The 2013-14 Student Essay Contest
Paulo Freire, in his text Pedagogy of the Oppressed, discusses two models of
education: the banking concept of education and liberating education. The
banking concept of education views the student as wholly ignorant and incapable
of acquiring knowledge independently, as if knowledge was "a gift bestowed" upon
the student by the teacher. In the banking concept of education, "the scope of
action allowed to the students extends only as far as receiving, filing, and
storing the deposits" (Freire). Freire posits that when a teacher applies the
"banking concept" to his/her practice as an educator; students become
marginalized individuals, oppressed by a one-way system that limits the
students' ability to actively engage with knowledge acquisition, upholding the
very system that creates that marginalization.
Liberating education, on the other hand, overcomes societal patterns of
oppression by creating an environment where all participants are "simultaneously
teachers and students." In this type of education, the students are presented
with problems that require solving, placing them in a position where they must
engage, challenge, and inquire in order to acquire knowledge. In the process,
students and teacher learn from one another mutually. Freire suggests that by
applying this liberating style of education, we call into question traditional
classifications of rich and poor, educated and uneducated, powerful and
powerless, creating independent thinkers who can challenge and overcome
oppression as a result of their education.
The broader availability of education, combined with the expectation that all
Americans should earn a college degree, has caused more people than ever to
pursue a college education. For some, the pursuit of that degree is driven by a
personal desire for knowledge, experience, and growth. For others, however, the
pursuit of a college degree is driven by market expectations and the desire for
a job that pays a living wage. There is a sense that attending college is like
checking off a box on a resume or job application, rather than the liberating
opportunity for social change described by Freire. In fact, today's students
might prefer a banking concept type of education, resting on the idea that if
they can receive and regurgitate a certain amount of information, they should be
entitled to their degree, and thus a higher paying job.
In an essay between 1,000 and 1,250 words, consider the following question:
How does the expectation that all Americans should earn a college degree
interact with Freire's notion of education as an opportunity to liberate
individuals from oppressive and self-perpetuating social systems? What dangers
and/or opportunities are presented by the tendency of some to see college
education as a human right or entitlement? You may reference Freire's original
work to expand your understanding of his position, and you should plan to
support your essay with outside sources, using MLA style citation. Your sources
may include studies into career options and/or transferring institutions.
For the 2013-14 winners, click here.
The 2012-13 Student Essay Contest
As the 2011 Super Bowl commercial featuring Detroit might indicate, Detroit
has developed a reputation for being hard, tough, edgy and auto-centric.
Considering the beginnings of our town, steeped in the automotive industry, this
is not surprising. Part of this reputation, however, stems also from the
notorious race riots of '43 and '67, the persistent crime rate and steeply
falling population. Because of recent shifts in the auto industry as well as
these less attractive factors, many believe that Detroit is a lost cause with
little hope of recovering from persistent decline.
Those who live in and around Detroit, however, have an opportunity to see
many other aspects of the city, to take part in a diverse, culturally
sophisticated and cosmopolitan community. In fact, despite declining population
in the city, a grass roots movement is alive and kicking, hoping to build,
promote and develop the best parts of Detroit in such a way that it will once
again be a destination rather than an effigy of past glories
As a citizen of the Detroit Metro area, write an essay that argues why
Detroit is worth saving. Your essay should be academic in nature and should rely
upon first-hand experience and/or research to support its central argument.
For the 2012-13 winners, click here.
The 2011-12 Student Essay Contest
Over 2,400 years ago the philosopher Socrates was charged with a capital
offence. While his concern was that the young become as good as possible,
Socrates was himself charged with corrupting the youth. He was convicted of
corrupting the youth of Athens by encouraging them to question everything.
There are, arguably, forces at work in today's world that corrupt youth.
