• Tue, Dec 10 - 4:00 pm ET

Teacher Rightfully Bans Abortion As Paper Topic


Abigail Cornejo, a high school sophomore in Illinois, is upset because she wasn’t allowed to write a paper on abortion. Abigail, who is anti-choice, told LifeNews.com:

“My English class is doing a controversial issue research paper. My English teacher, Mr. David Valentino originally told the class we may not do abortion, euthanasia, or legalization of marijuana. I asked why we couldn’t do infanticide, abortion and he replied with, ‘I’ve read too many papers on it. I don’t care anymore.’”

Reportedly, he also eventually told her that she could write a paper about abortion if she wrote that she was in favor of abortion.

Now, I’ve never taught high school. But I have taught college-level freshman English multiple times. And, like David Valentino, I never ever ever let my students write papers on abortion, marijuana legalization, or euthanasia. I include gay marriage and the death penalty in my ban, as well. And I’m not alone in this…I’d say a good portion of my colleagues heavily suggest that students stay away from those paper topics, too.

Why? Because those topics are incredibly difficult to write about in a well-reasoned, well-researched, nuanced manner, especially for beginning writers. They are topics that have been rhetoricized and moralized to death, so it’s difficult (for people who are generally beginners at research, too) to find and parse unbiased sources, as well as to craft an argumentative paper that doesn’t rely on logical fallacies and generalizations.  That’s not to say it can’t be done well, but it’s damn hard.

There are literally one hundred bazillion controversial topics in this world. Here are some amazing controversial topics I’ve gotten papers about in the last five years, off the top of my head: Teen pregnancy in New Mexico, red light cameras, curbside recycling, parking on community college campuses, Bloomberg’s policy on formula in NYC hospitals, motorcycle helmet laws, irrigation and water rights, and whether or not the US should have a military presence in Iraq. See? There’s so many things students can write about. Requiring them to become more creative in their paper topics will only help them become better writers and critical thinkers.

I should mention that I have, on occasion, allowed students to write about abortion, but only if there’s a very specific context or if it’s through a local lens. If there’s something happening within the state or city that has to do with changing abortion laws (like requiring transvaginal ultrasounds, for example), then it’s easier for the student to relate the controversy to his or her own citizenship (and find local people to interview as sources!) rather than as a gray, amorphous “moral issue.” But if the paper topic is “Is abortion immoral?” or “Should abortion be legal?” or “Abortion is controversial” or anything like that? Hell, no.

Now, I will say that I don’t think it was ethical for Abigail’s teacher to say “Ok, you can write a paper about abortion if you argue FOR abortion.” (If he did actually do and say that, that is. We’re only hearing her side of the story.) At least in my classes, the point of having to write an argumentative paper is to steer the student towards something they are personally interested and invested in, that they also learn how to write and research about. Telling her to play devil’s advocate to her own moral position seems petty and childish. It also doesn’t seem appropriate for him to say that he “doesn’t care” about abortion anymore, either. I totally sympathize with that mindset, but…it’s really not a good reason for a paper requirement. And dude, this is high school. Parents will be breathing down your neck in a second for arbitrary reasoning like that.

If he had explained to Abigail that he was hoping for a controversial topic that was a bit less common and a bit more specific, that seems like it would have helped his case way more than “Meh, I just don’t want you write about that topic.” Abigail ultimately decided to write about stem-cell research, which I guess was controversial and also creative enough for her teacher. I know I’d 100% rather read a paper about stem-cell research than abortion and honestly, it will likely be a better paper.

Photo: Ableimages/Getty Images

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  • CMJ

    I -litrahly- believe ZERO content from Lifesite News.

    • http://carrie-murphy.com/ Carrie Murphy

      That’s probably a good policy.

    • CMJ

      I like it! I read the article over on lifenews and wanted to poke my eyeballs out.

    • Sri

      Well, at least when I went, the ads on the right were all for crochet hooks, so they have you covered on that front…

      I know that it shouldn’t be funny, and it’s kind of a laugh to keep from crying thing, but I just can’t handle the fact that an anti-choice website has an ad for crochet hooks on it. You would think that they would want to distance themselves from that.

