Here's the second sample essay. Print it, read it once straight through, then read it a second time attending to the footnoted comments. Also see the explanation of why this paper would receive a B grade were it to be submitted to me in an English Comp class.
T. R. Burdowski
Dr. Chip Rogers
January 23, 2000
The Battle over the Battle FlagMonth by month last year, the old South Carolina license tags were replaced with new ones, the ones with the pleasant blue mountains framing the numbers and the state tree, the palmetto, and offering the friendly advertisement for the state, "Smiling Faces. Beautiful Places." In recent months, South Carolina has also been getting advertisement of a different sort from the media attention surrounding the Confederate battle flag that has been flying prominently above the state capitol since 1962. All the major networks converged on Columbia for Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday to air the protests of groups urging the state government to remove the "Southern Cross" from its position of honor on the capitol flagpole. These protests revealed to the nation that increasingly hostile battle lines have been drawn over the question of whether or not South Carolina should display this emblem of the 1860s Confederate uprising on government property.1 Many feel strongly that the flag is a symbol of ignorance and racial hatred that should not receive official sanction by being displayed above the home of South Carolina's legislature. Others feel, with equal passion, that the Confederate flag is a positive reminder of the rich cultural and historical heritage on which South Carolina rightly prides itself, and that as such it deserves its place above the capitol building in Columbia.2 This debate over whether or not the Confederate flag belongs on the state's most visible flagpole is perhaps the most compelling issue facing the South Carolina legislature in 2000.3 Should the Confederate battle flag in fact be removed from the South Carolina state capitol?4
Many South Carolinians feel that the Confederate battle flag should be flown proudly on the state capitol as a reminder of South Carolina's heritage as a leader among Southern states.5 As guides tell tourists here in Charleston with verve and pride, South Carolinians fired the first shots on Fort Sumter in the "War of Northern Aggression." And indeed, South Carolina is fortunate to have so much history respected, preserved, and treasured as we do in Charleston and throughout the state. Having the old battle flag featured so prominently on the capitol building is a reminder to South Carolinians and to others of our significant role in standing up for states' rights during the Civil War, and we should be proud of the wealth of important history and Southern tradition we are blessed with in the Palmetto state.6
Proponents of the Confederate flag being displayed on the state capitol also feel that the flag honors the memory of those who died in battle under the banner of the Confederacy during the Civil War. And certainly, as the impact of the Vietnam memorial wall upon those who lost loved ones in that unpopular war illustrates vividly, it is important that we honor all Americans who died in service of our country. Flying the Confederate flag over the state capitol does indeed offer a memorial reminder for the descendants of the men and women in gray who died fighting for the independence of the Southern states.7
South Carolina leaders such as Senator Arthur Ravenel argue that taking down the Confederate battle flag in response to the recent political pressure of groups such as the NAACP would be a sign of weakness. They say that "we will not be forced into going against our principles, and we will not be discouraged from exercising our rights as a state by boycotts and other threats from any outside groups whatsoever." It is unquestionably true that South Carolina's elected state officials should rule by their own convictions, and on matters of state policy they should certainly not bow to outside interests when those interests conflict with the interests of South Carolina and South Carolinians.
Of course, we must remember that the Civil War was an unsuccessful rebellion against the United States of America, and that the war was fought for the Southern states' right to practice the morally abhorrent institution of slavery more than any other "states' rights."8 And considering that the abortive Confederacy was quashed some 135 years ago now, there may be some legitimacy in the complaints of those who believe the Confederate flag should not be displayed above the capitol in Columbia. Further, since there are relatively very few descendants of Confederate soldiers who even know the names of their ancestors who fought and died for the failed Confederacy, there is some question as to how important it is that our state government use the capitol building itself to honor the Confederate dead who were born mostly in the 1830s and 1840sthose soldiers whose great-great-great-grandchildren are likely to be the only descendants now living. And one wonders whether state senators should stubbornly refuse to bend to outside pressure as a matter of pride when those outside groups may be right, and when those outside groups may actually be serving the interests of the state's citizens more effectively than the state's elected officials are.
One compelling reason many, and according to the polls, most South Carolinians feel the Confederate flag should not be displayed on the state capitol is that the flag serves as a constant reminder of the racist oppression that the Civil War was actually all about.9 The Confederate states did not try to secede from the Union as a matter of honor in upholding the principle that it was a state's right to govern itself so much as because they felt their way of life economically was being threatened by those who wanted to abolish slavery. The institution of slavery depended upon the racist notion that Africans and African Americans were basically ignorant animals and not human beings with the souls, intellects, and feelings of white Americans. For many Americans, black and white, and even those who speak loudest in defense of the individual's right to express the most offensive personal opinions, it is highly inappropriate that our state government officially sanction the flag as a "proud" reminder of a way of life that we all now recognize as utterly, morally wrong. The way of life glorified by those who cling to the notion that the Confederacy fought against the Union for "honor and Southern gentility" was built upon the subjugation of one race to anotherpurely on the basis of race. Will there be some state or province in Germany in the year 2080 arguing about whether or not their house of regional government should be flying the Swastika in remembrance of great-great-great-grandfathers who died serving their misguided fatherland back in the Second World War? We can only hope not.
