Toulmin Argument

“What specifically will this paper be about?” So, here is the answer:

Using many of the links and resources incorporated throughout the FIRE website (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) as the basis for your reasoning, construct your own unique argument on the subject of Free Speech and/or the First Amendment as it applies uniquely to colleges and universities.

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Part I: Overview and Context for the Assignment

This formal assignment is a plunge into the pool of free speech in America! Namely, we are exploring the issue of free speech in the places where it should, arguably, be more embraced and more celebrated than anywhere else in the country–yet, such is tragically not the case. Now, institutions of higher education (indeed, this includes some of the most prestigious universities in the country) and the media have all but abandoned one the most essential and virtuous characteristics of their professions, which is an ability to be genuinely objective.

For this assignment, I’d like you to FIRST visit the website for an organization that I thoroughly support and love called the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or F.I.R.E. They are non-partisan politically (which is extremely rare today) and they are committed to the principles of free speech as they apply to the very distinct context of higher education–specifically, freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, genuine tolerance for differing opinions, and the right to simply be an individual and not a representative member of any particular group.

In our present social climate of speech codes, self-censoring, and political correctness, a visitor to this country might come to a quick conclusion that our amazing First Amendment privileges do not actually exist here in America. How tragic it is that someone could ever come to this conclusion, especially since such freedom is and has always been one of the most important distinctions of the United States! This newfound opposition to free speech is coincidentally occurring at a time when critical thinking and genuine objectivity are both in serious decline. And while it is frankly un-American to have such restrictions to a Constitutionally-guaranteed right anywhere in America, it is particularly troubling when this occurs on college and university campuses because these, of all places, should be settings in which adult students are exposed to the broadest range of (new) ideas and opinions in an environment that is relatively free from uncivil or violent responses (an assurance that cannot be guaranteed in all places of society at large).

In other words, students in higher education have, by their very presence in such institutions, made the willful decision to expand their minds and pursue all that has always accompanied a truly higher education. Sadly, the level of coddling and so-called “protection” of any or all ideas that might be deemed “offensive” on some level or other (to adult learners) in these institutions make them look much more like elementary schools than places of higher education and true intellectual growth. Students are essentially robbed by these new codes of speech and conduct of what they should experience in college. Historically, the ideal model of a meaningful college experience has involved the encountering of many new ideas, including those ideas that might be foreign or uncomfortable (even offensive at times) to students’ previous experiences, sensibilities, worldviews, or opinions on a number of topics prior to entering college.

Irony Illustrated!

Three specific outcomes become strikingly clear when one considers these restrictions to free speech and the rationale used by those who promote such restrictions:

First, there is a huge misunderstanding, born out of an inability to think critically, of the difference between allowance and endorsement. The difference is huge! In other words, allowing a speaker on campus with views that might be considered offensive–to even a great many people–is vastly different from endorsing such a person. Do you see the difference? Do you see how, regardless of the views someone holds, it still might be a valuable part of students’ educational experience to encounter/hear such views in a controlled environment? Do you see that an institution allowing such a person on campus in NO WAY gives a blessing or an endorsement to the views that person holds, but only provides the student body with an opportunity for intellectual engagement and debate among those who, by definition and/or enrollment in a university, have identified themselves as people engaged in the world of the mind and not the violence of the streets. If, however, there are those on a campus who threaten administrators with violence if such and such a speaker is even allowed to present, then the real problem just might be who is being admitted into these institutions in the first place! Such individuals obviously are not people interested in engaging in the world of the mind, nor do such threats reveal any ability to think critically.

Second, another problem is the message these restrictions send to students regarding the power of peoples’ ideas–particularly those ideas deemed offensive for any number of reasons. At the end of the day, despite the efforts that some try to make of equating something like violence with offensive ideas (people who desperately need a class in logic and critical thinking), the simple reality is that words and ideas, as expressed in essays or speeches, are absolutely NOT acts of violence! In America, we are not in a communist country wherein ideas are literally forced upon people with serious physical consequences for not accepting them (interestingly, those who have the loudest voices against free speech sound exactly like communist dictators in their expressions of hate against those with whom they disagree). The wonderful thing about freedom, and especially freedom of speech in a civilized society, is the very co-existence of disagreements without the violent consequences (oppression and/or suppression of thought and speech) that have plagued humanity throughout history and geography.