  • brebay

    There’s really no way for a teacher to win this one. Teachers are supposed to grade on the analysis of your argument, not whether they agree with you. But we’re all human, and we all have the opinions we have PRECISELY BECAUSE we believe it’s the best analysis, so it’s nearly impossible to grade a kid’s argument without pissing off the parents, or the church, or somebody, or imposing your own belief because you feel it’s more sound. It’s a death-trap for teachers in the internet age and I doubt I’d even assign ANY controversial topic nowadays!

    • Kay_Sue

      I hadn’t even considered what it might mean if he graded the paper, it didn’t go in the student’s favor for completely technical and valid reasons, and then the parents potentially went off on him for a grading bias based on whatever his personal stance was on the topic…that could be a nightmare scenario too.

    • momjones

      I always told my students that I might disagree with every fiber of my being with their thesis, but that had nothing to do with how I graded the paper. First of all their audience is technically their classmates (even though I am reading the paper). Clear writing which was technically correct as well as specific evidence (facts from valid sources) which supported their opinion, are what mattered.

    • Rachel Sea

      If you don’t assign controversial topics, you hold kids back. Critical thinking is tested by bias, and it takes practice and study to overcome.

    • brebay

      I think that’s true, but when someone starts with a premise that one particular book is not subject to criticism or challenge at all, and all other reasoning starts from the point that that book is absolutely not subject to scrutiny, it’s very difficult to get those kids to think critically about any topic for which they can point to that book as their key source. It’s tricky. What I think of as critical thinking a lot of parents think of as blasphemy, I’m just glad I’m not a teacher!

    • Rachel Sea

      Why would one start with that premise? It’s school, not church.

    • CrazyFor Kate

      I think brebay’s referring to the student’s mindset.

    • Rachel Sea

      I thought she was referring to the parents’ mindset, but I don’t think it matters either way. If people want critical thinking and education to be hampered by religious bias then they might as well not pursue formal education at all.

    • FormerlyKnownAsWendy

      I always ban legalizing marijuana as a topic for my students just because it seems when I grade them I end up finding out they smoke it from their paper, and then it puts me in a sticky gray area of knowing stuff I don’t want to know. Then, when I check their sources, I end up being on weed.com and things I don’t want in my search history (at work or home). So I’ve banned that one. I hadn’t banned any others. Although, I *just* graded a student essay against homosexual marriage (which I disagree with her, but I was letting her have her say). But her say was just soooo freakin’ bigoted that I may have to ban that topic in the future…..Usually, even if they believe firmly in whatever, if they can get past their own opinions and write without sounding rude, it’s fine. But damn, I really got tested on my policy this weekend and I may have to ban more topics.

  • EmmaFromÉire

    Yeah, and she probably wrote some nutty, misunderstood shit about stem cells. It sounds like she just desperately wanted to harp on and have somebody have to listen,

    If I were a teacher i’d do the exact same thing, there’s only so much repetition you can take, but i’m not delighted about him telling her she could only write a pro choice paper. Maybe it was to get her to think outside her own sphere, but it comes off a bit dodgy.

    • NotTakenNotAvailable

      When I taught reading and writing at a community college, we had a list of departmentally banned topics that all of us instructors were more than happy to pass along to the students as far as their persuasive essays were concerned. Not only because of the repetition involved (students hear the word “persuasive” or “argumentative” and automatically thought of whatever issues came up at big family dinners around the holidays, which tended to be pretty much the same), but also because students will take certain topics as opportunities to harp on to a captive audience.

      If there is any validity at all to the statement that the teacher okayed this girl’s choice of topic only as long as she argued the pro-choice side (and considering I’d plan a full day each semester with my students to talk about reliable vs. questionable sources, and you can guess which side I’d put LifeNews on [in my defense, I also warned students about MSNBC's heftily liberal bias])…I actually think that’s not a half-bad idea, and one I might have given an entire class as a critical thinking exercise. Honestly, if I’d had a student who was deadset on choosing a banned topic for their final paper and could not be persuaded otherwise, I might have asked something similar just so I had a chance of getting more than a barely literate screed that I would then have to carefully review for a conference with the student.

  • Kay_Sue

    Maybe someone should CC him this article so he has a better response lined up next time. Your reasoning is spot on. Unless you’ve covered thoroughly vetting sources for bias, these subjects are just too entangled for a student to be able to accurately and concisely cover the *entire subject matter* in a single paper.

