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Is It Time to Rethink Forbidden Topics?

posted: 3.15.13 by Donna Winchell

Do you have a list of “forbidden” topics? Are there topics that you tell your students not to write about? If you have been around as long as I have, you probably do, or did at some point. Is it because you reached the point where you couldn’t read one more paper about abortion, gun control, euthanasia, the electoral college, legalization of marijuana, or anything about religion? Have I mentioned some of the topics on your “hit list”?

Why do we tell our students not to write on these topics if not to avoid reading one more paper like others we have read before? Are we trying to avoid getting a paper recycled from an earlier semester? Do these topics lead to bad essays?

Think, though, about how much these issues are still in the news. For our traditional students, who have come of age in the early twenty-first century, these are not “old news.” They have not heard all of the old arguments. Rather, they are working their way through the pros and cons of some of these issues as they watch, listen to, or read the news each day. They have grown up in a world where school shootings are more common than we would like to think. Many of them have just graduated from schools that had uniformed school resource officers. It’s not a big step to picture those officers armed, so the recent debates over gun control are real for them in a way they might not be for their parents’ generation.

Most of our freshmen voted for the first time in an election in which the popular vote was too close to call immediately. It’s not surprising that they have questions about the process. I know that I do. Legalization of marijuana is still on the table. There is still plenty of controversy over abortion and euthanasia. These students have a world of information at their fingertips. Granted, it’s not always easy to separate the wheat from the chaff online, but they can find plenty of opinions about these controversial issues.

When I met with my editors to discuss revisions in Elements of Argument and topics to include, someone asked, “Is it time to do Gun Control again?” It just might be.

[Photo:  The 10 Commandments by jbtaylor, on Flickr]

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