Argument Clarity

Spell It Out

The following paragraph contains plenty of argument elements but doesn’t guide readers to a clear understanding of its thesis.

The 2001 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was created to not improve the reading and math skills of all American students, and also to “close the academic achievement gap that exists by race and class” through education reforms. It has not met either goal. The creators of this act believed that an improvement in education could be represented by a single test score. They came together and created standardized tests by using strictly numbers and statistics. A child’s education cannot be defined by just test scores and grades.

Several points are apparently made here: 1) NCLB has not improved reading and math skills. 2) NCLB has not narrowed the achievement gap. 3) The program’s creators are wrong to think their tests measure educational improvement.

What’s not clear from your paragraph is whether test scores have improved, or whether they’ve improved more for advantaged students than for disadvantaged students, or equally for both. Also unclear is how the author knows the program has failed and how the author means they’ve failed. He doesn’t say no skills have improved. He doesn’t say whether everybody’s scores improved but that the gap hasn’t narrowed. He doesn’t say what’s wrong with using tests to measure effectiveness.

You may object that “This is just the introduction; I’ll be proving and explaining everything in the body paragraphs,” but that misunderstands the value of an introduction to preview <em>in very brief but specific detail</em> the primary thrust of your argument. You don’t need to spell out all your reasoning or supply your evidence in your opening, but you do need to tell a clear narrative.

Given the three possible ways to interpret this opening paragraph, here are three possible introductions that could get the argument off to a stronger start.

1. If the test scores haven’t improved:

The 2001 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA) was created to improve reading and math skills of all American students, and also to “close the academic achievement gap that exists by race and class” through education reform. It has accomplished neither goal. Overall, American students don’t read better or calculate better than they did in 2001, as their test scores clearly show. What’s more, the gap between disadvantaged students and those students privileged by race and class has widened rather than narrowed. Even if standardized test scores were a good measure of academic accomplishment—and they’re not—NCLB would have to be called a failure twelve years after its adoption.

2. If scores have improved, but the author disputes the value of standardized testing:

The 2001 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA) was created to improve reading and math skills of all American students, and also to “close the academic achievement gap that exists by race and class” through education reform. Despite the improved scores on standardized tests over the past 12 years, NCLB has accomplished neither goal. Overall, American students don’t read better or calculate better than they did in 2001; they’re just better at taking tests. Educators know well that they can easily achieve test score improvements if that’s their only goal. Most take their jobs more seriously than that, and devote themselves to actually educating their students by helping them develop flexible learning and problem-solving techniques. Rote learning of a few basic concepts—”the ones that will be on the test”—is no substitute for a well-rounded exposure to academic subject matter, reasoning, and learning skills.

1. If the test scores have improved for some schools, but not others:

The 2001 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA) was created to improve reading and math skills of all American students, and also to “close the academic achievement gap that exists by race and class” through education reform. It has accomplished neither goal. Although some schools score higher on the standardized tests designed to measure success, overall, American students don’t read better or calculate better than they did in 2001. What’s more, the gap between disadvantaged students and those students privileged by race and class has widened rather than narrowed. Nothing in the Act provides assistance of any kind to students in those disadvantaged schools; it merely mandates that they improve. Even worse, it diabolically punishes schools that don’t achieve higher test scores by diverting their federal aid to the schools that do improve, virtually guaranteeing that the “achievement gap” will widen as the years go on.

Classroom Exercise

Instead of reacting to a sample Definition Argument introduction, let’s listen to what amounts to a very heated definition argument I heard on radio recently that equates a particular sort of doctor visit with rape.

The conversation was about requirements some states are placing on doctors to perform a more invasive ultrasound on women requesting abortions than the benign “jelly on the belly” technique we all recognize. The procedure now required involves an instrument insertion that civil rights advocates are characterizing as “state-sponsored rape” of the women who must submit to it or carry their pregnancies to term.

If you think Definition Essays are vapid academic exercises in semantics, take a listen to the passion raised by this definition problem.

Then, in the comments section below, write a one-paragraph introduction to one of two possible arguments:

  1. that the procedure is in fact a “rape”; or:
  2. that the overzealous civil rights activists are letting their emotions get in the way of reason.

Here’s a link to a summary and a transcript of the broadcast in case you need to refer to it to write your introduction.

