Georgia Laws of Life Essay Contest

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Contest Timeline

September Teacher and Rotarian Workshop Luncheon

August-February Students Write Essays Based on Your Curriculum & Schedule

February Schools Submit 8 - 12 Essays per Grade for Judging by 2nd Monday

March School Winners Announced

Grand Prize

April State Winners Announced

April-May Contest winners read essays and receive checks at Rotary Club recognition events

Teachers Love Laws of Life!


"The Laws of Life Essay Contest offers students the opportunity to reflect on their own experiences and to think deeply about the principles that guide their lives."

"the contest is one of the best opportunities for students to express their values. in a world that seemingly frowns on individual beliefs, this contest opens an avenue for students to share and reflect on those core values and experiences.", "thank you again for sponsoring this contest. it is a wonderful way for our students to express themselves and to see that anyone can succeed, no matter the obstacles that have been placed before him.", how does the laws of life assignment work in the classroom.

The contest operates through a high school’s English or Language Arts department. Registered schools receive a Contest Manual with sample writing prompts, sample rubrics, and sample lesson plans, as well as teacher tips and all necessary forms. However, the contest provides each teacher with maximum flexibility so that he or she can fit the writing assignment into every classroom. For example, the essays can be a graded or an ungraded assignment. Some teachers assign the essay as part of an American or World Literature class, while other teachers make writing a Laws of Life essay the first assignment of a school year so that they can become better acquainted with their students.

Does this meet the state mandated character education requirement?

Yes. An unfunded mandate that all Georgia schools provide character education was created in 1999, with the passage of House Bill 605. The Georgia Laws of Life Essay Contest is a free, easy-to-implement way for high schools to simultaneously meet the mandate and support a strong language arts curriculum.

Does the Contest Meet the Georgia Standards of Excellence?

Absolutely! The essay assignments fit easily into the Writing Standards included in the Georgia Standards of Excellence (GSE) English Language Arts (ELA) Writing for grades nine through 12 and allows schools to effectively implement them. The contest meets several writing standards, including:

  • W1: Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive evidence.
  • W2: Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
  • W3: Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
  • W4: Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
  • W5: Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience.
  • W10: Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.
  • SL1: Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners, topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
  • SL3: Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, assessing the stance, premises, links among ideas, word choice, emphases, and tone used.

Is the contest endorsed by any professional organizations?

Yes. The Laws of Life Essay Contest has been endorsed by the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the National School Boards Association, and the Georgia Department of Education.

What is unique about this writing contest?

The Laws of Life Essay Contest invites young people to reflect on and express in their own words the ideals and principles that guide them. The contest requires students to identify their personal values through a challenging and engaging writing activity. Unlike other writing contests, judging focuses more on the thought processes and self-awareness of the writer and less on grammatical ability. The contest allows students of all academic abilities — straight-A students, C-students, special need students, at-risk students and campus leaders — to receive recognition for their essays, something that is not possible in typical essay contests.

Is there a cost to participate in the program?

No, there is no cost to a school to participate. The contest is made possible by generous funding from Rotary Clubs of Georgia, the John Templeton Foundation, and other corporate and individual sponsors .

Are there student awards and participation requirements for awards?

Georgia Laws of Life presents approximately $20,000 a year in student awards and teacher honoraria. The number of school-level student awards depends on a school’s size and the number of students who write a Laws of Life essay. School size & school enrollment are based on grades 9 – 12.

Large Schools with >400 Students If >400 essays are written schoolwide:

  • For each grade that writes essays, a $50 Grade Winner cash prize will be awarded.
  • One School Winner from among the Grade Winners receives an additional $50, for a total award of $100.

If <400 essays are written schoolwide:

  • If 100+ essays are written for a grade, a $50 Grade Winner cash prize will be awarded.

