Oakland Community College

Previous Winners

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

Saving Detroit

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 research.

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.