One Pen Can Change the World

NWPNH sponsors a writing contest called “One Pen Can Change the World” in which New Hampshire students submit essays about their ideas about justice. This year’s contest is open now.  The deadline for submissions is May 12, 2017.   Contest instructions can be found here.

The 2017 winner and runner-up for the high school contest are pictured here . You can read their essays below.

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Thomas Oliver reads his essay, “Our Fake News Addiction” at the One Pen Awards Ceremony.

High School Winner

Our Fake News Addiction

By Thomas Oliver

Profile High School, Grade 10, Teacher: Erin Sweeney

In our modern world, it has become easier and easier to access information via the internet and social media. But this ease of access has had some negative effects as well in a time where differences of opinion have polarized the country, and the general public has put less and less faith in the mainstream media in favor of their social media feeds. Long gone are the days of Walter Cronkite, “The Most Trusted Man in America,” and rising are the days of “clickbait” news stories and error-ridden information that now even the president shares as fact. If we aren’t able to stop those who spread these stories for their own benefit, we may face a serious issue of widespread misinformation in the near future.

This weekend, I was sitting around the breakfast table doing homework. My mother was in a chair next to me on her computer, scrolling through Facebook. Suddenly, I noticed a shocked, disheartened expression cross her face. She looked at me and stated, “Well Tom, the Great Barrier Reef is now entirely dead. Humanity just couldn’t stop polluting it and now we’ve finally killed it. What a waste.” She sounded almost disgusted at the thought.

But I wasn’t so sure of her statement. Why hadn’t I heard of this in the news before now? Shouldn’t it be more of a major story? I told her my opinion, but she was defensive, citing that Outside Magazine, the original creator of the post, was a reputable source. So I decided to check the story myself, and with a quick Google I soon found my answer, the Great Barrier reef was actually about 20% dead, but far from entirely. I read my newfound information aloud to my mother, and as she listened, her expression turned from one of disbelief, to one of realization, and then embarrassment. “Well, thank you for clearing that up for me Tom,” she said, “I’m glad that I have you to be the fact-checker here.” Although she was not alone in her unfounded belief, nearly 3,500 other people shared the post, and scientists had to publicly refute the claim to stop it from spreading further.

I remember watching a CBS 60 Minutes story in March covering the now hot-button issue of “fake news.” For the story, reporter Scott Pelley interviewed many creators including Mike Cernovich, the manager of Danger and Play, one of the largest “fake news” sites on the internet, a title that he openly refutes, stating that he has never published fake news in his life. This site has been responsible for many popular news articles that were later proven to be false, including those with the titles, “Podesta Spirit Cooking Emails Reveal Clinton’s Inner Circle has Sex Cult with Connection to Human Trafficking,” and, “Hillary Clinton has Parkinson’s Disease, Physician Confirms.” “These news stories are fakes.” Pelley stated. “They’re definitely not fake…They’re not lies at all. One-hundred percent true” Cernovich responded very matter of factly. Pelley seemed slightly taken aback, and probed again “How do you decide if something is true?”, to which Cernovich shot back, “How does anybody decide? That’s an epistemological question. What is the nature of truth? How does anybody ascertain what is true or what is false?”

Our fake news crisis is in my opinion one of the biggest injustices in our country at this moment, involving everything from medicine to politics, and affecting everyone from the average American to the President himself. People act on what they believe are the facts. Personal opinion, action, and justification for action are all based on facts that we have at any given moment, facts that we all instinctively believe are true. People use facts to try and sway the opinions of others to their side, and in turn, people justify their opinions with more facts. By manipulating what we perceive as fact, those in control of our information can in effect control everything that we do, all for their own benefit and monetary gain.

The issue is a big one, and has spread like a virus across the country, but in the end, the problem is us. As the ones who consume and share this type of information without proper fact-checking, we are only harming ourselves. If we want to put a stop to this type of widespread manipulation, we are going to need to be more careful with our media consumption, and make sure to carefully inspect any story that we difficult to believe, and even more importantly, if we find that deep in our hearts, we want it to be true.

