As you read the passage below, consider how Dana Gioia uses
- evidence, such as facts or examples, to support claims.
- reasoning to develop ideas and to connect claims and evidence.
- stylistic or persuasive elements, such as word choice or appeals to emotion, to add power to the ideas expressed.
Adapted from Dana Gioia, “Why Literature Matters” ©2005 by The New York Times Company. Originally published April 10, 2005.
[A] strange thing has happened in the American arts during the past quarter century. While income rose to unforeseen levels, college attendance ballooned, and access to information increased enormously, the interest young Americans showed in the arts—and especially literature—actually diminished.
According to the 2002 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, a population study designed and commissioned by the National Endowment for the Arts (and executed by the US Bureau of the Census), arts participation by Americans has declined for eight of the nine major forms that are measured....The declines have been most severe among younger adults (ages 18–24). The most worrisome finding in the 2002 study, however, is the declining percentage of Americans, especially young adults, reading literature.
That individuals at a time of crucial intellectual and emotional development bypass the joys and challenges of literature is a troubling trend. If it were true that they substituted histories, biographies, or political works for literature, one might not worry. But book reading of any kind is falling as well.
That such a longstanding and fundamental cultural activity should slip so swiftly, especially among young adults, signifies deep transformations in contemporary life. To call attention to the trend, the Arts Endowment issued the reading portion of the Survey as a separate report, “Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America.”
The decline in reading has consequences that go beyond literature. The significance of reading has become a persistent theme in the business world. The February issue of Wired magazine, for example, sketches a new set of mental skills and habits proper to the 21st century, aptitudes decidedly literary in character: not “linear, logical, analytical talents,” author Daniel Pink states, but “the ability to create artistic and emotional beauty, to detect patterns and opportunities, to craft a satisfying narrative.” When asked what kind of talents they like to see in management positions, business leaders consistently set imagination, creativity, and higher-order thinking at the top.
Ironically, the value of reading and the intellectual faculties that it inculcates appear most clearly as active and engaged literacy declines. There is now a growing awareness of the consequences of nonreading to the workplace. In 2001 the National Association of Manufacturers polled its members on skill deficiencies among employees. Among hourly workers, poor reading skills ranked second, and 38 percent of employers complained that local schools inadequately taught reading comprehension.
The decline of reading is also taking its toll in the civic sphere....A 2003 study of 15- to 26-year-olds’ civic knowledge by the National Conference of State Legislatures concluded, “Young people do not understand the ideals of citizenship… and their appreciation and support of American democracy is limited.”
It is probably no surprise that declining rates of literary reading coincide with declining levels of historical and political awareness among young people. One of the surprising findings of “Reading at Risk” was that literary readers are markedly more civically engaged than nonreaders, scoring two to four times more likely to perform charity work, visit a museum, or attend a sporting event. One reason for their higher social and cultural interactions may lie in the kind of civic and historical knowledge that comes with literary reading....
The evidence of literature’s importance to civic, personal, and economic health is too strong to ignore. The decline of literary reading foreshadows serious long-term social and economic problems, and it is time to bring literature and the other arts into discussions of public policy. Libraries, schools, and public agencies do noble work, but addressing the reading issue will require the leadership of politicians and the business community as well....
Reading is not a timeless, universal capability. Advanced literacy is a specific intellectual skill and social habit that depends on a great many educational, cultural, and economic factors. As more Americans lose this capability, our nation becomes less informed, active, and independent-minded. These are not the qualities that a free, innovative, or productive society can afford to lose.
Write an essay in which you explain how Dana Gioia builds an argument to persuade his audience that the decline of reading in America will have a negative effect on society. In your essay, analyze how Gioia uses one or more of the features in the directions that precede the passage (or features of your own choice) to strengthen the logic and persuasiveness of his argument. Be sure that your analysis focuses on the most relevant features of the passage.
Your essay should not explain whether you agree with Gioia’s claims, but rather explain how Gioia builds an argument to persuade his audience.
I remember that one of the biggest challenges I faced when tackling the SAT essay was having a wide variety of examples at my fingertips. Although the SAT essay is intended to measure your writing and argumentative skills, and not your knowledge of any particular subject, it is necessary to use good examples in your SAT essay to create a persuasive argument. Many of the essay prompts given on the SAT tend to be open-ended questions with multiple perspectives one can take. Almost all of these essay prompts deal with basic moral, social and psychological issues such as the meaning of freedom or courage.
[Continue reading to find out how to develop useful SAT essay examples…]
Many students believe that they have read enough and learnt enough at school to be able to “come up” with a good example for the essay. Although this may be so under normal circumstances, writing the SAT essay in less than 25 minutes (if you take a couple of minutes to plan) means that you would have to put together good examples under immense pressure. The best way to combat this problem is to create your own repertoire of good examples that are applicable to a diverse range of topics and that are well-memorized such that you are able to immediately draw it from memory to write it in your detailed body paragraphs. Of course, this method isn’t flawless. The prompt might be completely different from anything you have prepared for. If that’s the case, do not force your examples to fit the prompt, but try to come up with new examples on the spot. However, as most of the SAT essay topics are similar in terms of their moral or social inclination, it would be wise to prepare for such scenarios.
Here are 5 quick steps:
- Choose examples that are flexible
- Pick out important details about these examples
- Practice, practice, practice!
- Memorize the examples on your list
- Try coming up with new examples on the spot
Some subject areas that would be useful are History, Literature, and Politics.
History: Many social and moral lessons that we have learnt are based in lessons taken from historical events. You should focus on historical events and figures who are well-known for certain changes or lessons they have wrought in society. Don’t try to write about a big event such as “World War I” but whittle the point down to something more manageable such as the Holocaust. Remember that the essay section is only 25 minutes!
Some Examples from History:
- Martin Luther King – courage, sacrifice
- Ghandi – courage, patience, passive resistance
- Hitler – revenge, power, corruption, propaganda
- Abraham Lincoln – honesty, persistence, hard-working, great leader
- Great Depression – greed, panic, wrong decisions
- Civil Rights Movement – racial equality, courage, progress.
Literature: Often, characters from literary texts are able to flesh out a certain moral principle more accurately than real life examples. The ability to analyze these characters in such detail allows readers to demonstrate a good understanding of the morals and social values being discussed in the prompt.
Some Examples from Literature:
- Greek classics: The Iliad, The Odyssey, Antigone, Oedipus Rex
- English classics: Beowulf, The Canterbury Tales
- Shakespeare’s plays: Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, MacBeth
- Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel: The Scarlet Letter
- Dickens’ novels: Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities
Politics: The dialogue between countries, global cooperation, and negotiations regarding a variety of issues such as natural resources, global warming, chemical warfare, and more, are extremely valuable while writing the SAT essay. These world events could be useful in helping you flesh out a point in your essay. You might want to stress the importance of “communication” and use the example of multiple international dialogues between China, South Korea, the United States, and North Korea that helped to shed more light on the nuclear situation in North Korea and possible avenues for action. Without such communication, the peace we have today, albeit fragile, might not have been possible. These political events could provide a foundation for you to discuss certain themes such as world peace, conservation and more.
Have fun crafting your own SAT essay examples!
Check out my other posts on the SAT Essay:
About the author: Shimin Ooi is a junior in Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs department. She has a strong interest in economic and health policy and has recently returned from a semester of study at Hertford College, Oxford. In high school, her extensive research on standardized tests helped her achieve a near perfect SAT score and perfect scores on each of her SAT Subject tests. Through these blog posts, she hopes to help others achieve test-taking success as well!