Medium school with 200 to 399 students

  • If essays are written by at least 80 percent of the grade’s total enrollment, a $50 Grade Winner cash prize will be awarded.
  • If essays are written by at least 80 percent of the school’s total enrollment (grades 9-12), a $100 School Winner cash prize will be awarded.

Small Schools with Less Than 200 Students

  • One $100 School Winner cash prize will be awarded if essays are written by 80 percent of the grades 9 – 12 enrollment.

All School Winners are eligible for State Winner awards consideration. Additionally among all registered schools, up to four students at each grade level may be recognized as Honorable Mention essays. No cash prizes are awarded for Honorable Mention essays.

Do high performing teachers receive recognition?

Each School Contest Chair who generates essays from at least 25% of his or her school’s enrollment (if the school enrollment is less than 400 students 80% participation is required) receives a $100 honorarium. (There is one designated contest chair per school.) In addition, the English teachers of the State Winner and both Honorary Award student winners receive a $100 honorarium.

Essay Contest 

Collegiate laws of life essay contest.

The Collegiate Laws of Life Essay Contest asks Penn State students to explore ethical values and intercultural issues, and their talent for expressing their views in writing. For our eleventh annual competition, students should respond to this prompt: 

A number of recent events have thrown into crisis the notion that the rule of law is equally applicable to all U.S. citizens. These events have exposed laws that appear to operate so differently across demographic groups as to suggest that different people live under different legal systems. In your essay, reflect on at least one of the following:

The merits of the ideal of equality under the law, how the ideal of equality under the law is endangered, whether there are successor concepts that might supplant the ideal of equality under the law.

Essays should be no longer than 800 words and will be judged on originality, relevance, and creativity. The contest is open to all full-time undergraduate students enrolled at any Penn State campus during the fall 2023 or spring 2024 semesters.

First Place: $500 | Second Place: $400 | Third Place: $300

Submission deadline: friday, january 26 at 11:59 p.m. est, questions  email   [email protected] ., 2023 winning essays, first place —“a client and his discontents” , michael mitole, schreyer scholar.

’23 Finance major, English minor

Penn State University Park

I glance at the card in my palm— Dr. Carl Rogers, Ph.D., 1150 Silverado Street, La Jolla, California . Drawing in a breath from the cool air around me, I return even less warmth: “This better not be a waste of my time.” I arrive to his study and sit on a coarse Persian tapestry that conceals a chair well-worn and pleading to be retired.  Let me put my watch on , I think to myself,  because the first rule of therapy is that the first session always goes over time. Looking around, I wonder how a Milton novel, a textbook on scientific agriculture, a King James Bible, and a bust of Kierkegaard happened onto the same shelf together, but, being raised with manners, I know not to say anything. 

As I begin to talk, I convince myself that Rogers will be genuinely interested in what I am going to tell him – as we often do with people in our lives, if we’re honest enough to admit it – and that my stories of figuring out who I was, loving someone for the first time, and a failed attempt at the Rhodes Scholarship will yield enough material to make the session worth our while.  Michael, you’re rambling on again – maybe you should pause so he can interpret your problems back to you. And, what time is it, anyway? Have I talked for the entire session?  Pausing in the middle of my soliloquy, I peer at Rogers and wait for a response.  Oh no, he hasn’t even written anything down yet.

“Michael, it seems to me that you are living, subjectively, a phase of your problems, knowingly and acceptingly,” he replies. I give an empty expression.  I’m sorry, but what am I supposed to do with that?  Rogers lets his words hang in the air, knowing they have stirred an internal response.

Well — maybe we need to be told truths that are jarring enough to make us let go of our own conclusions.  He continues: “Many people I see in my practice aren’t used to being told that. It was an idea I published in my book  On Becoming a Person , after many years observing how people responded to problems.”

When we are presented with problems – personal and otherwise – do we reach too quickly for panaceas, convenient cliches, and old schematic frames? Is this what Rogers means?  I decide to vocalize my thoughts: “I see, Dr. Rogers. I tend to believe that all of my problems can be solved in some systematic way. And, to be frank, I look at a lot of the world’s grander problems this way, too — the global pandemic, the devastation of war, our beleaguered planet, and economic turmoil.”

