In the lesson, our professor Rebekah Hendershot goes through an introduction on argumentative practice. She starts with where to find the prompt, analyzing the prompt and reading the text. She then discusses what the big idea is, scoring guidelines, the sample essays and tips for the argumentative essay.
The prompt offers background information: the date of publication (1791), the author’s profession (“pamphleteer”), and his notable characteristics (“an intellectual, a revolutionary, and a supporter of American independence from England”).
The prompt has a focus: the “extent to which Paine’s characterization of America holds true today.”
The prompt makes a demand: “appropriate evidence” to support your argument (whatever it is).
That’s right—this prompt is asking you to refute, support, or qualify!
Reading the Text
Paine begins with a contradiction: “concord” (what’s that?) should not exist in America, yet it apparently does.
He explains why it should not exist: people from different nations, speaking different languages, with different ideas, all living together.
He claims that because American society is founded on the principles of the “rights of man” (whatever those are—they’re not defined her), it works in spite of all odds against it.
He gives a few specific examples: “the poor are not oppressed, the rich are not privileged. . . . Their taxes are few, because their government is just; and as there is nothing to render them wretched, there is nothing to engender riots and tumults.”
No, really, what’s “concord”?
1a : a state of agreement: harmony; a simultaneous occurrence of two or more musical tones that produces an impression of agreeableness or resolution on a listener — compare discord.
2: agreement by stipulation, compact, or covenant
3: grammatical agreement
– Merriam-Webster (2012)
What’s the Big Idea?
Go back over your underlines and your notes. What is Paine’s main idea?
In short, it seems to be that:
American society should not be harmonious (for various reasons), yet it is;
This is because American society is founded on the principles of the rights of man.
Do you agree, disagree, or fall somewhere in between?
The scoring guidelines are also available on the College Board’s website.
Note that a score of 9 is reserved for essays that meet the 8 criteria but are unusually good—and that a good essay, in this case, “effectively examines the extent to which Paine’s characterization of America holds true today.”
The descending scores of 8, 7, and 6 are allotted according to:
Note that this essay chooses to qualify Paine’s statement—a more difficult proposition, but a rewarding one.
The student impressed the reader immediately with “a consistent sophistication of style”—there’s that prose requirement again!
The student “blends evidence and commentary” by introducing qualifications to Paine’s argument (America is still diverse, but diversity no longer creates unity) with evidence (changes in immigrant populations and the political landscape).
The reader praises the student’s use of competing analogies—the “melting pot” metaphor commonly taught in history classes and the lesser-known “tomato soup” image.
Finally, the reader once again praises the student’s command of language. This student had a good idea and excellent evidence to back it up, but the prose style put this essay over the top.
Let’s look at Sample 3B, which earned a 5.
This essay begins with a bad first impression—an “awkward opening.” (“Distinctions” was not the right word to use!)
The student uses a good example at first, in the form of personal experience, but later support is overly general—does the financial-aid system really allow even the poorest students to attend “prestigious” colleges? The discussion of political parties is likewise limited.
Note the persistent errors in spelling and syntax! This was a hard essay to read!
Let’s look at Sample 3C, which earned a 1.
This is another short essay, and the grammar and syntax are atrocious. Note the incomplete and rambling sentences. If 3B was hard to read, 3C is painful.
The writer followed the rule of three, and set out a road map and followed it, but the examples are poorly developed—support for each point usually consists of one to two rambling, run-on sentences. Note the hasty-generalization fallacies!
This student also tried to qualify Paine’s point, but saved the weakest part of the analysis (the agreement) for last.
Tips for the Argumentative Essay
Language, language, LANGUAGE! Good prose is the difference between an 8 and a 9!
Make sure the underlying structure of your argument is sound. Align your elements and make sure you haven’t committed any fallacies.
If possible, blend your evidence with your opinions—don’t break them up into separate paragraphs. They belong together. Present evidence, then interpret it.
Your reader may have opinions on the topic, but they won’t affect your score. Don’t be afraid to say what you really think!
Lecture Slides are screen-captured images of important points in the lecture. Students can download and print out these lecture slide images to do practice problems as well as take notes while watching the lecture.
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