    And…I hate to say it…but at that late adolescent/young adult stage, we all think we are making profound jumps in logic and reasoning. I imagine it would be boring after a bit to read the same ideas, consistently presented as mind-blowing every time. I don’t blame him for feeling tired of it–but he probably should consider presenting the reasoning to a student better…

    • sri

      In the life news article, it says a few times that he objected to the topic because it’s an ethical debate more than anything. He also objected to stem cell research for the same reason. I’m willing to bet that she picked it because she can still talk about abortion.

      I think that the assignment might have been to research both factual sides to an argument (like if she talked about the death penalty and researched whether it actually does deter other criminals versus the risk of executing someone wrongly convicted, or she looked at the racial composition of death row inmates or the real cost of execution) and present a case for one side. Since a lot of pro life sources just throw out misinformation willynilly it would be hard to present actual facts without slipping into “abortion is wrong because babies and the bible” just like a pro choice paper risks slipping into philosophical arguments over two people with differing interests occupying the same place at the same time. It would be why euthanasia is also banned. I also have difficulty putting any faith in her ability to write a factual paper about abortion when she conflates infanticide with abortion. There’s a pretty huge difference in those two terms…

    • Kay_Sue

      All valid points. It’s just difficult when you’re first really bridging the world of writing about controversial subjects to understand the necessity of at least trying to remove your personal biases.

      The subjects he banned are “hot button” topics that would be driven more by a student’s desire to prove their own personal belief than to present valid arguments on the subjects themselves.

  • NYBondLady

    When I read the headline, I thought this might be one of those “rage-inducing” knee-jerk, quickly-written response articles. But it’s totally not.
    Thanks for taking a step back and giving a level-headed reason as to why this teacher was correct when he banned certain topics (even if what he said to the student was inappropriate). I never thought of off-limits subjects this way before.

  • Muggle

    I think the teacher might have said something along the lines of “I wish someone would write a pro-choice paper for once, I’m so tired of reading anti-choice papers” and this self-hating brat took it to mean “you can only write about abortion if you’re FOR it.” My teachers would have done the same, really.

    I’m glad I never had to write about political issues until I was a sophomore in college, and it had to be through a state or local lens (I went with both, comparing North Carolina’s sex-ed policies and their effects on both the county I grew up in and the county I went to college in). It’s much easier to find unbiased sources when you’ve been researching and writing for a couple of years, and are looking at the effects of the issue on your town/state.

    Frankly the only thing stopping me from being an English teacher is this bullshit- you can’t start off writing papers about “controversial issues” that affect the whole country that you can’t really see. You have to start small, you can’t fit a well-reasoned examination of abortion policy and the pro-choice and anti-choice movements in a 5-page paper if you’re a beginner who has a very clear bias.

  • pixie

    What I’m thinking *might* have caused the teacher’s lack of reasoning/not overly stellar responses could have something to do with a history between the student and the teacher that the student doesn’t mention. Perhaps the student continuously tries to do assignments on things the teacher has “banned” for one reason or another and the teacher got fed up. Maybe the teacher gave decent reasoning as to why he was not allowing the topic of abortion to be written about but the student kept pressing and eventually he lost a bit of his cool.
    Like you mention, it happens with undergrad students, they think their topic is totally groundbreaking and the most interesting thing in the world, when half the class submits something nearly identical every year. I don’t know how many times I have seen students in my classes (both high school and undergrad) argue with teachers on whether or not they should be allowed to write about a certain topic that the teacher has already said no to. And 9 times out of 10, the student blows everything out of proportion after the fact, putting words into the teacher’s mouth and leaving out bits of the story that make them look bad.

    • elle

      Yeah if you click over to the article she says she told him she was going to do the paper about abortion no matter what.

    • pixie

      I saw that, which gave me the impression it did.

  • LiteBrite

    I took a debate class in high school and one of our topics was abortion. I had to argue for abortion not being legal. I will say it was a good learning experience having to research and come up with arguments for a position I did not personally support.

    Having said that though, I agree with your article in general.

  • Justme

    One of the big assignments 8th graders do at my school is a research paper on a major issue…but I don’t know if anyone has ever written about abortion (or any of those other ones you mentioned). If they have, it’s never been an issue that has been addressed with the administration or media.