Third, the valuable, historical, and effective tools of argumentation and rhetorical debate (of which we are studying in this class), used in a civil society to address disagreements and opposing ideas, are under attack by those who seek to ban free speech. These attacks begin with an irresponsible hijacking of the English language and attributing charged, accusatory terms to people who merely disagree with popularized ideas, resulting in attempts to utterly delegitimize and ban/censor not only their views and opinions, but to “cancel” them out entirely. Why? Because they have been deemed “hateful” or sub-human by the new virtue and wordplay policing; their ideas are off the table for any sort of discussion or debate. It is important to note that great societies in history have thrived when open communication and debate were welcomed and celebrated, whereas only under dictatorships, in which nothing functions effectively, do we see draconian speech codes imposed. A sad byproduct of externally-imposed censorship is the internalized self-censoring (i.e. “chilling effect”) that naturally occurs, since people who have ideas or views that might be contrary to the popular narrative on any number of subjects certainly don’t want others to view them as reprehensible human beings.

Part II: The Specifics of the Essay Assignment

! BEFORE YOU WRITE: you will first need to thoroughly review Chapter 8 of Current Issues, Enduring Questions in order to write this essay effectively because you will be writing a complete Toulmin argument, using all six of the elements involved with the Toulmin structure: Claim, Grounds, Warrant, Backing/Evidence, Qualifiers, and Rebuttals.

Now that you are fully aware of the type of paper you are writing, the question then becomes: “what specifically will this paper be about?” So, here is the answer:

Using many of the links and resources incorporated throughout the FIRE website (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) as the basis for your reasoning, construct your own unique argument on the subject of Free Speech and/or the First Amendment as it applies uniquely to colleges and universities.

Your claim in this argument needs to be highly focused and specific as it addresses free speech within the particular context of higher education. However, the “grounds” for your argument must be derived from no less than four specific cases FIRE has represented–found within the FIRE website, as several internal links at provide a variety of cases from which to make your selections. The four cases you select must have very obvious common denominators to them (features about the cases that demonstrate similarities and clear reasoning on your part for choosing and grouping them together (your selections will be part of the overall assessment of the essay). Internal links on the FIRE website include “News Desk” and “Press Release Archives.” There is much to read in other parts of the site regarding the history and depth of First Amendment issues in such links as the “First Amendment Library,” “Publications,” and “Ronald K.L. Collins’ First Amendment News.” There is also an excellent collection of videos categorized into many topics found on the FIRE YouTube Channel (accessible on the site through the small YouTube icon near “subscribe” at the bottom of the page).

So, because the FIRE organization is such a vital component of your argument, it is important to directly discuss this important organization (arguably the most important organization on the subject of free speech on college and university campuses) by referring to their own mission statement and description of what they do, which is all found in the “About Us” link. In addition to the vast number of resources found within the FIRE site, there are three other organizations listed at the end of this prompt you are likewise expected to use to varying degrees (at least one of them heavily and a second used lightly), given the specific claim and focus of your argument.


Part III: The Basic Requirements

* Must be a clearly-constructed Toulmin argument (you need to underline your claim statement)

* Must be at least 6-7 pages in length (not including the “Works Cited” page)

* Must be structured as a Toulmin argument (underline the claim statement)

* Must incorporate four distinct, yet unified, actual cases FIRE has represented and which are documented on the FIRE website.

* Must be in strict adherence to MLA guidelines with regard to overall paper formatting AND all source citations both in the essay itself and in the Works Cited page. Regarding source citations within the essay: the majority of the source citations must be in the form of shorter “in-text” quotes (4 lines or less) as opposed to “block” quotes (over 4 lines) or “paraphrases” (putting the words of the writer into your own words).




> Regarding videos: I wholeheartedly support using videos as SUPPLEMENTAL sources in your paper (you need the required text sources); FIRE has an excellent collection of them on their site and/or their YouTube channel, in addition to many on this theme within my own Media Gallery on Canvas. However, videos must be cited correctly, in MLA format, both inside your essay and on the Works Cited page. If you need to know how to cite video according to MLA, do as you would for any other source type and consult the MLA guide through your Current Issues book, the MLA Handbook itself, or the Purdue OWL site (Online Writing Lab).

> Using Abbreviations: Just as I have done on this handout, you will need to make sure you clearly spell-out the name of the organization BEFORE using an abbreviation for it. Be sure your first reference to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is stated with these words; then, in all other following references, you can simply say FIRE (all caps). It is important to write a statement, immediately following the first mention of the organization’s complete full name, that sounds something like this: “all references to this organization from this point forward will be abbreviated as FIRE” (you get the idea). For more information on Toulmin Argument visit:

Toulmin Argument


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