In the ENG102: Freshman Composition courses I teach, I require students to write argumentative essays on topics about personal freedoms. I do this because I find it a perfect opportunity to not only teach the competencies of researching and writing arguments, but also because it gives students an opportunity to learn more about issues that affect this country and them personally. So many students live in a bubble of apathy, concerned only about the little things. This often shows up in my classes when it’s time to choose an issue to write about. But I want them to think bigger. So I’m writing this message to my students and all students currently in writing courses.
There is so much going on in this country right now. Today. Stuff that will affect every one of us, yet most Americans are ambivalent or apathetic to the world around them. We often wonder how some of these controversial laws were passed in the first place or we complain about the current government. I always ask, “Did you vote?” “Did you read the propositions before you voted on them?” It’s scary how many have not done either, and you, my students, are the biggest offenders. Two years from now, or even sooner, you’ll all be complaining about censorship of the internet because it will have changed, and the internet won’t function the way it does today. It will suck, and you will hate it. But today when you could have made a difference in the decision, you didn’t even know about it. Or tomorrow, you may be detained, interrogated and prosecuted all without a trial – effectively stripping away your right of habeas corpus. And again, your personal rights were stripped away without your knowledge or even a chance to react.
Could you have made a difference then? Can you make a difference now? Who knows, but at least trying gives us hope, makes us aware, and gives us the power of the people. And that is what education is about, giving students the opportunity to learn about the world we live in, but also how to be a participant in this world, in our country. For Freshman Composition, this is why we learn to write, so we can have a voice. Once you graduate, you’re never going to be asked to write a comparison/contrast essay again, but you’ll have plenty of opportunities to write your representatives to argue your position on a new bill. You’ll have plenty of opportunity to write an argumentative blog post, like this one, to share with others the injustices of the current legislation or a proposed bill. Writing, and writing well, gives us a voice.
So instead of wanting to research and argue trite issues like abortion or the death penalty, wake up and pay attention to what’s going on right now. The National Defense Authorization Act passed recently by President Obama puts a damper on your precious civil liberties. Do you care? How about SOPA? The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) could effectively change the way the internet works today. People on the internet are reacting. What do you have to say about it? Sounds like a great ENG102 research argument paper to me. By the way, don’t bother searching Wikipedia for information on any of these topics because today, in protest to SOPA, Wikipedia and other internet sites have gone BLACK. Check out the screencapture from Wikipedia for today (Jan. 18th and again on Jan. 23 Only). Find out why.