“Right, and I am sure that your experience and what you have witnessed around you reveal that problems are hardly formulaic – some are longstanding and most are too complex to fit within the lenses we impose on the world around us,” says Rogers. “So, what does it mean to you, to  live ?”

Searching for a response, my eyes return to Rogers’ bookshelf, where I notice Thoreau’s Walden and an anthology of poems by Keats.  How apropos of the conversation… and that Keats fellow, what was that he wrote about ‘negative capability’?

How do we live meaningfully in the face of hardships and difficulties? First, we grasp that the world is a forum of problems, where things are not as they ‘ought’ to be. But, importantly, we continue doing all the things that meaningful living requires – we continue to feel, to learn, to grow, to struggle, to change, to persevere, to act, and to be courageous.

If Camus was right that “to live is not to resign ourselves,” then our living must also be done with an unwavering purpose. There are those who feel called to dream big dreams and those who feel called to be faithful with the life already set before them. No matter what destiny holds, each of us in life will face a problem of significance that makes all the ones before it into necessary preparation. When that time comes, it will be our chance to help set the world ‘righter’ than it was before. This, we might say, is the universal purpose for which we exist, our hard-wearing meaning in life—to live in service of the ‘good,’ however that duty appears.

I reply to Rogers, “I see now that to truly live, in the face of problems, is to embody a solution that is salutary in all circumstances. But to spend my life ‘fixing’ is to live enslaved by those problems, an all too narrow and futile existence.” Rogers nods his head in tacit agreement, looking away from me.

I follow his eyes:  Where is he looking? Oh goodness, the time.

Second Place —“An Ode to Time, a Friend” 

Arushi grover, paterno fellow and schreyer scholar.

’23 English

A player enters onstage. They stand, center-stage, in a spotlight. They wait.

In this moment in time, the forces of the haunting past, the tense present, and imminent future converge to the pleading question: how does one go on? We live in a time of intense political polarization, both in America and increasingly throughout the world; reaching across the aisle seems more and more like an idyllic fantasy of the past, and instead of achieving progress, it seems like our society and democracy is regressing. We live in a time of great reckoning, coming to terms with how past oppression has caused current inequalities, along lines of gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, disability, class, nationality, and more; haunted by the past, we try to learn to play the hand we’re dealt and create equality for the future…on top of what feels like a house of cards. And the future seems imminent, as climate scientists warn that we are on a trajectory that will cause global temperatures to increase, seas to rise, a surefire climate catastrophe that will harm those most vulnerable populations who have caused the least carbon emissions. Suffering defines our past, present, and future, the current moment an endless and evolving challenge.  

Dare I suggest that time may be, not our foe, but our friend, in such circumstances? Regard Time, a wingèd, angelic figure that presides and brandishes a scythe. For our experience on this Earth is defined by Time: a beginning, a birth; the middle, a duration of experience; and the end, a death. She hovers, ever-present, a metronomic gaze as we haunt this world. We, as humans, may mourn the eternality that could never be due to our mortal frames, but think, perhaps, that the ephemerality of life is what makes the lows ever-so-devastating, but also the highs ever-so-pleasant. Knowing that this will end, we can experience joy and pleasure for the euphoria that they are. Ephemerality is what gives us meaning; that end is a gift that allows us to cherish the moment. For our finite experience, should the universe envy us for our feeling the operatic breadth of human emotion—the pains and devastation, the joys and pleasure?

For the challenges and hardships we face, we can find meaning in the nature of our existence; the universe may have Time, but we have experience, too. As individuals in this world, let us consider our strength to be our individuality, our unique and discrete experiences—something to take pleasure in and something to expand our understanding. Appreciating individuality means listening to individuals, not just ourselves but our communities, and especially to previously unheard and unsung voices. We must appreciate the diversity of individual experience.