    I think that most level-headed teachers just want our children to have an educated opinion on major issues – it doesn’t matter which opinion they choose. I did a big presidential debate last year between two historical figures and the final grade for the assignment was the kids writing who they would vote for and why. They had to pick out particular policies the figure had enacted and why they felt those were good policies. These essays very clearly outlined the child’s political views (whether they knew it or not) but what was exciting for me was the fact that my students were able to gather information, chew on it for a bit and then decide what they agreed with and why.

    • EmmaFromÉire

      I’ve often thought about that- i’m willing to bet my secondary school english teacher knew more about my political thoughts than I did! It’s the sort of thing that comes out unconsciously, it must be an interesting thing to follow!

    • Justme

      And it was a great differentiation grading tool because I could grade the essay based on where the child was at in their educational development as opposed to some standardized bar of achievement.

      I teach math and algebra now, but I’m always a little jealous of the English teachers because they get FAR more insight into the minds of our students than anyone else on staff. But they are also the ones that usually report any cases of abuse (other than the counseling staff) because of the things kids write about.

      Above all, the first rule of being a good teacher is to know your audience, because if you don’t know what makes teenagers tick (their friends, technology and music) you’re never going to get them to pay attention to the really important stuff.

  • Armchair Observer

    I wonder if he actually told the student she had to write from the opposing view so she could learn how to write a better argument. That’s a pretty affective strategy, actually.

    • Justme

      But could also be treacherous territory and land yourself in an unnecessary amount of trouble.

    • Armchair Observer

      Umm, why? I was captain of my high school debate team and we always had to prepare our arguments from both sides. As a college writing tutor and teacher, I stand by the validity of the strategy.

    • Andrea

      I can imagine why a HIGH SCHOOL teacher would ban such topics though. These are teenagers and not college students, which are technically adults

    • sri

      Because if she gets a bad grade, she’s going to say it’s because of her stance, not because she doesn’t know the difference between infanticide and abortion. Then the parents will get all pissy and he will probably have to give her a better grade for a shitty, poorly executed paper.

      When someone is that adamant, it’s easier just to bar the topic altogether.

    • Justme

      Umm…because if a family is staunchly conservative in their beliefs and you are asking their daughter or son to write about the arguments for pro-choice, you have the possibility of some very, very angry parents on your hands. I’m not arguing against the strategy, but instead visualizing how it might play out in the real world – especially in the south. Again, I’m not saying those parents would be right in their anger, but it is sometimes best not to unnecessarily poke the bear.

    • Armchair Observer

      Yes, because those of us living in the South are inherently unreasonable human beings. I live and work in the Deep South, by the way.

      Poking the bear, as it were, might be unwise; but, if the teacher did as I reasoned, he would have good composition pedagogy on his side. Assigning a persuasive or argumentative essay, speech, or project often involves some expectation of students learning to think critically. Being able to argue both sides is the epitome of critical thinking.

    • Justme

      Bless your heart. I live in the South as well. And I’ve taught here for several years. I would err on the side of caution and use the “arguing the other side of the discussion” for something other than the topic of abortion. It’s just too dicey of a subject and I’m not willing to take that chance with the educational climate the way it is currently.

    • Armchair Observer

      Ouch. I won’t bless your heart, knowing full well what that phrase generally means–not that you meant it that way. I think.

      Interesting point of view. I suppose I view critical thinking as requiring challenging of bias. Sometimes, to do that, one must poke a few bears. I would never assign abortion as the topic (nor would I outright ban it), but I have required students to argue from the opposing side before. In fact, I usually have them do so as an assignment in advance of their final draft. In my experience, I’ve found that my students produce better arguments in the end. If a student is passionate about something–anything–I’m happy. If they can turn that passion into a learning experience, I’m ecstatic.

    • Justme

      Like I said before, I’m not questioning the validity of your method but instead the use of it with this particular topic. I too, have used this kind of strategy when I discussed the issue of slavery and states’ rights within the terms of the Compromise of 1850 with my history students last year. But the topic wasn’t nearly as hot-button as abortion.

    • Véronique Houde

      so basically, both of you agree. You’re both saying that you personally wouldn’t do it for the topic of abortion ;).

    • sri

      Yeah, about that… parents really don’t give a shit about pedagogy. Hell, I count myself lucky if parents don’t threaten to sue because their Johnny got a D in conduct after he cussed me out and spent half of every class in the bathroom, even though I gave them ample warning that I would do it.

    • Kay_Sue

      I think it would be a valid strategy for someone in college–for a high school student being raised in a staunchly conservative household, you are spot on–it’s a bear, let it sleep and don’t feed it.

