Sample Essay

Essay 1
Sample Essay
Professor Iwamizu
English 1A
20 April 2009
Class Cutting: The Reality of Social Oppression and Achievement
Benjamin R. Barber’s article “America Skips School” provokes its audience through the
devices of guilt and shame manipulation. In his thirty-two paragraph incantation, Barber strums
the familiar melodies of racial oppression, vocational education, and media-blaming as proof of
the American education system’s failure. His drum-banging falls on the ears of the already guiltridden white upper middle class, who see social programs and supports as the answer to a
perpetual system imbalance that keeps social hierarchies constant. In his essay, Barber uses the
rhetorical devices of pathos, ethos, and logos to persuade suburban mothers that the ails of the
inner-city are reparable by the Great White Hope on the other side of town, a savior to the poor
man’s plight, like Michelle Pfeiffer in “Dangerous Minds”. But no lie could be more deleterious.
The notion that urban plagues will be solved by none other than the so-called helpless victims,
who breed and encourage victimhood, themselves is blatantly illogical and offensive to the
sensibilities of those who pay taxes to support our aching social programs. We walk the delicate
balance of capitalism and socialism, constantly evaluating our beliefs about those who suffer
socioeconomically among us.
Barber uses pathos to bring his audience to a complete whimper before he offers his own
flimsy prophylactic solutions to cover-up the truth about inner-city children’s performance. He
hopes to secure readers’ plunge into White Guilt mode by first securing a fiendish image of the
urban child as a gangster, criminal, junkie, and derelict. Through the use of tabloid-derived
Essay 2
statistics, Barber frets us into believing me that “gangs in the schoolyard, drugs in the classroom,
children doing babies instead of homework, [and] playground firefights featuring Uzis and
Glocks” (par. 3) are the norm for urban schools. A mere flit of one’s eyes in the direction of an
inner-city public school will return, according to Barber, a mouth-gaping scenario of a desperate
wasteland. This image of impending doom cements the confused fear, anguish, and concern to
which those struggling from White Guilt succumb. Moreover, Barber stirs the ever-brewing pot
of racial tension by playing the overplayed and antiquated “race card”. He brings down the gavel
on compassionate conservatism by immediately identifying the room’s proverbial elephant. He
warns, “A lot of the dropouts will end up in prison, which is a surer bet for young black males
than college: one in four will pass through the correctional system, and at least two out of those
will be dropouts” (par. 2). And the audience heaves a collective shriek, shaking their heads in
disdain and pity for the helplessly frail black male victim. While this strategy certainly panders
to Barber’s audience, it further cripples the already victimized black male who craves uplifting,
not sympathetic votes, policies, and programs in his disfavor. Once in full stride, at the height of
his essay, Barber saddles the heavy burden of shame onto his audience further by concluding
about “our” (or White) young adults will “write off school” and “probably write off blacks as
well” “[i]f they observe their government spending up to $35,000 a year to keep a young black
behind bars but a fraction of that to keep him in school” (par. 12). This strikes at the very moral
fiber of the reader, who spent the “licentious Sixties” championing Civil Rights and diversity
only to have her convictions erode once she is now an “aging hipp[y]” (par. 7). Securing his
reader’s emotional incapacity to discern truth from fabrication, Barber furthers his Democrat
agenda by providing a flawed portrait of his own credibility.
Essay 3
Barber’s attempts at ethos codify the obtuseness with which Barber presents his
shortcomings, or arguments. He begins providing his credentials by rattling off bemusing
abstractions, like “I have spent thirty years as a scholar examining the nature of democracy, and
even more as a citizen optimistically celebrating its possibilities” (par. 6). Of course, neither
Barber’s survey nor his enthusiasm amount to a substantial degree to support his grandiose
claims. Along with his feel-good references to Tocqueville, Rousseau, and Voltaire, Barber
grandstands the liberal arts training he has and the vocabulary with which it affords him. He uses
terms like “pedagogues”, “nihilistic”, and “captious” to display his verbal range in full color
while wowing his audience much like a magical illusion tricks a group of impressionable fiveyear-olds. These larger-than-life statements make Barber like a grand puba before his now
practically bumbling readership. “How this captious literature reeks of hypocrisy!” (par. 8) he
exclaims with all the full patriarchal authority of someone with a thirty-year history of waxing
poetic about democracy. Not only does Barber establish his credibility through the use of
dissertation jargon, he also flashes around trumped-up statistics that have all the flair of a fake
Rolex watch.
Finally, Barber utilizes logos in his desperate attempts to woo and convict his audience
simultaneously. His statistics are never supportive; they are snippets of veracity that
conglomerate into Barber’s web of fantasy. In the very opening of his essay, Barber tosses
nuggets of truth, couched in statistical formulas, to shock his unsuspecting readers. “Fewer than
20 percent of those surveyed could compare two metaphors in a poem” (par. 1) is the claim
meant to outrage the undiscriminating reader. Never mind the fact that poetic analysis is hardly a
job or career skill; even less is it a rite of passage for citizens to master poetic metaphor. And the
questions arising about a society that focuses more on metaphor than reality fail to surface for the
Essay 4
reader/victim. Becoming deeper indoctrinated into Barber’s illegitimate claims, the reader is fed
a paradox cloaked in data, meant to dupe the reader into holding conflicting ideas. He asserts,
“teachers make less than accountants, architects, doctors, lawyers, engineers, judges, health
professionals, auditors, and surveyors,” a claim which—upon hearing—is supposed to arouse
automatic mob-think. Then, in juxtaposition, he offers, “American children are in school only
about 180 days a year, as against 240 days or more for children in Europe or Japan” (par. 3),
which falls in perfect contrast to the aforementioned career professionals, many of whom work
seventy plus hours weekly and fifty weeks annually. No one dares to ask if it’s even logical for
teachers who work 180 days out of a 260-day potential work year to make the same as doctors or
lawyers. But this habit of accepting disfigured and irrelevant facts is not beyond Barber’s
optimistically liberal audience. He easily scapegoats everyone but the real culprit yet again when
he begins lambasting the media. He takes from Lifetime Learning Systems the sound byte that
“’kids spend 40 percent of each day” at school; it is Barber, though, who presumes that the
corporation owns the rest of the child’s mind. And at 60%, the default rate at which his readers
would arrive based upon Barber’s piece-meal claim, the reader is sent into full outrage at the
notion that his/her children (and let’s not forget those poor, despairing ghetto kids) are owned by
the media, fed its ideals more than they are spooned the ideals of liberal socialism.