CIVIC WRITING ASSIGNMENT TOPICS
Please choose one of the following 6 topics for the civic writing assignment:
1. “First to Worst”: California’s Education System in Crisis
3. Healthcare in the U.S.
4. The Iraq War/Occupation/Aftermath
5. Gay Marriage
6. Media Issues
You will find background
information on each issue along with online articles to use below. Note that
you can find a lot of information by reading the online editions of newspapers
and magazines. You can access online versions of most newspapers and magazines
using the library’s database collection at:
TOPIC 1. First to Worst: California’s
Education System in Crisis
Background: California has the largest school system in the nation, with one in every eight American students going to school here. In the 1950s and 1960s, California schools were the best in the country, and had an international reputation. By the mid-1990s, California’s schools were tied for last with Mississippi. On the most recent national assessment, California students ranked 9th from the bottom in math, reading and science. According to the U.S. Department of Education, California, the country's richest state, ranks 44th in the country in spending per pupil (adjusted for the cost of living. The unadjusted figure is 37th). One source of the crisis was the anti-tax movement of the 1970's and 80's, which drastically reduced funds for schools. However, there are many other contributing factors (see the news articles below.) The issue has recently received much attention with the airing of "First to Worst," a PBS documentary about the dire state of California schools. In the documentary, a former high ranking education official says of public schools in California: "they’re like Calcutta." John Deasy, superintendent of the Santa Monica-Malibu School District, is asked what Californians would do if they could see normal school conditions in states such as Michigan, Iowa or Connecticut. "They'd move," he replies without hesitation. Many critics argue that this problem threatens the economic, social and political future of California.
■ PBS Merrow Report: “From
First to Worst”
http://www.pbs.org/merrow/tv/ftw/intro.html and http://www.pbs.org/merrow/tv/ftw/index.html
■ “'First to Worst' a call to fund quality education.” Marshall Smith. San Francisco Chronicle, February 4, 2004. http://www.pbs.org/merrow/news/sf_chronicle.html
■ “No More Tinkering: Remake the Schools.” John Merrow. Los Angeles Times, February 4, 2004. http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/opinion/la-oe-merrow4feb04,1,3600249.story
TOPIC 2: Outsourcing
A major topic of debate amongst politicians, academics and media pundits involves outsourcing. With the emergence of broadband and other communication technologies, it is possible to outsource an increasing number of professional and service jobs. In the recent past, blue collar manufacturing jobs moved overseas as U.S. companies tried to increase profits and decrease costs (workers in manufacturing tended to find replacement jobs in the service sector.) Now, however, professional jobs in computer programming, financial analysis, accounting and the medical sector are starting to be outsourced. For example, Kristof makes the case that
One reason for the jobless recovery in the U.S. is that it doesn't make much sense to have an American radiologist, say, examine your X-ray when it can be done so much more cheaply in New Delhi. Indeed, why should computer software be written, taxes prepared, pathology specimens examined, financial analysis done or homework graded in the U.S., when all of that can be done more cheaply in Bangalore? I.B.M. is moving thousands of jobs to India and China, and Reuters says it will have Indian reporters cover some U.S. companies from there.
In a sign of rising tension over outsourcing, California is considering legislation that would ban government vendors from sending contract work overseas. Politicians in California have introduced a bill aimed at prohibiting call centers for state services such as welfare and food stamps from moving offshore (Schoenberger)
India is emerging as an important player in the outsourcing
business. Indian students usually speak English, and India produces
large numbers of talented computer programmers, engineers, accountants and
medical personnel. The articles below make a number of different arguments
about whether outsourcing is a problem, and what should be done about it.
■ Bob Herbert, “Theory vs. Reality”. New York Times op-ed. Argues that outsourcing represents a serious threat to American workers.
■ Thomas L. Friedman, “Meet the Zippies.” New York Times op-ed. Argues for outsourcing, but also argues that the impact on American workers must be carefully managed.
■ E. J. Dionne Jr., “A Voice Of Trade Rebellion.” Washington Post op-ed about outsourcing. Discusses the issue in relation the upcoming presidential elections.
■ Thomas L. Friedman, “Small
and Smaller.” Argues that outsourcing is part of a major change in the nature
■ Daniel H. Pink. “The New Face of the Silicon Age: How India became the capital of the computing revolution.” Wired article arguing that outsourcing is beneficial.