    • Justme

      And as a college writing tutor and teacher, how would you explain the difference between ‘effective’ and ‘affective’ to your students?

    • Armchair Observer

      Right oh! Spelling monster yet again (eta: fixed). Though, perhaps there are affective benefits as well. Hmm, yes, there probably are: learning to create stronger arguments might make one feel better about oneself.

    • Justme

      I don’t think it is silly dialogue – I think that if I’m going to smugly stand on my job credentials, I might want to have the evidence to back it up.

    • Armchair Observer

      Would you like to see my CV? Sorry, but this is a silly dialogue. It was obvious from the original comment that I intended “effective”. I’ve corrected that and I’ve even addressed the possibility that “affective” might also have value as the term in use. I used my personal experience to support my opinion in regards to what began as a thought experiment (i.e. “I wonder [...]“). You’re welcome to disagree. In fact, I’d love to hear more on your opinion–sans silly pot shots.

    • Justme

      And I am looking at it from the realistic side of things – how it might actually play out in a classroom with middle and high schoolers still living under the care of their parents. It seems like one of those “great in theory, terrible in reality” plans that are best left untested. There are risks you can take as a public school teacher and there are risks that are best worth avoiding. Flipping the perspective on an pro-life essay? Not one of those risks to take.

    • Armchair Observer

      Interesting point. How would you handle it if a student only wanted to write on such a topic (the impression I get of the student in question)?

    • Justme

      I would have called the parent after I realized how adamant she truly was to discuss their viewpoint on things. I also would have run the situation by an administrator to gauge their reaction – to see if it was a battle worth fighting.

    • Tinyfaeri

      That was my thought. It sounded like an exercise in critical thinking and forming an opinion backed by research, so it might have been more of a “Fine, if you insist on writing about a topic you already feel strongly about, you’ll need to write about it from an opposing point of view so you still get the research aspect out of the assignment rather than going to the resources you already know.”

    • JLH1986

      In HS when writing a research paper our teacher asked us who wanted to write about Abortion; Death Penalty and Euthanasia (no legalizing pot back then) everyone raised their hands who did. Then he proceeded to have everyone who was for/against raise their hands in turn and took down names. Then he assigned the entire group to write the opposite of what they had raised their hands. At first everyone was pissed. But…he explained that the point of research is to research not pull on old resources and if the students really felt strongly about their position, writing from the other position would allow them to know what arguments others would use and they could then prepare an articulate and not off the cuff emotional response. Not a single parent complained.

  • elle

    Clicking over to read the article on Lifenews (yes it was as terrible as you imagined) makes me wonder if she has written papers about her pro-life stance before. She seemed pretty unwilling to change topics so I wonder if the teacher got frustrated and in an effort to challenge her told her she could do it if she wrote for the pro-choice side? She was pretty clearly only going to write about abortion no matter what and I definitely see why the teacher got frustrated at her.

    • Muggle

      I can understand that. My teachers made a point of making students write about issues from the opposing side to challenge them. I don’t think that would be an unreasonable response.

  • ted3553

    Initially, as I was reading, I didn’t agree with his decision. As I worked through your reasoning, it made complete sense. If he had explained his reasons as you did (and in fact if they were similar), it may have made more sense to the class and this girl as well.

  • Audrey

    When I was in high school, we had to write a paper and give a speech about a controversial topic. We didn’t get to pick, the teacher randomly assigned it to us. Mine was pro-choice, which is why this made me think of that assignment. I think it’s a useful exercise and I don’t see the point in banning controversial topics for papers. I guess then you have to sit down and decide what merits a ban and what doesn’t, which could be problematic.

  • Rachel

    If I were a teacher/professor, I would tell students they could write about whatever topic they pleased (at their own risk, because if their sources are terrible, their grade will suffer). They would be required to submit their topic/stance on the issue to me in advance.

    Then, their assignment would be to take the opposite stance in their paper. Surprise!

    • FormerlyKnownAsWendy

      I had a prof. do that once, although we had to write a paper for both sides. We didn’t know about the 2nd one until after we’d written the one we truly believed in. It was great.