The inequalities of the past mean that we have the chance to make the future better than the past, better than the present moment—a challenge, but a gratifying problem to solve for individuals and humankind. Preparing to counter the effects of climate change can seem like a daunting and unwinnable task, but we can comfort ourselves knowing that every inch of progress right now will be a mile of progress for future generations. And in a moment when political progress seems like it’s headed backwards, let us ricochet in appreciating how far we’ve come, to where we are or were, and beyond. For all the challenges that come with Time passing and repeating, we can find a silver lining and some meaning in befriending the figure of Time—both internal, personal meaning, and external, real-world reflections of validation.

Tick. Tick. Tick. Can you hear it? Flowers bloom and trees sport verdant leaves that metamorphosize to a blaze and fall in decay. Can you see it? In water, a current pulls and pulls and pulls. Can you feel it? If Time is a friend, can we not collaborate and make a meaningful relationship for us both? Maybe life is a book, and we get to control the pace, how quickly the pages turn, how soon the conflict resolves. Maybe life is a film, and we can pause the piece, rewind, and replay when things get hard. Or maybe life is a play, and we arrive with strangers to share time and space for a moment, before dissipating.

In some ways, there is cause to be optimistic for the future. And in some ways, there is no cause—not cause for pessimism, but simply an absence of cause. In these moments of reasoning, it is choice that defines our actions and mindset—both the choice to choose what we want for ourselves and the choices that affect others in a complex world and web of interdependence.

Onstage, the player bends their head, then straightens and steps off the stage. They sit in the first row of the audience. The lights dim to a blackout.

Third Place —“We Exist in a Society” 

Taran samarth, paterno fellow and schreyer scholar.

’23 Philosophy, Political Science, Sociology and Mathematics

Contemporary politics dances upon one principal question: do we live in a society? Before there were absurdist  Joker memes asserting “we live in a society,” there was Margaret Thatcher saying the opposite: “there is no such thing [as society].” Thatcher and Reagan’s worldview that there are only individuals and families living under markets—leaving little place for interconnection and community—once dominated Western politics. And then came the coronavirus crisis to remind us that if there was no value in redistributing wealth and power with our neighbors through the government that constitutes our collective will, at least we could redistribute some virions. 

The pandemic was a reminder that, at the core of human existence, we are interlinked—that infections spread person-to-person, that our health depends on others, and that the survival of our medical facilities required all of us to do our part. Intensifying climate disasters and oppressive violence suggest the same: we live in a society where colossal, pressing crises structure our lives, and the solutions will require individuals to act in concert with others, not alone.

The urgency of these crises and the scale of their needed solutions demand that we collectively do two things: we embrace society, and we embrace taking sides. Too often, we fear staking bold claims. To demand police abolition in a world that enforces racist violence through the state is “too radical.” To seek an economic reconstruction that centers sustainability and collective, not individual, wealth is “too polarizing.” Our allergy to supporting transformative, large-scale solutions leave us emphasizing “nuance” without substance or trying to confine ourselves to “gray areas” where bold ideas are watered down into mere Band-Aids. Or, worse, we tell ourselves that crises—like some former Penn State officials said about sexual and gender-based violence—are just “vexing” and “intractable,” as if they are too complicated to merit our focused attention and effort.

The crises we face are complicated—they are massive, they are hard, and we are bound, at times, to fail. But we cannot refuse to back bold ideas while the window for action that can meaningfully prevent harm dwindles. As we stare down the barrel of existential crisis after crisis, the existentialists are a guide to making meaning in 21st-century life. Our lives are defined by our freedom to constantly choose—I choose to speak; you choose to listen (or not). How we choose to greet and meet every moment fills our world with value and our lives with meaning. Faced with myriad crises, will we let our lives be defined by paralysis? Or will we courageously choose sides and define ourselves as actors that dared to try—dared to affirm our freedom and choose?

