Sample Student Argumentative Essay for AP English Language

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By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Mar 4, 2011


In his famous “Vast Wasteland” address to the National Asso ciation of Broadcasters in May of 1961, Newton Minow, the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, spoke about the power of television to infl uence the taste, knowledge, and opinions of its viewers around the world. Carefully read the following, paying close attention to how timely it is today, especially in light of the worldwide Internet.

Minow ended his speech warning that “The power of instantaneous sight and sound is without precedent in mankind’s history. This is an awesome power. It has limitless capabilities for good—and for evil. And it carries with it awesome responsibilities— responsibilities which you and [the government] cannot escape . . .”

Using your own knowledge and your own experiences or reading, write a carefully constructed essay that defends, challenges, or qualifies Minow’s ideas.

The following are two sample student essays.

Student A

When Newton Minow ended his speech in May, 1961, he warned that, "The power of instantaneous sight and sound is without precedent … and it has limitless capabilities for good and evil." I wholeheartedly agree with both Minow's position about modern technology, especially about how it relates to the Internet today and the responsibility facing its users.

Scene One—Pre-1980's. Big project. Long haul to the library, gazing despondently until your eyes resemble those of a zombie. Too many books, too little time, in short, just TOO much. Scene Two—mid-1990's. A two-foot walk to the computer, and Voila! All the information you'd ever need is at your fingertips. The Internet has truly revolutionized how people can obtain their information. Now, more than ever, it is easier and quicker to access all types of information from "Exactly what IS that fungus growing on my toe?" to "What are the names of every major river system in the continental United States?" The plethora of information enables people to almost cease the burdensome trip to the library and halt the overwhelming feelings of dread they find as they stare blankly at a stack of books. With the schedule of the typical American today, there's hardly enough time to breathe, nevermind attempting to fit that hour-long trip to the library in the time frame. With the birth of the Internet, people with access to a computer can locate information faster than ever. But, how are we to judge the acceptability of that information?

The awesome power of these new technological inventions, such as computers and the Internet, do not always produce, however, grade-A products. People have begun to utilize the Internet to recruit new cult members, to teach people how to build bombs, to teach hate. Basically, anything and everything evil can be posted on the "Net." Scene Three. Mr. Parker, a 75-year-old man from rural Indiana is in severe pain with abdominal cramps. Instead of attempting a two-hour drive to the nearest hospital, he makes it to his computer, logs on to the Internet in hopes of finding out what is wrong with him and in hopes of finding a quick remedy. Following the www's advice, he treats himself for stomach pain. Scene Four. Poor Mr. Parker dies hours later of acute appendicitis.

The Internet has the power to give birth to both good and evil. Today, as our society becomes more and more advanced, we rely more and more on anything that promises to make our busy lives less hectic. The easy way out, it seems, is always the right way in. Call it our American laziness, or call it our penchant to make learning easier, either way you slice it, the Internet has the potential for both positive and negative effects on society. Our responsibility is to find ways to exhibit our ability to distinguish between that which is beneficial and that which is destructive.

Student B

In his now famous address to the National Association of Broadcasters in May, 1961, FCC chairman Newton Minow spoke of the unprecedented power that those who control television's programming have over the American public, and how the mass media should be controlled and censored by the government, for it could wield awesome amounts of either good or evil. This assertion, that "television is a vast wasteland" rings true throughout the modern history of American society, especially in light of the global Internet.

There is no doubt that television has greatly altered the very psyche of Americans countless times since Minow's speech. From patriotic events like Neil Armstrong's first step on the moon and the "miracle on the ice" American victory over the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympic hockey semi-finals, to historical events like Tienemmen Square, the assassination of JFK, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Television has provided Americans with triumph—the Persian Gulf War—and tragedy—the Columbine massacre. Most importantly, however, it is entertainment for the masses, and is affordable to the point that 95% of Americans watch at least once a week, and this is where it goes awry.

Americans, due to the overwhelming economic prosperity and technological revolution of the last forty years, have become slovenly. We can get almost anywhere in the world within 24 hours via airplane and expect to be waited on while flying there. We drive to work everyday. We have every type of cuisine imaginable less than twenty minutes away, contrasting with several countries which don't have food, period. We have secure incomes, capital growth, and all of the material comforts of the day. We have the Internet, the new mass media which allows for anyone to learn about anything at anytime, anywhere. We are inactive, obese, materialistic, boring people, and television has adapted itself to fit our collective personas. Or possibly, we changed for television.

The nightly news is filled with images of death, suffering, pain, agony, misery, and other horrors that we gobble up because we as middle-class Americans have an infinitesimal chance of ever seeing it. The most popular TV shows are either irreverent comedies like "Seinfeld" and "Friends" with no actual cultural impact, or worse game shows like "Weakest Link" or "Survivor" that reward, in pride and prizes, ruthlessness, emotional warfare, and pointless competition that reinforces those attributes in the 30 million viewers they get every Monday and Wednesday night. The sensationalistic television programming caters to every evil desire we have, so it makes them grow inside us and want more, making us fervent to tune in next week for the next fantastic episode. God forbid they show a rerun.

Television has become a wasteland, and it's turning Western culture into one, too. One has to believe Newton Minow knew what he was talking about. In a classic quote from Catch-22, Joseph Heller writes that "There was a general consensus that the platitudes of Americanism were horsesh-t." I wholeheartedly agree.

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