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For Grades 9-12 , week of Jan. 02, 2017

1. 7 Cities Taxing Sodas

Seven cities in the United States are now taxing soft drinks to improve public health and produce revenue — and more may be on the way. Two years ago, Berkeley, California, passed a soda tax, and last June Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, did the same. In the November election, voters approved a soda tax in the California cities of San Francisco, Oakland and Albany, in Boulder, Colorado, and in the Chicago/Cook County region of Illinois. Originally touted as a way to reduce consumption of sweetened foods that contribute to obesity, soda taxes have become attractive to cities as income producers. Needless to say, such taxes have been opposed vigorously by the soft-drink industry. Soda taxes have caused debate in communities across the nation. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about soda taxes, and the arguments for and against them. Use what you read to write an editorial, giving your view on whether you would support a soda tax as a way to either improve public health or produce revenue for cities or other communities. Cite evidence from your reading to support your views.

Common Core State Standards: Writing opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information; citing specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions.

2. Iran Message for Trump

Seventy-six national security experts have urged President-elect Donald Trump to reverse his opposition to the nuclear agreement the U.S. signed with the Middle East nation of Iran last year, and to use it as a step toward easing other U.S.-Iran tensions. While campaigning for president, Trump called the agreement a foreign policy “disaster,” and vowed to renegotiate or renounce it. In a report signed by former officials from both major political parties, experts said the agreement had reduced the threat of war in the Middle East, and could lead to cooperation on other issues, including the two countries’ mutual opposition to the Islamic State (ISIS). The report was produced by the National Iranian American Council. The nuclear agreement between the U.S. and Iran is one of many issues facing President-elect Trump in the Middle East. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read a stories about one or more issues that are important to the Middle East. Pick one and write an open letter to President-elect Trump, recommending a position you would like him to take on the issue.

Common Core State Standards: Producing clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization and style are appropriate to the task; reading closely what a text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it.

3. Hitler Birthplace to Be Razed

The house where Adolf Hitler was born in 1889 in Braunau, Austria, is still standing, but not for much longer. The empty building that was home to the future German Nazi leader will be demolished to discourage neo-Nazi pilgrimages, the Austrian government has announced. The building’s foundation will remain intact, but a new house will be built for use by a charity or public authority. In July, the government seized the old house from its private owner, who had not cooperated with efforts to put it to new use. Before World War II, Adolf Hitler rose to power by appealing to a fierce brand of nationalism in Germany. This year, nationalism again became a big issue in politics in the United States and other countries. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about the role of nationalism in elections and voting here and in other nations. Use what you read to write a paragraph or short essay, analyzing the significance of the revival of nationalism as a political issue — and what that may mean for the U.S. or other nations in the future.

Common Core State Standards: Writing informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly; citing specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions.

4. Political Gerrymandering

A panel of three federal judges has ruled that the Wisconsin legislature’s move to redraw of legislative districts to favor Republicans was unconstitutional. Federal courts have struck down gerrymandering for racial reasons, but this is the first time it has happened on grounds it favors a political party. The case is probably on its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The case could have political and historical importance, since a new round of redistricting affecting congressional and state elections will be under way soon throughout the country. State legislatures draw the boundaries in redistricting, and most are now controlled by Republicans. The practice of gerrymandering takes its name from Elbridge Gerry, an early 1800s Massachusetts governor who supported a redistricting plan that benefited his party and included one district that looked like a salamander (and was nicknamed a “gerrymander”). The way legislative districts are drawn has a great effect on which candidates may be elected to the U.S. House or Representatives or state legislatures. After the last election some leaders (including President Obama) have stated that the nation should pay greater attention to how district boundaries are drawn. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about efforts to limit gerrymandering in the drawing of legislative districts. Use what you read to brainstorm an idea for a short film or video calling attention to the issue. Write an outline for your video, including the images you would use.

Common Core State Standards: Writing narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events; conducting short research projects that build knowledge about a topic; reading closely what a text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it.

5. Cornel West Back to Harvard

Scholar, author and activist Cornel West is returning to world famous Harvard University 14 years after having a falling out with the university’s president. West, 63, will hold a joint appointment in Harvard’s African and African-American Studies Department and at the Harvard Divinity School. West left Harvard in 2002 for Princeton University, after clashing with Harvard’s then-president Lawrence Summers over West’s scholarship and Harvard’s commitment to affirmative action. Harvard is now led by its first woman president, Drew Gilpin Faust. Cornel West has drawn wide attention as an African American leader focusing on issues of race, gender and class. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about these issues. Then write a proposal for an Internet or social media blog that would address them. In your proposal, detail what topics you would address, the approach you would take and who would be the audience for your blog.

Common Core State Standards: Producing clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization and style are appropriate to the task; reading closely what a text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it.