But, as Simone de Beauvoir says in  Pyrrhus and Cinéas , “[humankind] is not alone in the world.” As intensifying global polarization and authoritarianism indicate, we cannot choose sides haphazardly or without attention to the identical freedom of billions of others. These choices and our actions demand thought and care—particularly for the most marginalized and vulnerable. Whatever choice I alone make in confronting a crisis will be meaningless without others willing to orient their freedom and choices toward the same projects. Disagreement is inevitable—even healthy—but the toxic polarization we face today keeps us frozen in the face of crisis because we choose not to persuade or communicate. We take sides—and we refuse to seek others to join us. We leave our lives meaningless, and crisis creeps ever closer to Armageddon.

As historian Gabriel Winant wrote in the throes of the pandemic, meeting the urgency and challenges posed by crisis requires “the building of relationships and trust across the forms of social difference.” To reach across dinner tables, borders, and backgrounds and build these relationships is to forge the bonds that alone have the power to bring the choices we make, sides we take, and solutions that follow into the world. As Winant quotes Holocaust historian Timothy Snyder from his text on fighting the crisis of tyranny, you must dare to “put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people.”

The urgency posed by a planet unequipped to withstand climate shifts in the coming decade and respond to structural inequities that will sharply allocate harm to the already-wounded means that we cannot risk inaction. For one person to imbue their life with meaning amidst extraordinary social problems, the urgency of crisis demands that they opt to take sides and try to effect change in the world. But they can only do so effectively if they dare to make those bold choices in partnership with others willing the same. That is, we can only make meaning in our lives and our world if we choose to embrace and act upon that one fundamental truth: we live in a society.

Honorable Mention —“Finding Meaning in the Pursuit of Survival” 

Charles cote, schreyer scholar.

’23 Supply Chain and Information Systems

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laws of life essay submission

2021 Laws of Life Essay Competition opens

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2021 Laws of Life Essay Competition opens

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — The Templeton World Charity Foundation, through its partnership with the Bahamas Ministry of Education, is hosting its annual Laws of Life Essay Competition and is calling on all eligible students to apply.

Since 1987, students in communities around the globe have competed for prizes in essay contests based on the Laws of Life in Sir John Templeton’s writings.

The Laws of Life Committee made the decision to focus the 2021 competition on laws that espoused empathy, care, understanding and appreciation for what our country and the world is experiencing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“COVID-19 has changed the landscape of our daily lives,” the committee said. “It has disrupted our economy, our schools, our churches and even our relationships with others. In the age of the coronavirus, we have had to rethink and change many of the ways we do things, including how we interact and connect with others.

“Even though COVID-19 has impacted the way we interact with one another, it has shown us that forming and maintaining personal relationships is more important than ever.”

Students in primary, junior, senior and college divisions are asked to select one of Sir John Templeton’s laws of life and submit essays explaining how that specific law is meaningful in their own lives.

Secondary students also have the option of creating a short video instead of a written essay.

Students are required to choose a law from their appropriate division, expound upon its meaning and offer real-life and personal examples of the law in action.

Some of the laws students can choose from are: “Happy relationships depend not on finding the right person but on being the right person”; “As you are active in blessing others, they find their burdens easier to bear”; and “Joy is not in things, but is in you”.

Additional topics, contest rules and resources may be found on the contest website

The committee members added: “Students are encouraged to select the law that expresses a key value and/or ideal by which we should live, explain why the chosen value/ideal is important to the way we live our lives by discussing your experiences, the lessons they’ve learned and people who have served as living examples of your chosen value/ideal.

“This is a great opportunity for students, teachers and schools to regain some of the momentum that may have been lost due to the pandemic, by bringing their school spirit and pride to this amazing competition.”

The final date for submission is February 12, 2021.