  • Afton

    We had a similar incident at my high school in my 11th grade English class. We had to write an argumentative paper, but were not allowed to write on the death penalty, abortion, or gay marriage. My teacher even spent a good 10-15 minutes explaining why she didn’t want us writing on those topics (basically everything you said) and a girl in my class insisted on writing about gay marriage since she is bisexual. Our teacher finally just told her she could do whatever she wanted, but since she was ignoring the instructions the best she could get would be a C. She wound up failing since she basically only sourced herself and then tried to complain about how our English teacher is homophobic and that’s why she failed. Sometimes you can’t win.

  • Mel

    I just read the original article as well. It’s obvious (to me) that this teacher was trying to get her to improve her skills by taking the opposite position for this paper. Allowing her to write her tired rant, regardless of the topic, would have been no challenge to her intellectually. The article’s claims and slant are as nonsensical as the “war on christmas” There was clearly no attempt by this educator to brainwash or punish her for not wanting to “KILL BABIES.”

  • Rachel

    “At least in my classes, the point of having to write an argumentative paper is to steer the student towards something they are personally interested and invested in, that they also learn how to write and research about.”

    That’s so bewildering to me. I always thought the purpose of assigning argumentative papers was to teach students how to present arguments logically and coherently in their writing. If they want to write about some topic they’re passionate about, they can start a blog or something.

    ” It also doesn’t seem appropriate for him to say that he “doesn’t care” about abortion anymore, either. I totally sympathize with that mindset, but…it’s really not a good reason for a paper requirement.”

    I really doubt he meant he didn’t care about abortion so much as he didn’t care about what high school students have to say about it 100s of papers later. I don’t remember having a college professor who didn’t blacklist certain topics, create a pre-approved list from which students may choose, or require expressed approval be granted for a topic otherwise.

    • http://carrie-murphy.com/ Carrie Murphy

      It’s important to me that students write about paper topics that they are personally invested in, because they’ll be more motivated and do a better job, especially first-year writing students. I want students to be participants in the writing process and generally that happens to a greater level when they are writing about things they actually care about, rather than just presenting any old argument logically and cohesively. There’s a place for that, of course (in-class exercises, homework) but I always urge students to find topics that they actually really care about, no matter what the paper assignment. Except for abortion and the other topics I mentioned above. But, as I also said above, students are more than welcome to do those topics if they have a specific or local angle.

    • Rachel

      If the students chose the topic, they are invested in that topic even if they have to take the opposite stance.

      I think specifically wanting students to *like* what they are writing about on the grounds that it will increase motivation and result in a “better” paper is coddling. That’s not how life works – motivation is most often needed when there is no pre-existing passion for any given subject.

      But, I realize that teachers are under immense pressure for students to get good grades and pass standardized tests, so concessions must be made.

  • SusannahJoy

    We had to write an argumentative paper in high school. We chose topics, chose which side we’d be on, and then the teacher said we had to argue the other side. I ended up writing a pro war paper, and it was interesting. It’s so easy, especially when you’re still in high school, to only read things that agree with your opinion. Having to look at the other side was probably really good for me.

    • FormerlyKnownAsWendy

      We had to do that in an upper level course, first write one side you truly believed in. Then later, write the antithesis of that. Then combined them at the end. I was surprised I was able to bullshit my way through the one I didn’t really believe, but I certainly learned how to be more open minded :)

    • JLH1986

      and how to research both sides of an argument, to know what the opposing side is bringing to the table and to make decisions for yourself based on your independent research.

  • momjones

    Taught high school English for 38 years – 34 of them teaching the persuasive/argumentative research paper process, and in an all girls Catholic school (to Honors Sophomores and Juniors). I never let them do a paper on abortion. If they asked me why, I told them that it was too emotional of a topic. End of discussion – and there were no challenges in all the years I taught. In fact, my colleagues did the same thing. I gave them a comprehensive list of controversial topics; they chose. I also warned them that if there was a “run” on a topic, I’d limit the number of people who could write on it. Obviously, popular topics depended on each generation. For example, in the early 90s, I had many animal experimentation papers. Mid to late 90s – lots of papers on eating disorders/causes. I completely understand the teacher’s point when he says, “I’ve read too many papers on it. I don’t want to read anymore.” Keep in mind that it takes at least a half hour to read each student’s rough draft and the typical load for writing classes for me averaged 35 to 40 (total) students a semester (sometimes both semesters). And, by the end of my career, I was ready to shoot myself if I ever had to read another paper on the death penalty!

