It has been more than a decade since history teacher Ryan Young started having his students write ‘Letters to the Editor’ as an assignment.
For several years, some of those letters have also found their way into The Times and have touched on a wide variety of topics, from local issues such as teens needing things to do in town to larger issues like world hunger. It’s all designed to get students thinking about the world around them and what they can do to make it better.
“I have been using this assignment for the past 14 years,” explained Young. “I use this assignment when we are studying the Progressive Era. This was a time of reform in U.S. history and part of those reforms were driven by investigative journalists known as muckrakers.
“Muckrakers attempted to expose corruption and problems in society. For example, inner city poverty, corrupt politicians, etc.”
Young noted that the goal with the assignment is to get students thinking and for them to “gain an understanding of the role these journalists played in driving for reform” and to help them understand that “in a democratic society we need active citizens fighting for what they believe is right.”
The assignment is given to students in Young’s 11th grade History classes at Escalon High.
“There are many different problems at our school, but the most ANNOYING thing are the students in classes that don’t care and want to be a distraction in class,” wrote student David Megenney. “If the teens who do not want to be there are still there, they need to grow up and decide to work or get out of class because they are disturbing the learning environment.”
Letter writer Jorden Weiher came down on fast food restaurants offering healthier options, saying choice should still be up to the consumer.
“The way I see it is, if a person wants healthy food they aren’t going to go to McDonalds to get that.
“I understand that obesity is a major issue in America, but you cannot force someone to eat healthy food. I truly think that obesity is not in the hands of the government and they should stop worrying about making it decrease because it’s not their responsibility.”
Texting and driving was the subject for Mason Barberis.
“Texting and driving has become an issue worldwide,” Barberis wrote. “This issue is continuous and increasing at a rapid rate due to technology advancement.
“We need to become aware of the lives that we put in danger while driving, especially while texting and driving. Is a text so important that we make ourselves and others vulnerable to a fatal accident?”
Young said students are given some direction at the beginning, but then can take off in a variety of directions.
“For the assignment students become muckraking journalists. We begin by reading an excerpt from Upton Sinclair’s book ‘The Jungle’ which helped facilitate passage of the Meat Inspection Act of 1906. Students are then instructed to think of a problem in society today, local, state, federal, or global, explain why it is a problem, and what they believe a solution could be for that issue,” Young explained. “I give the students examples to help the brainstorming process, but the students are free to pick any issue they feel strongly about.”
For junior Frankie Bowers, that issue was gun control.
“Where has the Second Amendment gone?” Bowers wrote. “Lately, it seems as if it no longer exists. The government keeps trying to take away the right to bear arms, and the writers of the constitution fought hard for that right.
“This is a problem because if citizens lose the right to have guns, only the criminals will have guns. Many people are in danger of being victimized, even in their own home, and without guns they are vulnerable to attack. Armed citizens can prevent crime.”
Look for full versions of some selected student letters in the Dec. 11 issue of The Times.