■ Warren Vieth and Edwin Chen, “Bush Supports Shift of Jobs Overseas” Los Angeles Times article on a report by the Bush administration which argues that while outsourcing may be painful in the short term, it will enrich the economy eventually.
■ Nicholas D. Kristof, “Watching the Jobs Go By.” New York Times op-ed. Argues that fears of outsourcing are exaggerated.
Paul Krugman, “The Trade Tightrope” Argues for a “balanced” approach to outsourcing.
■ Brian Behlendorf, “How outsourcing will save the world.” Argues that outsourcing of white-collar jobs to developing nations is essential to global peace and prosperity.
TOPIC 3: Healthcare in the U.S.
Healthcare is shaping up to be a major issue in the upcoming presidential elections. Health insurance premiums are increasing an average of 13 percent per year, coverage is shrinking, and employers are increasingly asking workers to pay a greater share of the costs (one of the main issues in the current supermarket strike). The U.S. spends far more than any other country in the world on healthcare (about 15% of GDP.) Yet there are about 40 million Americans without health insurance, and many millions who are underinsured. California alone has 7 million residents without health insurance (a 2000 World Health Organization analysis of the world's health systems ranked the U.S. 37th out of 191 countries.) The U.S. health system is unusual for a developed country, in that it is largely private, paid through employers (rather than through taxes) and is more profit-driven. Some critics say this leads to problems. For example, if you lose your job, you usually lose healthcare coverage. If you lose your job and have an ongoing medical condition, an employer may not want to hire you for fear of the health insurance costs. Or you may feel tied to a job in order to keep the health benefits. People without health insurance still have to be treated, so they turn up at emergency rooms when they are sick. This can cause dangerous overcrowding at peak times, and it can increase costs – rather than getting cheap preventative medicine, people without insurance may turn up at the emergency room when their health problems are serious and much more expensive to treat. The Institute of Medicine, an independent, non-profit group which advises Congress and the federal government on health matters, recently released a report stating that 18,000 people die every year because they lack health insurance, and that "Uninsured Americans get about half the medical care of those with health insurance…as a result, they tend to be sicker and die sooner." (Fox.)
Another aspect of this problem is that the U.S. pays more
for drugs than any other country in the world. A growing number of patients
are traveling to (or placing internet orders to) Canada and Mexico to buy
drugs, where they are sometimes 60% to 70% cheaper. Many of these people are
seniors, for whom drug prices have become a huge issue. The recently passed
Medicare bill may help, but many criticisms surround it. Some of the main
criticisms are: a) it is too expensive, and too generous to drug companies, b)
some seniors may still have to pay too much, c) it bans the government from
using its bulk purchasing power to get discounts, and d) it bans the purchase
of drugs at cheaper prices from countries like Canada.
■ Angell, “The Forgotten Domestic Crisis.” Describes problems with current health system and proposes alternatives.
■ “Health-care meltdown,” Ruth Rosen.
Argues that the system in California is melting down, and a “single-payer system” is the
■ Maggie Fox, “U.S. Advisers Call for Universal Health Care.” Describes a report by the Institute of Medicine, which argues that we urgently need universal health coverage because those without health insurance are sicker, die sooner and get half the medical care of those with health insurance
■ E. J. Dionne Jr., “Medicare Monstrosity.” Critical examination of the new Medicare bill.
■ Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele, “Why We Pay So Much For Drugs.” TIME magazine article exploring why Americans pay more than anyone else for drugs.
■ WHO Comparison of Health Systems
The study compares health systems, and concludes that the U.S. health system spends a higher portion of its gross domestic product than any other country but ranks 37th out of 191 countries.
TOPIC 4: The Iraq War/Occupation/Aftermath
Debates about various aspects
of the war are a huge issue as the November election approaches. You can use
the articles we read in class, which are at:
Alternatively, you can focus on more recent aspect of the war/occupation. Most major newspapers and magazines are covering debates about the occupation.
TOPIC 5: Gay Marriage
Gay marriage is a very hot
topic at present, and looks set to be a major issue in the upcoming election.
The following op-ed pieces represent a range of different positions. The can
all be accessed at:
TOPIC 6: MEDIA STUDIES
You can choose one of the many issues we have looked at this semester, or examine issues we have not covered. You can write on media and violence, media influence, media agenda setting, media “bias,” media and democracy, etc.