Sunday, June 09, 2013

Identifying and Investigating a Local Problem

My students have been investigating local problems for their proposal assignment. The assignment asks that they describe a problem with which they have experience. It should be a problem that concerns others as well. Once the student has described the problem, using sources to fully illustrate the nature of the problem, the student has to come up with one or more solutions to the problem and has to convince the audience that his/her solutions are viable ones and ones requiring more attention.

My students, unfortunately, often choose an issue that is currently receiving attention in the news, such as gun control, and instead of making that issue relate to them personally, they resort to generalizations about the problem and what can be done to solve it.

There are problems that occur locally, some of which are worthy of exploration. One of the local parks, for example, doesn’t offer a place to sit down. If the city were to offer one or two benches or even a couple of picnic tables, it would provide a place to relax and enjoy the park on a sunny afternoon. Another local park located on a hillside only offers a single picnic table, which is located down a hill near a copse of trees, when it would be so much more enjoyable if there were a park bench overlooking the view. No one in city government seems to think of these things as being valuable additions.

Another potential problem requires more detail.

In the past whenever I encountered books in one of the recycling bins located at one of the city recycling sites, I retrieved as many as possible and dropped them off at the local library. Some people seem to have no qualms about recycling books—both cloth and paper. Just recently, I discovered a bible and religious novels about the end times. Although they aren’t books that interest me, I figured that someone might find value in them, so I grabbed what I could find, probably about fifteen or twenty, and dropped them off at the local library. The library has a sale twice a year and uses the money collected to buy more books. By the third day of the sale, it’s possible to get a bag full of books for only a few dollars.

Ironically, a few months ago, when I was dropping off newspapers to be recycled in one of the recycling bins outside of the library, I discovered that the library had put some of its cast off books in the recycling bin. While it’s true that I have no definitive proof that the library dropped off those books, I suspect because of the bin’s proximity to the library and because the bin also contained old newspapers from major cities elsewhere in the country that the library had dropped off its waste to be recycled. From what I remember, there were about ten books in the recycling bin, including one by Morgan Spurlock and one preparing potential firefighters for the firefighting certification exam. I tried to reach Spurlock’s book but didn’t have anything in the trunk of my car that could nudge the book closer to me. An umbrella didn’t help.

I haven’t been back to this particular recycling bin to see whether any more books have been discarded. It’s possible that these books may have been ones leftover from the recent library sale. I have tried encouraging my students to find out whether the library discards books and what alternatives exist to discarding books, such as providing a rack of free books for patrons. Even if these books remain on hand for a few months, there is a chance that someone at some point may take one or two books home. The local college is often looking for free books for those students in the remedial reading classes. Since the high school students in the area are often seeking volunteer opportunities to supplement their college and scholarship applications, the library could offer these high school students an opportunity to benefit their community by organizing and distributing the books that don’t sell at the library sale.

Another option is selling these leftover books on Amazon. A cloth copy of Spurlock’s book is currently selling for one cent at Amazon. When combined with the money that Amazon provides for shipping, it is possible to ship at a cheaper rate and earn a little bit of money as a result. If enough books are sold on Amazon, the chance of making money exists. Once again, the high school students looking to volunteer could be responsible for packaging and mailing out books to customers.

Either of these options is an alternative to simply recycling books. No one in my classes has yet decided to explore this topic.