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January 09, 2004

Three Approaches to Introductory Essays

I think previously I've only seen two approaches to YL "introduction" essays: the "bill of rights" format, and what I call the "grocery list" format...

The "bill of rights" approach feels like a manifesto. It says: "these are the major issues that our movement wants to address".

The "grocery list" approach is to catalog all of the instances of adultism that one can think of. The list of possible examples really has no limits -- so what you wind up doing is creating categories of injustices (e.g. government, schools, family, etc.), and then selecting what you think are the most significant problems for further discussion. No one is an expert on all issues, and it takes a fair amount of space to really explore any single one, so this is a particularly difficult kind of essay to write.

Now I think that I've identified a third possible approach to writing an introductory essay: "humanistic ideals". The idea behind this approach is to describe various humanist ideals that people subscribe to, and to then merely suggest that people of conscience should apply them to youth.

The entry that I wrote two days ago, Ideals that motivate YL, could be repurposed for this kind of introductory essay. The five relevant humanist principles that I listed there were:

  1. No human being should be treated as if they are property.
  2. Everyone who will be effected by a decision, should be able to participate in the decision-making process.
  3. All people should be treated identically by the law.
  4. Interpersonally, all people should be treated as unique individuals.
  5. People should get to express their authentic selves.

...I've never seen someone use this approach before, so I'm excited to give it a try. One thing it has going for it, I think, is that it has the potential to appeal to a lot of different people. Unlike most essays, where you're trying to show how a set of phenomena are all related, the principles here can remain disparate -- even conflicting. You only need for the reader to resonate with one of them.

Posted by Sven at January 9, 2004 06:13 PM


The problem though with being so general about it, is people won't see the connection to youth. I guarantee if you try to present that to someone they'd agree with it, but not realize that it applys to youth. If you tell them that they either won't understand it, or will deny that there is any comparison.

People just don't see youth in the same way they see others. Beyond us activists, people just forget about youth. I think of all the times I've heard people talk about the right to vote and how it 'used to' be denied to certain classes of people but now 'all Americans have the right to vote.' I correct them and say, well people under 18 don't, and they say "Oh, I never thought of that." or "well you know what I meant"

Posted by: KPalicz at February 20, 2004 08:47 AM