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Sample Student Paper: Rebuttal

Joe Shmoe

Professor Karpowicz

English 101

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No Illusions About Today’s College Students

Jaime M. O’Neill, an experienced teacher at a small college, speculates in his essay “No Allusions in the Classroom” that college students today lack a basic understanding of history, geography, and literature. Although O’Neill cleverly argues his point that students hide their ignorance from teachers whose duty it is to reveal and address it, he weakens his argument by using insufficient and unrepresentative samples. The result is an article that is entertaining but lacks the logical support needed to make it a good piece of argumentative writing.

One of the argument’s weaknesses is that it relies on an insufficient sample. O’Neill’s sample consists of only the “26 students in [his] class . . . [who] range in age from 18 to 54 . . . [and who] had completed at least one quarter of college-level work” (30). O’Neill bases his broad conclusion that college students lack basic knowledge of historical and global events on the responses to an eighty-six question exam that a mere twenty-six students took. Twenty-six people is too small a sample to accurately represent the “nearly 5 million students” enrolled in the “1,274 two-year colleges in the United States” (O’Neill 31). It is apparent that a larger sample is needed in order to substantiate O’Neill’s claim, an assertion that he tries to broaden to all college students and the general population.

Moreover, O’Neill’s sample is unrepresentative because it is not typical of all college students. Although O’Neill suggests that “{his] students provide a fairly good cross section of the general population” (31), in fact, these twenty-six students only represent one particular class at one two-year college in one particular part of the country. Therefore, they cannot represent all college students or the population in general. In order to be representative, O’Neill’s sample should include a variety of students: male and female, students of all races, students from both rural and urban backgrounds, students ranging from upper-class to lower-class, students attending both public and private institutions, and those at both two-year and four-year colleges. And without actually testing the general population, his claim cannot be said to represent the people of the United States so generally. In essence, O’Neill’s conclusion, drawn from such a small cross section of the population, hurts the logic of the article because it cannot serve to represent the population that he makes those claims about.

In addition, O’Neill tries to justify his small sample with the use of more unrepresentative evidence, and this evidence also relies on ambiguous sources. He cites “recent polls . . . of American adults” from which he concludes that “a majority of the general populace” is ignorant about certain U.S military actions (O’Neill 31). However, the reader is not given any information regarding where and when these “recent polls” were conducted, nor is the reader told who conducted and participated in the polls. Since the reader is not provided with this information and since the problem with polling exists in the fact that those who respond to the poll cannot speak for those who do not, this evidence must be dismissed as too ambiguous and unrepresentative. Also among O’Neill’s supporting evidence is a “local marketing survey” solely responded to by “young computer whizzes,” in which they were asked to identify “an allusion to Charlie Chaplin” (31). Again, the reader is given no information about the specifics of the survey, such as its name, its sponsor, its location, and its purpose. Likewise, the fact that the survey was distributed to only “young computer whizzes” makes it unrepresentative because it targets a very limited audience. O’Neill can’t simply make broad assertions about the majority of Americans and their alleged lack of knowledge with such limited and vague support.

Jaime M. O’Neill does discuss an important issue facing both teachers and students alike. He does reference several humorous answers to his test, making the article enjoyable to read, if for nothing more than to chuckle at the outrageous responses to a test given in a college-level class. O’Neill’s points may be well-meaning, and his article may be stylistically well-written; however “No Allusions in the Classroom” fails on the levels required for good argumentation: support and logic.

Works Cited

O’Neill, Jaime M. “No Allusions in the Classroom.” The Language of Argument. Eds. Daniel McDonald and Larry W. Burton. New York: Harper, 1996. 30-31.

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