So I have been preparing to start a new semester of teaching next week. One problem I have encountered, as a teacher of English 100 and 101, is finding topics that interest and inspire my students. This semester, I am taking my newfound passion for local issues and history and applying it to my courses. I am making my students write about local, Orange County, issues! Tonight I actually felt inspired writing essay prompts, so inspired that I felt compelled to share them with you.
Essay #1: Writing About Local Culture
Culture is a broad topic, but it is perhaps best represented by things like art, music, theater, dance, even festivals and celebrations. Find a particular aspect of local culture that interests you. It could be a local music scene, venue, or band. It could be an art gallery, museum, art walk, or street art. It could be a community celebration, like a parade or street fair. It could be a play, or even a local theater. Once you have found your topic, begin researching. Interview people who are involved. Find articles online. OC Weekly is a good resource for local culture. There are many blogs that deal with culture in Orange County. After conducting your research, write a paper in which you explain your chosen topic and its cultural significance. What does it contribute to the community? What is its purpose or goals? Is it relevant? Your paper should not be a “puff piece” for your topic. You want to approach your topic honestly and critically. Your goal is to understand your topic and explain it to your readers in a way that is fresh and interesting.
Essay #2: Writing About Local Politics
While presidential elections get a lot of media coverage and widespread interest, local politics often to not. However, local governments, like your city council, often make decisions that affect you more directly than the president. Your task for this essay is to find an aspect of local politics that interests you. Do you know how your city government works? Write a paper explaining it. Has there been a local political controversy that merits research and discussion? Write about it. Is there a local politician whose signs you see around town and wonder: “Who is that?” Find out who he/she is and what he/she stands for. You might visit your city clerk’s office to see who is bankrolling (giving large contributions to) a particular politician’s campaign. Your task is to inform your reader about information that would be valuable to their lives, and maybe even affect how they (and you) vote!
Essay #3: Writing About Local Social Issues
Social issues have to do with relationships between groups of people in society, whether they be ethnic groups, economic groups (rich, poor, middle class, homeless), religious groups, or even racial groups. While we like to think that we live in a society that does not draw lines between groups, the reality is more complex. In my hometown of Fullerton, for example, there is a clear ethnic/economic division that is represented by the railroad tracks. North of the tracks live affluent (predominantly white) people. South of the tracks live poorer (predominantly Latino) people. This exists today, in 2012. What sorts of social problems/issues do you notice in your local community? Once you have identified your topic, research it. The library is a good place to start. You might also interview people who are affected by your chosen topic. Again, your task is to inform your reader about issues that he/she might not be aware of, right in your own community. Your task in this essay is to open people’s eyes to social issues in the place where they live.
Essay #4: Writing About Local History
In researching the history of Fullerton, I have been continually astonished by what I have discovered, and most of these discoveries did not come from reading the two “official” Fullerton history books: Ostrich Eggs for Breakfast and Fullerton: a Pictorial History. These books are pretty boring and tend to gloss over unpleasant aspects of history. The real goldmine of local history is the Center for Oral and Public History at Cal State Fullerton, which includes thousands of interviews with ordinary residents. From these interviews, I learned about the KKK in Fullerton, forced deportations of Mexican-Americans, political corruption, housing discrimination, and lots of stuff that made me go: “Whoa! I didn’t know that happened here!” It is important to understand our history, our real history, so that we can better understand our present. For example, housing segregation in Fullerton did not happen by accident. It was the result of racist housing covenants that excluded minorities from living in certain areas for many years. Your task for this final essay is to find an aspect of the history of the town you live in, an aspect that interests, inspires, or infuriates you, research it, and present your findings in a well-developed and interesting paper.
Papers that strike my fancy will be published online by the Journal of Orange County Studies, because I am the editor : ) If any of you out there in cyberspace feel compelled to write an essay, feel free to submit it to the Journal. Everyone is welcome to contribute.