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First Essay Assignment

At home in South Bend.  It is snowing again and I haven’t seen the sun for days. To lighten up my life, I decide to host a dinner party. I invite my two close friends, Justin and Taylor, as well as my newest friend, you.

Something has been weighing on my mind all semester.  After engaging in some routine pleasantries, I decide to share a secret with my guests. “Friends,” I begin, “I have been pursuing research on the topic of internet surveillance in the U.S. and I have made a disturbing discovery.  For some time now, the CIA has been monitoring a group of home-grown Nazis with ties to terroristic fascist groups in Europe. Yet as you know, the Agency is prohibited by law from engaging in any form of domestic intelligence-gathering activity.  Thus, I feel I have no choice but to publish my discovery on my blog.  What do you think?”

Justin turns to me with shock on his face:  “What on earth are you contemplating, McAdams?  What you propose will endanger public safety by revealing information about the war against terrorism that is designed to protect us all. Resist the temptation and delete your blog now!”

Stunned by Justin’s response, Taylor breaks in:  “You’re being completely ridiculous, Justin.  Don’t you see that McAdams is acting in the best spirit of liberal democracy?  He is doing a public service by revealing that our government is violating our rights as citizens.  By all means, McAdams, put the information on your blog so that every American can see this offense!”

I have always known that Taylor’s and Justin’s competitive instincts have made for a fragile relationship. After all, they are artists! But abruptly, they turn to me and demand that I resolve the dispute. Fearing that I will alienate both of them, I pass the buck to you. “Well, my new friend, who is right, Taylor or Justin?  And please don’t waffle on your position.  They want a clear and unambiguous answer and they want it now!”



Please respond to this question by taking a firm and unequivocal stand on who is right, Taylor or Justin.  Feel free to use any of your course readings (e.g., Mill, Bradbury, Kingdon) to justify your argument.  Do NOT undertake any additional reading or research.

This assignment is designed to teach you while you are thinking and writing. These skills will be important to you throughout your college (and life) experience.

First, we are challenging you to make and defend an argument. A persuasive argument always involves two considerations: 1) a clear statement of where you stand and why; and 2) an explanation for why you are taking this position instead of the rival one. As every good attorney, climatologist, and football coach knows, a successful argument or strategy is always based upon anticipating the counterargument or counterstrategy that will be raised against it.

Second, we are challenging you to drive to the heart of a significant issue and not to drift from one point to another. Thus, it will not be sufficient for you simply to describe what you have read or heard. We are asking you to demonstrate that you truly understand the issue.

We will evaluate your essay according to three criteria: the clarity and consistency of your argument; your use of readings, lectures, and discussion sections to back up your points concretely; and, importantly, your demonstrated ability to think for yourself.  Remember:  if you are not sure what you are saying, we will not be sure what you are saying either. Explain yourself and do so in the clearest possible fashion!

When referring to your readings, please use any simple citation form (e.g., author and page). It’s fine to use short quotations, but indicate why you are using them. Quotations do not speak for themselves.

Finally, don’t forget the Shaker hymn: “ ‘Tis a joy to be simple . . .”  State your argument boldly; justify it in a logical fashion; when you are done, stop.

The Honor Code to which you have affixed your signature applies! It’s fine with me if you discuss this assignment with your classmates. However, your essay and argument must be absolutely, completely, and unmistakably your own work.

Some words of advice.

Read this assignment closely the moment you receive it. It may seem complicated at first. But if you allow its elements to percolate in your head, you will find that they all flow together.

Do not put this assignment off until the last moment. If you do so, you will not be a happy camper and neither will we.  Write a first draft, put it aside, the re-read and write some more, etc.

Requirements and Deadline
: This essay may be no more than three (3) double-spaced, typed pages (12 point font).  You must send an attachment of your essay to your TA no later than 12:00 noon on Friday, February 16. To give you time to focus on the essay, we will not hold discussion sections on this date.  Your TA’s contact information is on the right-hand column of this page. Late papers will be docked 1/3 of a letter grade for each day they are late.

Good luck!  AJM

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