum” section in the February 19, 2006 Sacramento Bee:

The wise, courageous Bee

Re "Why The Bee didn't run the anti-Muslim cartoons," Feedback, Feb. 12: Armando Acuna's column revealed intense debate within The Bee about reprinting the disgraceful caricatures of Prophet Muhammad, first published by a Danish newspaper. I applaud The Bee's wise and courageous decision to not reprint the cartoons.
Howard Weaver's view that "These cartoons were at least as offensive as a vile racist slur" is correct. Given the current tense West-Muslim relationship, these cartoons and their subsequent defense as "free speech" ominously conveyed the West's utter insult of Islam's prophet and contempt for Muslims' feelings.

Free speech is not absolute. Editors routinely make decisions not to publish objectionable material without raising free-speech issues. In much of Europe, denying or trivializing the Holocaust is a criminal offense.

With freedom comes responsibility. Freedom of speech includes freedom not to speak. Publishing the cartoons that hurt only the weakest segment of our society - the Muslims - would have been easy. It took real courage and wisdom to say "No."

- Rashid Ahmad, Elk Grove

Wrong choice on cartoons

Re "Why The Bee didn't run the anti-Muslim cartoons," Feb. 12: Public Editor Armando Acuna's article was exemplary. It is impossible for any rational person not to concur with Acuna that The Bee should have printed the Denmark cartoons.

This questionable news publishing business, i.e. The Bee, need not have minds like Howard Weaver, Mort Saltzman or David Holwerk in any decision-making capacity beyond how many times the finished product is folded before the rubber band is applied, as this is more to their depth.

Newspapers - actual newspapers - should present this world's news each day the only way possible: truthfully as it occurs. Sophocles defined truth as "the strongest argument." Other Bee editors may rest assured that telling the truth, no matter how unfamiliar the territory may seem, is the correct thing to do.

- Garr Ooley, Citrus Heights

3.  In the body of your paper, argue for how and why your readers should understand the issue as you do. 

  1. You will need to cover the common ground you have with your primary source and with your audience.  Where do you agree with the source and what background must your audience have in order to see the issue clearly?\
  2. 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 allow you to engage and set aside the argument offered by your springboard source. It will allow you to “earn” your claim for how the issue should be understood. It will allow you to address the good counterarguments that your springboard source and /or your audience might raise. Finally, it will allow you to conclude with insight and commentary and / or directions for further thought that you perhaps couldn’t offer on page 1.
  3. You will need to be fair to your springboard source. You are not disagreeing simply to disagree, and not saying things strongly simply to be strong. If the springboard 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.

4.  You must use proper documentation and you must use (introduce, engage, analyze, and cite) at least three sources. At least two of these sources must be sources you find through JMU databases (i.e.: not from online “.com” sources). Include a Works Cited page as a last page of your paper. 



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