    • AP

      We had to write position papers in Spanish class in high school. My teacher said one of the best papers on the topic the department had ever seen was a student who wrote about the death penalty…but incorrectly translated “penalty” to “pene” (penis) instead of “pena” (penalty.)

      Apparently, it was one hilarious essay about the Death Penis.

    • EmmaFromÉire

      Death Penis sounds like a terrifying sex toy

    • http://carrie-murphy.com/ Carrie Murphy

      Or the best horror movie EVER

    • EmmaFromÉire

      I FOUND IT.

    • Tinyfaeri

      That’s… either the most horrible thing or the most wonderful thing I’ve ever seen.

    • Jayess

      omg comment thread of the week.

    • Kay_Sue

      Oh my…that…that is terrifying.

    • sri

      Or possibly some sort of metal band

  • CrazyLogic

    One of my brother’s college professors did the same thing. Banned Abortion as a topic because she was sick of half the papers being about it, and she also banned global warming as one with the reasoning being “It’s happening, get over it.”

  • AP

    I can also see banning the topic if the papers are going to be read/discussed out loud. I’ve seen controversial topics start to be discussed in classes (even in college) as an academic pro-and-con debate, but end with shouting and tears when a couple of people with personal experience on the topic take the opposing side’s opinion as a personal criticism of themselves.

    That could go to hell really quickly in a high school classroom on a topic about, say, gay marriage or abortion, since there’s no way for a teacher to know who in the class has a personal investment in a particular angle (is gay, has had an abortion,) and how they might react if the person opposing makes their point in an indelicate or offensive manner. And of course, there’s the community ramifications if a student decides to open up about a personal experience and ends up turned on because it’s an unpopular viewpoint in that community.

    The average teacher just wants the kids to learn how to write coherently. They don’t want to end up in meeting after meeting over teenage drama over a writing assignment.

    • Kay_Sue

      I think this would be especially true for teenagers.

      The teenage brain is programmed to seek peer acceptance. There was a study with a driving simulator that actually showed that teens drive worse when their friends are in the car, in part because they devote more of their brain to wondering what their friends think of their driving (in addition to a greater risk-taking factor).

      It would be incredibly easy for such a debate to turn into a free-for-all and for some students to potentially be really damaged by it.

  • Eric Strauss

    The rule should be: “you can write about abortion, but you must argue the side you don’t believe.” But this rule should apply to both sides, not just the pro-life side. In fact, it should probably apply to every topic that people feel passionately about.

  • MamaLlama

    On topic but off topic, I wrote about abortion 15 years ago in high school (college prep English). The teacher crossed out ‘fetus’ every time I used it, and substituted ‘baby’… She was a nun (in a small town, public school)… And I received a B for the assignment. I saved it (probably in a box at my parents’ home) because I thought it was ludicrous that she got away with crossing out fetus… I cannot remember the other notes she wrote, but they were extremely biased notes for pro-life.. Ah, childhood memories..

  • Guest

    I had a high school history teacher who liked to just have debates on controversial issues. Unfortunately, he was kind of an ass and just liked to see a bunch of know-it-all teenagers argue. I almost got into a fist fight with another girl during AP American history- all the guys in the class had to get between us (hilarious, since she was probably a good foot taller than me). The topic? Which was worse- slavery or the Holocaust.

  • Melissanichole Hermes

    That’s ridiculous. Let’s write a paper about something controversial as long as it’s not too controversial! Let the kids write about what they want. We spend our whole lives being told what to do. That age is the perfect time to learn who we are.

  • SarahJesness

    In high school my class had an assignment where we had to write a paper about a controversial topic. Pretty much everyone went with abortion. I went with gay marriage. I’M SO ORIGINAL.

    But anyway, I wouldn’t have a problem with teachers giving such an assignment banning overused topics, because it’s just going to be the same arguments repeated over and over again. It’s like, “I live on the internet, I’ve heard this all before!”.

  • Sara

    My teacher had all of the same bans in place when we started on argumentative essays. She also made us choose our stance and then made us wrote our papers from the opposite view points so we would be stronger writers.

  • Emma Lewis

    This is bit.ly/Unbelieveable

  • TerresaGularte

    I am welcome to the decision of teacher for bans the abortion Paper .