Runner-up

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Marguerite Opalinski reads her essay, “Maternity Leave” at the One Pen awards ceremony

Maternity Leave

By Marguerite Opalinski

Grade 10, Profile High School, Teacher: Erin Sweeney

The definition of injustice is a lack of fairness and a violation of rights. In our modern world infants not even old enough to talk are missing out on being cared for by their birth mothers because they have to return back to work, to make up the money they missed out on earning due to having a child. This injustice is unbearable. Mothers are forced to choose between spending time and caring for their child and earning money to pay for the hospital bill. This inequity must change. We must change our views on maternity leave in this country.

Women in the US today are not guaranteed paid leave when they have a child. This influences mothers everywhere to not take the full 12 weeks off to nurture their child due to financial instability. Only 21% of US companies paid family or maternity leave benefits in 2015 according to Society For Human Resource Management. This is dangerous to both mother and child. Newborns should be with their mothers to develop a bond and most importantly to be breastfed. Breastfeeding is crucial to a child’s health and studies show breastfeeding decreases a child’s risk of ear infections, diarrhea, and stomach issues verses a child who was not breastfed. Breastfeeding is also supremely beneficial to mothers. Breastfeeding is proven to help women recover faster from childbirth due to the hormones  released while breastfeeding. These hormones help a mother’s uterus to contract back to its original size.

Women should not be punished for bringing life into the world and the lack of paid maternity leave should not discourage women from having children. Women are already less likely to be hired due to the chance a business would have to give them unpaid or paid maternity leave. Studies show women that either have children or are pregnant are 36% less likely to be hired, according to an NBC News article. And that is a far greater injustice than just maternity leave. It is now influencing females to think that having children is a weakness when it is a strength. Starting to realize that women need paid maternity leave to be that strong individual for their child is the first step to correcting this injustice.

As a country, we should move forward with the guarantees that the Affordable Care Act provided: all women’s health care plans must cover paid maternity leave. This prevents women from paying out of pocket for screening, prenatal care, and childbirth. Following through with this Act could be the gateway towards making women feel covered and safe when it comes to pregnancy.

America should take notes on maternity leave from countries such as Finland. In Finland, expectant mothers are able to start their maternity leave up to seven weeks before their estimated due date. The government in Finland also covers 16 additional weeks of paid maternity leave through grants regardless of the mother’s working situation and offers 8 weeks of paternity leave for both mother and father to bond with their child and raise them to the best of their abilities. After the child turns three, parents can also choose to take partial care leave, where they do half of their job at their work and half of it at home, which can be done until the child reaches second grade. Finland’s compassionate views on maternity leave often shock Americans.

The United States policy on maternity leave is hurting our society, and this injustice must cease. Much like Martin Luther King Jr.’s fight for racial equality, it is our time to fight for the rights of mothers and families. In “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” King wrote, “ For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” The time is now. We must realize that what is best for mothers and infants is best for our society as a whole.

 

The National Writing Project in New Hampshire runs the One Pen Can Change the World essay contest, which asks students to respond to one of three prompts related to justice, annually.

For this year’s instructions and writing prompts, watch this website.

You can now read 2014’s winning essays in the One Pen Can Change the World booklet. We invite teachers to use the booklet in your classes.

For additional information, contact NWPNH Director Meg Petersen at megjoanna@gmail.com

The winning essays from 2014 are listed below.

Grades 9-12

Winners:

“Letter From a Disappointed Teenager” Julia Brackett, Souhegan High School, Amherst

“Lou Bug” Isabella Rubin, Concord High School

Grade 8

Winner:  “Imagine” Gabby Lajeunesse, Hopkinton Middle High School

Runners Up: “Definition of Injustice” Joseph Kealy, Kearsarge Regional Middle School

“Dear Pope Francis” Noah Waldron, Kearsarge Regional Middle School

Grade 7

Winner: “Injustice: Letter from Laconia” Bryden Wright, Laconia Middle School

Runner Up: “One Pen can Change the World” Renee Corriveau, Laconia Middle School

Grade 5

Winner: “Different Lives, One Family” Ruby Lonergan, Campton Elementary School

Runner Up: “Dear Mrs. Barach” Kayla Thrasher, Pleasant Street School, Laconia