The proponents of the Confederate flag flying on the state capitol as an emblem of pride in their heritage have to ask themselves why they feel it important to show so much pride in a "gloriously" failed attempt to keep black Americans enslaved, since, again, the institution of slavery is what the Confederacy wanted to protect above all else. Most people who claim that the Civil War was not fundamentally about slavery and racism are either unschooled in history or are not being truly honest with themselves. Senator Arthur Ravenel, who vehemently stands by his statement calling the NAACP the "National Association of American Retarded People," may have had a great-great-great-grandfather who once said something along the lines of, "No dadgum fools from the 'United States of Abolitionists' have the right to tell me I can't use a whip to force my nigras I inherited from my pappy to work my fields and cook my food for me." Our elected officials should each and all be asked what they think the battle flag of the Confederacy symbolizes to the millions of black South Carolinians whose ancestors were freed by the Union's victory in the Civil War. Perhaps instead of the proposed compromise measure that the Confederate flag be removed to a memorial site on the capitol grounds, a more appropriate compromise could be reached: above the Confederate flag and beneath the state flag on the state capitol's flagpole we could also fly a banner bearing an image of Abraham Lincoln signing the constitutional amendment that freed so many South Carolina slaves.
Another reason many South Carolinians may feel the Confederate flag should be removed from the state capitol is that even if for better or for worse it is a symbol of South Carolina's heritage, it is more often seen today as an emblem of cultural backwardness or simple ignorance.10 For the fact is, when it is not flying on state capitols, the rebel flag is seen most often proudly displayed in front of the gun rack in the rear window of a pickup truck driven by someone who is making the statement that he is proud of being a "country boy," and who sometimes is proclaiming boldly and openly that he does not like black peopleor at the least that he has not thought deeply about what the Confederacy meant to black Americans in the 1860s. These proud individual fliers of the Confederate flag are perfectly within their rights to display their pride in their heritage. Those who wear the Southern Cross tattooed with pride on their forearms and unfurled proudly over the grilles of their big rigs and on the rear windows of their pickups should be commended in all sincerity for not bowing to the pressures of "political correctness" and for expressing themselves in open, honest fashion. These are not the bigots and racists who hide behind masks and white robes and express their hatred of blacks and Jews and others only in KKK rallies, are they?
But these individuals are not the state government, and what an individual is entitled to express is not necessarily what a state government should express, especially the government of a state the large majority of whose electorate believes that such expression of backwardness and ignorance is inappropriate. The most recent poll indicates that two-thirds of South Carolinians want the flag removed from the capitol. Do any of the state officials in favor of flying the Confederate flag on the state capitol have front-bumper license plates of the "Southern Cross"? Do any of our elected officials drive cars with numbers painted on the doors and have bimbo sisters that wear high heels and "Daisy Dukes" shorts? Do any of our elected officials give their cars, the ones with the numbers painted on the doors, names such as "General Lee" like the Duke boys did on the old television show The Dukes of Hazzard? Quite possibly.
We are the voters who elected our South Carolina legislators, and according to the standardized tests, we South Carolinians rank consistently in the neighborhood of 49th out of the 50 states in education. As a whole, we South Carolinians are often perceived by the rest of the country as backwards. We are seen as uneducated and ignorant, and so long as we keep flying the rebel flag on our state capitol we send a message to ourselves and to the nation that we are "damned proud" of our ignorant backwardness. "It don't bother us none," we are effectively saying, "that we are the only state that don't have a holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr., nosirree, or that our younguns rank 49th in schoolin'. Hell, sometimes we're 48th. But schoolin' ain't a sign of intelligence, don't you know. And them tests is unfair as all hellfire. Us, and Art Ravenel, and probably his great-great-great-grandpappy, too, we're damn proud. Just look at our state capitol and see how proud we are. And don't tell us what to do with our government flagpoles. We know what to do with flags and flagpoles and we have good ideas where to put 'em. Our SAT scorse was up oneced or twiced in the past, and we're smart enuff to cook our own goose when we catch it and pluck it. We hate when damn yankees think that Dukes of Hazzard is real, but vote Ravenel, by God."
