My initial thoughts on reading in the Daily Post that the local Right to Life organization was sponsoring an essay contest among LA Schools students to see who could write the most compelling anti-abortion essay were decidedly sour. But, I think we might be on to something useful. Not that we need to have local special interest groups encourage young people to circumvent meaningful thought, but perhaps we need a real, live opportunity for our students to have a public essay contest writing about current affairs, but from a more neutral, thoughtful perspective. Good writing demonstrates good thinking and both are important to good citizenship. So here are some ideas for topics, starting with the obvious:
1. I just discovered that I/my LA Schools girlfriend am/is pregnant out of wedlock. We have both been accepted to top ranked universities. Once we get over the initial panic, what will our thinking be as we decide what to do about it? Who will we talk to? What values will help us decide what to do next?
2. Holy Pueblo Complex Gun Show, Batman! What does the 2nd Amendment REALLY say about our right to bear arms? What original source documents can we read and understand to figure out the context of the Founders' text? Did the Supreme Court get it right in Heller vs. D.C.?
3. Mom and Dad's paychecks aside, what is/are the role(s) of nuclear weapons in the 21st Century world?
4. Now that Mom and Dad bought yet another SUV, how serious is the problem of human-induced climate change and what if anything, should individuals and government do about it?
5. How can we sustain ourselves in an increasingly water-limited Southwest? What government and individual decisions need to be made and implemented?
6. How shall we manage illegal immigration?
7. What should economic development look like in Los Alamos?
8. First Amendment vs. First Amendment. As a for profit business owner with strong religious beliefs, can I withdraw health coverage from my employees if the coverage compels me to pay for procedures that violate my conscience?
Students would be limited to essays of roughly 1000 words or less, depending on what the Schools English teaching staff tells us is reasonable for a given grade level. A relatively unbiased (if there is such a thing) panel would judge the essays on the basis of lucid and grammatically correct writing, persuasiveness, and the documentation and credibility of any factual assertions. Points of view that are offered with the previous qualities intact will be judged without bias. The winners and first runners up would receive a check and would read their essays at a public forum. Perhaps the two local newspapers could sponsor this, and round up volunteers as judges.
Let's make lemonade out of this lemon.