  • gothicgaelicgirl

    Our Social studies teacher made us write about abortion, for and against.
    We had a debate about it in class and for homework, she asked us to write another essay- from the OPPOSING side!
    It was fantastic, but the poor woman got in a lot of trouble from parents who felt it was inappropriate.
    Seeing as we live in Ireland and it is a topic that is mentioned in the news nearly every day, I think it’s ridiculous she got into trouble.
    Luckily enough people supported her that the school didn;t blame her for anything.

    Her basis was that if we ever found ourselves in a situation like that, we would need to sit back and decide what to do, she believed she was helping us to think of the bigger picture, long-term.

    • Bic

      I’m in England and we had to do a similar thing, only we had to choose between abortion and euthanasia. Although I don’t think anyone complained, it was just something we did.

    • gothicgaelicgirl

      we’re very backward here sadly, you really can’t say anything without someone jumping down your throat…

    • Bic

      It was during the 90′s (I hope and not the 80′s eek), I don’t know if people were as hyper tense about everything then. Things just didn’t seen such a big deal.

    • gothicgaelicgirl

      Well i was born in 1990, so in secondary school it was 2004.
      (I already feel old) =P

  • Shelly Lloyd

    My college English teacher put all the controversial topics on slips of paper, put them in a hat and then passed the hat around the room and we had to draw a topic that way. (Small community college so there was only like 40 of us each class) and we had to write our persuasive paper on that randomly drawn topic.

  • darras

    Actually I don’t think it was unethical of him to say she could do the paper if she went against her own moral standpoint. When I was in school my teacher asked me to write a paper arguing for fox hunting – against my own moral point. It was the most interesting and enlightening paper I ever wrote in those years at school because it forced me to read and properly consider the other side. It made me grow as a researcher and a writer and I think it was a very important moment for me. Making that girl write against her own moral point may have helped her to understand the arguments for and against better than what was very likely just a knee-jerk reaction due to her ‘conditioning’ over the morality of those nearest and dearest to her.

    • CrazyLogic

      My brother’s teacher that I mentioned before in this comment thread actually had students write the paper arguing the opposite of what they argued before. It was kind of epic.

  • CrazyFor Kate

    In university, several of my professors had “banned topics” simply because they were tired of them (this was film and Russian literature, so we’re talking, like, certain takes on War and Peace or a particular topic relating to German Expressionism). It’s not a big deal and I think a professor/teacher who’s dealt with this crap for years has the right to set some limits.

    Living in Russia, of course, it’s a whole different story – I can’t discuss ANYTHING with my students. If they mention LGBT stuff I have to shush them before anyone hears. Often I’ll keep them behind after class and ask that they not bring it up again, ever. Sad, but true.

  • Ddaisy

    This is really interesting. In my grade 10 religion class (I went to a Catholic high school), we were assigned to write a speech on a “life issue” (abortion, euthanasia, death penalty, etc.) We were allowed to take either side, as long as it was well-researched and well-reasoned, but, well, it was a religion class, so there was definitely subtle pressure to fall down on the “right” side of the issue.
    Anyway, it never even occurred to me until now how potentially problematic that could be (even aside from the fact that a religion class is biased). I was really proud of the speech I wrote, and honestly, I still think it’s one of the best pieces of writing I’ve ever produced. A few months ago, my dad ran into my old religion teacher, who said, “Oh, I remember your daughter. She wrote that speech on the death penalty!” Eight years after the fact.
    So even though it seems really obvious now that I’ve read this article and all the comments, I must say I had a moment of surprise that those topics would be banned when I was specifically assigned them and when it was one of my favourite projects.

  • DaisyJupes

    I would think that the reasoning behind letting her write about abortion if she wrote for abortion would be to challenge her. When writing on those topics that are generally banned, you’re not thinking about anything new. You already “know” the “facts,” so if you write about the other side you are working on your research methods better than if you wrote your side.

  • FF4life

    Much like this teacher, I don’t care. I don’t care if some sixteen year old child with no real world experiences is denighed her desire to use a high school paper to stand up on a soap box and abortion shame people.

  • NeedsImprovement

    I had a problem when I had a student write a paper about how abortions should be illegal, and that problem was in her use of sources. She used the Bible as her only source extensively throughout her rough draft, and while I was very careful to never say that a work of fiction isn’t a great source to begin with (just my own opinions there), I said that she needed a variety of facts backed up by studies or expert opinions in order to strengthen her argument. Man, that was a tough paper to grade.