See this? This, my friends, is The Man. Yes, in some cases, The Man is a mean old lady, and this particular old lady, for the next two years of your high school life, is The Man. She’s the one who writes the various standardized tests you’ll be taking in 9th and 10th grade, and she’s the one who grades the essays you write on those tests. (She also poses for stock photos on the weekends.) She’s got some pretty specific things in mind when she’s reading your essays, and it’s my job to make sure you turn her frown upside down with your mad 5-paragraph skillzzz.
(Okay–I must confess that The Man who grades essay exams is not always an elderly lady such as the one pictured. In fact, younger gentlemen with generally sunny dispositions, such as myself, have been known from time to time to grade such exams to earn an extra penny or two to supplement the generous salaries provided us by our state legislators and taxpayers. Anyway, I’m just saying, The Man isn’t always an old lady, if that makes sense.)
So, in class this week we’ve been gathering ideas about the positive and negative aspects of using Catcher in the Rye as a required reading in public schools. Students made pretty extensive lists of pros and cons, and, perhaps not surprisingly, it was a lot easier to come up with reasons to censor the book than reasons to read it. I guess that’s because the negative aspects of the book are so prominent: the constant swearing, illegal behavior, general delinquency, frank sexual discussions, etc. But the ironic thing is that, as far as I can tell, no kid I have every taught has ever thought this book should be banned. It’s funny to ask a class why not, after we’ve gone through all these potentially offensive things, and the general response to that is, “Because we like it!”
But why do you like it? What is it about the book that speaks to you and tells you something useful about yourself and the world you live in? If you can answer those questions, you can come up with the reasons you’ll need to support your opinion in the 5-paragraph-ish essays we’re writing this week.
Here’s an outline of an outline (yeah, that’s what I mean) and a graphic organizer you can use to help you get ready for writing (Persuasive essay outline)–we filled this out in class today–and here’s the actual writing assignment:
Write a persuasive essay to your school’s administration and board expressing your opinion on whether or not Catcher in the Rye should be required reading in your school’s Language Arts classes. Include several reasons and examples why this book should be banned or included.
That’s it, short ‘n’ sweet. Well, “sweet” might be going a bit far…
A couple of things to keep in mind:
- Your introduction should not only state your opinion, it should do something to grab the reader’s attention. Think about what makes you want to read something, and try to replicate that kind of writing in your intro.
- Each body paragraph needs examples to illustrate the main idea of the paragraph. The “example” portion of each paragraph can include:
- analogies (stories from the reading or real life)
- analysis (where you explain what the stories mean, and why they’re relevant
- evidence (statistics, interviews, etc.)
- hypothetical (“What if…” kinds of statements. Many students overuse these–be cautious.)
- It’s good to include some counter-arguments in your paper. Imagine what a person who disagrees with you might say about each point you make. Consider the other opinion, then explain why you still think you’re right.
Yeah, I know. Persuasive essays like this are kind of dumb and artificial, much in the same way political debates and advertisements are insulting to the intelligence, but that’s pretty much what they ask us to do on state tests. That’s not to say that persuasive writing has to be like this. Later on in the semester, we’ll write persuasive essay about issues we (hopefully) really care about, and then hopefully we’ll see how powerful the form can really be. For now, just write yer darned 5 paragraphs and get on with life.