Diagnostic Impromptu Debriefing

First, I was impressed with the essays in general considering they were diagnostics! Most people were in the 5 range, which may seem only average, but that is higher than the first essays from years past. So, good job!

If  You Do Nothing Else…

By far the biggest problem with the essays were lack of specific details. As the grading form says, that the MINIMUM is two specific examples in EACH body paragraph (more for an upper third score). So, what is a specific detail? Simple. Only three things “count” as a specific detail:

  • Facts
  • Events
  • Quotes

Since it is unlikely that you will be able to quote something in this type of essay (unless you have some quotes memorized, which we will work on this year), you need to concentrate on facts and events. Many people hinted at specific examples by saying something like:
“One example of the problem with dissent is Congress. There is so much gridlock caused by dissent that nothing can get accomplished.” This isn’t specific enough. You need to explain a specific bill, law, whatever that was stalled by dissent–and you need to be correct!

So where do you get these facts and events? You CAN get them from personal experience. But more likely, you will get them from things you are studying in this class or other classes. The readings that I am assigning you–both the common class readings and the independent reading you’re doing for your research blogs–are the weapons in your essay-writing arsenal. But don’t only think of this class. Also remember what you’re reading about in your other classes. AP Gov. and APUSH are perfect compliments to this class. So tomorrow when you take the test, ask yourself what Plato or Machiavelli or the political figure you read about this summer would say about the topic. Think about what newspaper articles you read that you can apply. And think about what you are learning about in your other classes.

Not All Specific Examples Are Created  Equally, Though…

However, please do NOT use these events or facts related to these events:

  • 9/11
  • the Holocaust

The ONLY way you should use these as an example is if the prompt actually ASKS about the Holocaust or 9/11. Otherwise, they are so typical that they sound cliche…which means they sound insincere.

General Comments About the Type of Prompt…

This prompt was argumentative. Whenever the wording is “defend, challenge, or qualify,” or “develop a position” or “take a position,” the prompt is asking you to form an opinion and defend it. In general, when presented with this type of prompt you want to:

  • Refute, if possible
  • Defend, if you must
  • Qualify as a last resort

Why? When you defend–or agree–with the prompt, you run the risk of either simply summarizing the information in the prompt or of writing an exemplification essay instead of an argumentative one. (Several people had this problem with the diagnostic.) If you qualify, you run the risk of sounding wishy-washy or, worse, of confusing the reader about what side you’re taking.

Remember, there are no AP Police who will hunt you down and grill you about whether you actually BELIEVE what you argued. The point is to write a strong argument!

Whatever you do, make sure that you have a CLEAR, STRONG THESIS in your introduction. This usually means you must do more than just restate the prompt! You should also avoid LISTING THESES! (The three reasons why I agree are ____, ____, and ____.) In fact, it is time to move beyond the 5 paragraph essay entirely. Upper third essays typically are NOT 5 paragraph essays, which sound formulaic, no matter what you do with them.

Notes on This Prompt Specifically

This prompt specifically asked you to “defend, challenge or qualify Boorstin’s distinction” between disagreement and dissent. That means, it was asking you whether you agreed or not with his DEFINITION of the words. Very few people actually responded to that. Instead, people tended to respond to Boorstin’s entire premise, which was that disagreement is democracy’s “life-blood;” dissent its “cancer.” I accepted that–even though that wasn’t really what was asked. It seemed to me that including the excerpted paragraphs from Boorstin’s book really lead the writer in that direction.

However, if you chose to respond to Boorstin’s entire idea rather than just his distinction between dissent and disagreement, then you also had to stick to the function of dissent and disagreement in a DEMOCRACY. Some people used specific examples…but they were from situations which did not relate directly to democracy. These would have been off topic.

For those people who agreed with  Boorstin’s argument, common examples that were used effectively were stalemates in Congress/the fillabuster and the Civil War. For those who disagreed with Boorstin’s argument, the most obvious example that was used effectively was that our country was literally founded on dissent (Revolutionary War).

Finally, you must show a clear, correct understanding of the quote or excerpt that you are responding to. Some people seemed to misunderstand the excerpt, to misunderstand Boorstin’s distinction between the words. Misunderstanding the quote/excerpt will always be problematic. One way to make sure that the reader  knows YOU know what the quote/excerpt means is to summarize it in your introduction.

Good luck tomorrow!


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