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About davidbdale

Inventor of and sole practitioner of 299-word Very Short Novels. www.davidbdale.wordpress.com
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8 Responses to Argument Clarity

  1. primav01 says:

    Although this procedure does not particularly sound like a case of “rape,” it does sound like a violation of the patients’ rights. As the FBI has changed their definition of rape to something that would actually qualify this procedure as rape, it should be taken seriously and not practiced by physicians. Of course the doctors are not trying to “rape” or make their patient uncomfortable about what is going on, but there are some states that require this procedure under law in order to proceed with abortion processes. All in all, if a woman is forced to intake something vaginally in order to go through with abortion processes, it should be considered a violation to their rights and stopped because there is another form of the process to get an abortion that does not violate the woman.
    -Dan Primavera

    • davidbdale says:

      This starts very strong, Dan, and never gets really bad, but it does lose its focus a bit as it proceeds. The first sentence is just right: a sharp distinction that is the gist of good argument. Your next two sentences identify doctors as the victims of conflicting requirements. They’re obligated by law to perform a procedure that the FBI and their patients might consider criminal. You don’t say it this way, but you could. “Should be stopped” is an unclear proposal that weakens the overall strength of your contribution here. Are you proposing doctors refuse to perform the ultrasounds, or refuse only if their patients object? Or are you proposing that the states should relent and not demand this particular test? It’s OK to say “there’s another test,” but doctors in states that require this one can’t just choose to ignore the law.

  2. If a woman doesn’t give consent to someone whether they are a doctor to penetrate their vaginal, then they do not have to have that done. These ultrasound laws which force woman to give doctors consent to essentially rape them by the FBI’s definition. This is no doubt state sponsored rape because someone in this case the government is forcing a woman to have a probe penetrate them. And rape is defined as “the penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part of object or oral penetration without the consent of the victim.” So, if the woman doesn’t want to get “raped” then the patient should not have to undergo this procedure.

    • davidbdale says:

      I won’t quibble about the quirks in your syntax, Anthony, because that’s not what this assignment is about, but if you wish to review it with me, I’d be happy to help you untangle some of the language that will slow your readers down or make them scratch their heads.

      Your first sentence makes clear you think women should not have to undergo this procedure, but you don’t offer a way out. You can assert that they “don’t have to do it,” but the fact is they’re forced to choose between submitting to the ultrasound or suffering an unwanted pregnancy. That’s a choice so unpleasant it might be called force. You do in fact call the procedure rape, which makes it even odder that you’d say the woman “doesn’t have to have it done.” If that were true, the procedure never would be done, but it is.

      Your last sentence is a slight but important variation on your first sentence. Your first says they “don’t have to have it done,” which indicates they have a choice. Your last says they “shouldn’t have to undergo it,” which indicates that they do have to undergo it. It’s fine to say they shouldn’t be raped, but first you have to declare whether they are or they aren’t. Does that make sense?

  3. clarkn92 says:

    A woman does not need do anything she does not want to do. If she does not want a doctor to penetrate her vaginal area then she can choose not to have that done. Rape is defined as “the penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part of object or oral penetration without the consent of the victim.” If the patient feels uncomfortable or does not give consent, then this could be considered rape. Each patient has rights and if the doctor or anyone else for that matter takes away those rights or makes the patient feel violated then this can be considered rape due to the definition. The woman should not have to feel that she has to undergo the procedure if she does not feel necessary for her to do so if she does not want to.

    • davidbdale says:

      Your first two sentences make a vivid, clear claim that the woman is in control of her choices here, Nicole. That’s a good start. You mystify the criteria a bit when you offer both “does not give consent” and “feels uncomfortable” as sufficient criteria for rape. Feels uncomfortable is too weak to qualify, don’t you think? There must be common gynecological procedures that create discomfort but that wouldn’t be considered rape by anyone, aren’t there? I promise you I’m uncomfortable during a digital prostate exam, but I don’t have my doctor arrested.

      “Can be considered” rape is a little squishy too. It doesn’t indicate at all (which it should) whether you consider it rape. The argument is yours to make. Appealing to what others consider has its place, but it doesn’t make claims for you.

      Read that last sentence again, Nicole. It seems to go on about one clause too long.

      You could easily tighten this up and make it much more effective, but you’ll have to offer some sort of resolution. Should these women forgo desired abortions? Should the states change their laws? Should women be given an option for the less invasive ultrasound? Should the doctors relax the regulations and risk sanctions? Something.

  4. Rory says:

    In a case like this, consent isn’t a straight forward notion that people once thought it was. The woman wants an abortion, but must first have an invasive ultrasound. Not many women are ok with this, mostly because there is a less invasive ultrasound method. Because the women want an abortion so badly they may agree to undergoing this procedure, even if they think it is an invasion of their body. The FBI defines rape as “Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” These women will never agree to this unnecessary procedure because it is an unnecessary invasion of their body, and they only do so to get an abortion. In the NPR clip an ultrasound technician said that in all her practice only one woman had changed her mind over getting the abortion. This law is put in place to act as an abortion deterrent, yet it has only stopped maybe a couple of abortions. The law clearly doesn’t perform its intended role and causes women to feel violated in the process, leaving other to wonder why it’s even enforced at all.

  5. justinbaker2007 says:

    A woman’s body is hers and hers alone. She should not have to have anything inserted into it that she would not want. Rape is defined as “the penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part of object or oral penetration without the consent of the victim.” What is happening to a woman who does not want this ultrasound done is rape. Doctors should not have to force something into their patients that their patients do not want. Although this procedure is not sexual, the definition does not indicate that the penetration has to be sexual. Women have rights and this law violates them.

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