Differentiating examples from issues

Adapted for website  – copyright Knowledge Skills LLP –
General Paper (GP) & O-level English tuition subject specialists

Main point

The tragic Charlie Hebdo incident in France was global in its impact. It touches upon a range of social issues and hence from an exam perspective, it seems like a good ‘current affair’ fact to know.

However, many students sometimes don’t read what’s relevant. They memorise facts which are actually unimportant rather than thinking more critically what such facts represent. This is one of the reasons why students can spend hours reading current affairs magazine but have trouble seeing the application to their essays. Basically, students are just told to ‘read more.’.

Reading more is good but they need to know what to read and how to make sense of it in a meaningful manner.

So let’s return to the Charlie Hebdo incident. Ultimately, it is merely an example. On it’s own, you won’t get marks just describing what happened or knowing who was involved.  So what is the significance of such facts? You use them mainly to jump start larger arguments such as free speech vs. religious sentiments, freedom vs. order or more general (for O-level English), the role of the media, or Censorship.  Viewed in this manner, the able student will  . . .  [truncated. Filed under GP tuition notes]

It is more important that you understand the pros or consequences of a society that promotes free speech (in which Charlie Hebdo is a pertinent example) rather than reading about Charlie Hebdo and failing to connect it with the larger issues that your GP (or O-level English expository) questions will most likely test you on.

So let’s address a popular and hence useful issue: Should the press remain completely free?

1. Approach depends on whose context you are examining from.

There is no clear ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. In Western liberal societies, freedom of the press is seen as the hallmark of an enlightened society.  What does that mean? How is it useful? To further substantiate this issue you can use the following points  . . . [truncated. filed under GP tuition media]

. . .

In other authoritarian countries, freedom accorded to the press is not seen as an entitlement. Depending on what your view as the role of government, freedom of the press is no different from other freedoms. This is because all other freedoms are only legitimate when they do not cause harm to other individuals or to society at large. (you can insert the Charlie Hebdo incident here as an example. But noticed, that you have ‘exhausted’ it in that sense. Surely, you can’t keep on using this one incident as your only example. Other examples such as . . . [truncated]

2. Counter Arguement: How freedom of the press is important for other freedoms to exist

If censorship was well covered by your tutor, you can re-use many of the same arguments to buffer this essay. You just have to tweak it to ensure it’s relevant. For example, you can argue that freedom of the press is different, there should be no censorship, because the press is the collective voice of the people.  It therefore states that  . . .[truncated]

3. Question the press as a agent for collective ‘good’

Just like individuals, the press does have its own agenda and these are not always selfless and altruistic in nature. It can be argued that an independent press does not necessarily lead to the automatic betterment and enlightenment of society. This is where you can raise points covered under Media and Advertising or Media and Profit.

One argument is how if the press is not owned by the government, then the press needs to generate it’s own profit to stay afloat. The student should be able to use this to compose a paragraph on how the desire to attract more readership or advertisers dilutes the supposedly ‘watch-dog’ nature of the free press. One point you can raise is the use of sensationalism.

. . .

(points covered in media package)

4. The evolving role of New Media

. . .

(points covered in media package)

Generally, the essay is held together by a series of arguments that cover separate issues and perspectives. Not examples. The problem is when students do not know the difference and hence write what their teachers would penalise as “an essay by examples.’  In addition  . . .

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