Identify a form of corruption of the youth that you believe is now of particular
importance. What is the nature of this corruption? What is motivating this
corruption? What (if anything) can be done to counteract it? Support your claims
with current evidence, research and analysis, avoiding primary and historical
Examples of general subject areas that might be narrowed into a good essay
topic include: commercialism, religion or spirituality, atheism, the role of the
family, work ethic, technology, social networking sites, cell phones, influences
of popular culture (movies, television, music), electoral processes, substance
abuse, and the economic system. Your essay should have a narrowed focus that
allows you to provide detailed examples, explanation and research. The paper
should aim to be both informative and argumentative.
For the 2011-12 winners, click here.
The 2010-11 Student Essay Contest
The 2010-11 theme focused on the inter-connectedness of people and cultures
around the world. Students were asked to address the following prompt:
In 1921, Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian philosopher, wrote:
I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be
stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as
freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.
Almost ninety years later, we live in an increasingly interconnected world.
Many people in America have indeed been living with their windows and doors wide
open and have been exposed to a wide variety of cultures. Explore the difference
between one aspect of your culture and one of another culture. Consider the
meaning of this difference in a contemporary context. Support your claims with
current evidence, research and analysis, avoiding primary researching and
describing past conflicts.
Examples of general subject areas that might be narrowed into a good essay
topic include: religion or spirituality, perspectives on education, gender
roles, the role of the family, work ethic, healthcare systems, electoral
processes, public policies towards the environment or immigration, artistic
expression, self-expression, and language. Your essay should have a narrowed
focus that allows you to provide detailed examples, explanation and research.
The paper should aim to be both informative and argumentative, and should use a
variety of reliable sources; all sources should be cited in MLA or APA format.
For the 2010-11 winners, click here.
The 2009-10 Student Essay Contest
The 2009-10 theme focused on the role of aesthetics in daily life and
society. Students were asked to address the following prompt:
Oscar Wilde declared, to the great poet, there is only one method of music --
his own. To the great painter, there is only one manner of painting -- that
which he himself employs. The aesthetic critic, and the aesthetic critic alone,
can appreciate all forms and all modes. It is to him that Art makes her appeal.
Analyze any work of art--including, but not limited to painting, sculpture,
drawing, film, photography, dance, literature, architecture, music, and
theater-- evaluating both intellectual and emotional responses that the work of
art may elicit. For example, your essay might consider your own perspective and
interpretation or compare two divergent perspectives of the piece; it might
explain relationships among the structural elements of the work; or based on
historical research, explain the perspective of the artist as revealed through
elements in the work itself.
As these previous examples suggest, you may use any critical approach to the
piece, but repetition of another author’s analysis will not be acceptable. Your
essay should aim to make a clear argument about the work of art you have chosen
and must be supported with documented sources.
For the 2009-10 winners, click here.
The 2008-09 Student Essay Contest
The 2008-09 Student Essay Contest theme focused
on relationships between people of divergent cultures, especially
between The United States and developing nations. Essays addressed
the following question:
Helping people in developing regions and countries like Darfur,
Thailand and elsewhere has become a commonplace activity. From
celebrity adoptions to philanthropic Hollywood families, helping
people across the world is almost "en Vogue". People from the
West often approach these exchanges with a myopic understanding
of equality and ethical treatment, perceiving those who they are
helping to be "needy," "underprivileged” members of a developing
or "backward" country.
What dangers lie in approaching other cultures with these
preconceived ideas, and what sort of background knowledge and
preparation would help ensure that their "giving" is effective?
What insights might hands-on "givers" develop by working on such
a project from the inside out, rather than simply sending money?
For the 2008-09 winners, click here.
The 2007-08 Student Essay Contest
The 2007-08 contest focused on the priorities
facing the United States as a member of the world community. Essays
addressed the following question:
In today's world we are dealing with the realities of a global
marketplace. With that in mind, if you were elected President of
the United States, what global priority would you set for the
country, e.g. economic, social, political, environmental, and
why? If your priority is met, what impact will there be on other
countries and their citizens?
For the 2007-08 winners, click here.