South Carolina is rich in history and heritage, and we should always glory in that richness.11 We should always honor our ancestors, even if they believed in and died for causes that history has taught us were terribly wrong. As a state, we should govern ourselves by our own consciences and not bow to outside pressure. But we should be wise enough to recognize our flaws and our mistakes, and have gumption enough to work on our flaws and to correct our mistakes when we make them. Flying the Confederate battle flag over our state capitol building is a mistake, and so long as we continue to keep it there for South Carolinians and for others to see, we should be ashamed. The Confederate battle flag should be removed immediately from the state capitol, because it is an embarrassing emblem not of South Carolina's rich and glorious past but of racist oppression and the sort of ignorance we should be ashamed of having associated with our state.12 The mountains and the beaches of South Carolina we advertise on our license plates are certainly beautiful places. Are our smiling faces the faces of warm and friendly people in the best Southern tradition? Or are we smiling the vacant, stupid smiles of ignorance in the worst "Southern tradition" of The Dukes of Hazzard? We should pay attention to what our elected representatives in Columbia are saying about the Confederate battle flag in the coming days and weeks, and if we're not registered to vote already, we should register soon so that we can vote out the rebel flag and its embarrassing supporters at the very soonest opportunity.
1. All of the introduction to this point is essentially common ground, neutral statements of fact or background that people on both sides of the flag controversy would certainly agree upon.
2. These last two sentences provide common ground as well, because they are statements of fact, but they define the fundamental views of the two sides of the argument and set up the central lines of argument the rest of the paper will follow.
3. This sentence is significant because it suggests the importance of the issue being discussedthat is, it suggests that the issue is one that deserves our thoughtful attention.
4. Here is the intro question. Note that it is the last sentence in the introductory paragraph and that it is stated as a literal question, a sentence ending in a question mark.
5. Here the first opposing view is expressed. Note that the topic sentence of the paragraph answers the intro question directly by saying that some feel the flag should be flown on the state capitol and offering their reasoning: the flag is an important reminder of South Carolina history and heritage.
6. Following the topic sentence, the paragraph elaborates and expands upon the opposing viewpoint, offering brief explanation of why some might think it appropriate that the flag be displayed with pride on the state capitol.
7. Note that this paragraph and the one following both open with strong topic sentences indicating 2nd and 3rd opposing viewpoints, and that each paragraph elaborates and explains those viewpoints.
8. This paragraph offers refutation of the different opposing views point by point and serves as transition between the opposing views and the author's views. Not all essays in the persuasive format will have a separate paragraph of concession and/or refutation. Compare the refutation here against that within the two opposing views paragraphs in the first sample essay.
9. This topic sentence presents the author's first main point, that the flag should not be flown above the state capitol because it is a symbol of racist oppression. Note that the topic sentence answers the intro question directly.
10. Here is the author's second main point. Note that it, too, answers the intro question directly.
11. Note the return to common ground in the opening sentences of the conclusion.
12. Here is the paper's thesis statement. This sentence offers the fullest direct answer to the central stated (intro) question, "should the Confederate battle flag be removed from our state capitol?"
If this paper were submitted to me in an English Comp class, I would give it a B. I would explain to Mr. Burdowski that his essay is generally strong in following the persuasive format, and I would compliment him on writing a thoughtful and engaging paper very strong in grammar and mechanics. For the most part, the essay is excellent. But the paper would not receive an A grade for the following primary reasons:
- It is much longer than the typical length for most of our assignments.
- While it may be engaging and entertaining to some, it may be less than truly persuasive in the end because it is likely to offend some of the author's opponents rather than persuade them, particularly when he gets carried away in the zealousness of his argument. Our aim is to present rational and logical arguments, and Mr. Burdowski seems at points to get overly contentious and emotional. At times he is unnecessarily insulting in his personal assault on Senator Ravenel and in his offensive stereotyping of individuals who display the battle flag on themselves and their vehicles.
- Some of the sentences and paragraphs are long-windedcloser editing to eliminate overly complex sentences and wordiness would improve the writing substantially.
- There is some confusion or awkwardness in the essay's paragraph structure: 1) paragraphs 2-4 seem out of balance with most of the other paragraphsa bit too brief, in some respectsthis weakness is relatively minor here; 2) The essay loses the tightness of its focus as it gets further into the argument: strictly speaking, the 7th, 9th, and 10th paragraphs do not fit as absolutely essential parts of the argument according to the persuasive format. Here, too, is some diluted repetition of the same fundamental point, that the Civil War was not about states' rights but about states' right to practice slavery. And here in these paragraphs is where Mr. Burdowski gets most carried away.