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Essays for Academic Discourse

Mirror Sites:
CSUDH Habermas UWP

California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: May 21, 2001
Latest update: May 21, 2001
E-Mailjeannecurran@habermas.org

What Not to Write for an Essay

On May 21, 2001, a student wrote:

I am so pleased that we were able to have a class discussion on our children and our jails. I felt when do we decide when our kids become adults before or after pulling the trigger was an excellent title for the discussion. Yes we do spend too much money on jails and not enough on education. It would be better if we spent more money on schools and less on jails. However, I need to understand something and I hope you can elaborate on it. If the kids continue to commit crimes that adults do, what should we do with them?

On May 21, 2001, jeanne responded:

"I am so pleased that we were able to have a class discussion on our children and our jails."

jeanne's comment:

This is not a business letter in which you are engaging in social niceties. I'm glad that you're pleased, but where does that get us? The topic you delineate: our "children and our jails" is so broad that it doesn't begin to describe the sociodrama to which I presume you are referring. This means that the whole first sentence basically doesn't tell me anything about your learning. Try something like: On Wednesday we did an impromptu sociodrama on a meeting of staff, parents, and counselors with an elementary school child who was refusing to conform to class rules.

"I felt when do we decide when our kids become adults before or after pulling the trigger was an excellent title for the discussion."

jeanne's comment:

What did whether or not to try a child as an adult have to do with the sociodrama we did? And why would we need a title for a sociodrama we did weeks ago?

" Yes we do spend too much money on jails and not enough on education. It would be better if we spent more money on schools and less on jails."

jeanne's comment:

Where did the issue of relative amounts of money spent on education and jails come from? How does this relate to the previous sentences?

"However, I need to understand something and I hope you can elaborate on it. If the kids continue to commit crimes that adults do, what should we do with them?"

jeanne's comment:

This is not a concluding sentence. It merely suggests a new topic

I cannot discern anything that you learned from this paragraph. It doesn't define a concept, or apply an idea we discussed, or draw any conclusions. So it doesn't help me understand your learning. The reason that you send me e-mail is so that you can tell me what you have learned.

Try taking something you learned in class and discussing it in a way that lets me see your learning. For example:

"It is tempting to try a child as an adult when he/she has committed a horrendous wrong. But there are many problems with this approach:

  • A child is not a miniature adult. The child's mind and body are developing. Mere housing in an adult institution is problematic, since adult needs do not generally correspond to youthful needs.
  • A child's judgment is in the process of maturing. Our justice system assumes that the perpetrator is competent to make judgments of right and wrong. But that entails an understanding of the maturity available to the individual for making such decisions.
  • Our discussion highlighted the discrepancies that occur when we assume that the child thinks and responds like an adult. We discovered how easy it was to be empathetic with physiologic needs, only to react with inflexibility towards the child's imperfectly mature judgment.

This essay consists of a related set of sentences around a single idea, and draws some conclusion.