Justice group: Set criteria in essay contests

Schools urged to steer clear of pushing political agendas

A local group is seeking support for new criteria suggested for District 51’s selection of essay contests promoted in schools.

Grand Valley Peace and Justice member Dave Murphy said he came up with the idea for essay criteria after his child came home from school with a flier for a Pro Second Amendment Committee essay contest. The criteria he recommends include making sure contests: “1: challenge the contestant academically; 2: provide the contestant with an opportunity for civic engagement; 3: provide the contestant with a challenge to demonstrate leadership.” The suggestions are mentioned in a letter signed by Murphy that Grand Valley Peace and Justice Director Julie Mamo sent Tuesday to GVPJ members with a request that they add their support by Monday to the letter if they agree with it.

“This is not a complaint, these are suggestions,” Murphy said. “I wanted to see if there were other people who were like-minded.”

The letter mentions a concern that schools not be used as places for “special interest groups to advance one side of a particular political agenda,” then specifically cites the Pro Second Amendment Committee’s essay contest. The contest in 2012 asked students to identify why the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is important. Pro Second Amendment Committee President David Cox said the group’s goal is to support the right to bear arms, but he said an essay would not automatically be thrown out if it dismissed the Second Amendment.

“If it was very well-written and provided a strong case against the Second Amendment…and was better prepared than the other essays, I would definitely consider that,” Cox said. “We try to encourage more people’s exploration of the topic than to start from the standpoint that they must agree with us in order to submit. Obviously we are trying to push them in the right direction (though).”

Superintendent Steve Schultz, to whom Murphy’s letter is addressed, said he has not yet received the letter but has talked to Murphy over the phone about possible essay contest criteria. Schultz said the volume of requests has increased in recent years from people who want essay contest fliers to be distributed in schools. Not every group pushing an essay contest gets to hand out fliers in classrooms, Schultz said, but he added specific criteria may help expedite the process of deciding which contests make the cut.

“We’re always open to input from the community,” he said.


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