I’m beginning to gear up for the fall semester. As usual, I spend a couple of weeks revising last year’s curriculum, on which I have noted what worked/what didn’t work, what needs to be reinforced, what has changed in the incoming skill sets of students born in [yikes!] 1999, what’s changed in the fields of documentation and information retrieval and research during the past year [lots!].
In the process, I entertained the idea of a writing assignment for the people in our U.S. legislative bodies. The more I thought about it, the more fun I had with it. Then, I changed it from a joke assignment–because really, our nation’s government is a serious thing; too many jokes and parodies end up contributing to the problem.
Honestly, I think this would be a valuable experience for our representatives and something few of them have done since their college years. I, for one, would like to read the essays my representatives would write.
I’m also thinking that this would be a good project for my student writers–to have each of them compose a writing assignment for legislators–or for the audience of their choice. It feels a little empowering to say, “Here are your requirements; write something for me to read.”
So here it is.
Assignment for members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, to be completed during recess and returned for evaluation at the conclusion thereof.
The text: Team of Rivals—The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin.
Preparation: Read Goodwin’s book carefully, taking notes as you read. Especially, annotate sections of the text that feel particularly relevant to you or to contemporary issues in government. Also note themes, such as loyalty (to whom or to what?), relationships (personal and political), conflicting interests (there’s a war going on, but also more than that), compromises, responsibility (to constituents, to party, to nation, to family, to self) and status in its many forms.
The assignment prompt: Write a reflective response argument to Goodwin’s text, demonstrating that you understand her book’s purpose and showing how you might implement something among Lincoln’s strategies to change the paradigms currently operating in the legislative branch of government; offer evidence of why this strategy would be effective and what steps could be taken to create a political environment more receptive to a cohesive government even given considerable disagreement among parties. Close with a paragraph reflecting on your own political challenges and how these parallel or differ from the conflicts in Lincoln’s 38th Congress and in his cabinet.
Secondary sources may be used but are limited to: The Constitution of the United States; The Declaration of Independence; and Supreme Court justice opinions, historical or contemporary. No other source material permitted.
Page count: between 10 and 15 pages, exclusive of works cited or footnotes.
Evaluation: Each essay will be number-coded and read blind by another member of the legislature (House by other House representatives, Senate by other Senators). Each reader will write a two-paragraph response to the essay and give it a grade of 1-5 (5 being the best) based upon argument, evidence, clarity of writing and of ideas, proof that the writer understood the text material, and ability to stay on the essay prompt. Ideological off-topic “responses” and plagiarism receive a grade of 0.
Essays that demonstrate exemplary thinking and reflect an ability to apply skills learned from the readings, those that receive a grade of 5, will be circulated to members of both houses of government and to the presidential cabinet, of whomever that may consist at any given time. At this time, the authors’ names will be revealed.
After the evaluations have been completed, all essays will be filed online as .pdfs for constituents–and all citizens–to download and examine.
Living U.S. Presidents, past and current, and presidential cabinet members, should consider participating in this essay-writing project and making their work public to ensure a level of open, diplomatic discourse in the public arena.
Well, I can dream. Can’t I?