First place prize for the college division is $1,000; and first place prizes for the senior, junior and primary division are $700, $600 and $500 respectively.

Each divisional winner also receives a $1000 scholarship/tuition assistance award.

Due to the continued safety concerns of the COVID-19 pandemic, the competition has embarked on an innovative venture and developed an online portal for submission and assessment of entries. There will be no physical contact with contestant entries moving forward.

Students must create a profile via the contest website, by which they will upload and submit their entries.

As is customary, the top finalists in each division will be selected and revealed at the awards ceremony at a later date. The element of surprise has become an anticipated feature of the competition.

For further information, interested parties may visit; email [email protected]; or follow the competition on social media by checking out its Facebook and Instagram pages.

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The Loss of Things I Took for Granted

Ten years into my college teaching career, students stopped being able to read effectively..

Recent years have seen successive waves of book bans in Republican-controlled states, aimed at pulling any text with “woke” themes from classrooms and library shelves. Though the results sometimes seem farcical, as with the banning of Art Spiegelman’s Maus due to its inclusion of “cuss words” and explicit rodent nudity, the book-banning agenda is no laughing matter. Motivated by bigotry, it has already done demonstrable harm and promises to do more. But at the same time, the appropriate response is, in principle, simple. Named individuals have advanced explicit policies with clear goals and outcomes, and we can replace those individuals with people who want to reverse those policies. That is already beginning to happen in many places, and I hope those successes will continue until every banned book is restored.

If and when that happens, however, we will not be able to declare victory quite yet. Defeating the open conspiracy to deprive students of physical access to books will do little to counteract the more diffuse confluence of forces that are depriving students of the skills needed to meaningfully engage with those books in the first place. As a college educator, I am confronted daily with the results of that conspiracy-without-conspirators. I have been teaching in small liberal arts colleges for over 15 years now, and in the past five years, it’s as though someone flipped a switch. For most of my career, I assigned around 30 pages of reading per class meeting as a baseline expectation—sometimes scaling up for purely expository readings or pulling back for more difficult texts. (No human being can read 30 pages of Hegel in one sitting, for example.) Now students are intimidated by anything over 10 pages and seem to walk away from readings of as little as 20 pages with no real understanding. Even smart and motivated students struggle to do more with written texts than extract decontextualized take-aways. Considerable class time is taken up simply establishing what happened in a story or the basic steps of an argument—skills I used to be able to take for granted.

Since this development very directly affects my ability to do my job as I understand it, I talk about it a lot. And when I talk about it with nonacademics, certain predictable responses inevitably arise, all questioning the reality of the trend I describe. Hasn’t every generation felt that the younger cohort is going to hell in a handbasket? Haven’t professors always complained that educators at earlier levels are not adequately equipping their students? And haven’t students from time immemorial skipped the readings?

The response of my fellow academics, however, reassures me that I’m not simply indulging in intergenerational grousing. Anecdotally, I have literally never met a professor who did not share my experience. Professors are also discussing the issue in academic trade publications , from a variety of perspectives. What we almost all seem to agree on is that we are facing new obstacles in structuring and delivering our courses, requiring us to ratchet down expectations in the face of a ratcheting down of preparation. Yes, there were always students who skipped the readings, but we are in new territory when even highly motivated honors students struggle to grasp the basic argument of a 20-page article. Yes, professors never feel satisfied that high school teachers have done enough, but not every generation of professors has had to deal with the fallout of No Child Left Behind and Common Core. Finally, yes, every generation thinks the younger generation is failing to make the grade— except for the current cohort of professors, who are by and large more invested in their students’ success and mental health and more responsive to student needs than any group of educators in human history. We are not complaining about our students. We are complaining about what has been taken from them.

If we ask what has caused this change, there are some obvious culprits. The first is the same thing that has taken away almost everyone’s ability to focus—the ubiquitous smartphone. Even as a career academic who studies the Quran in Arabic for fun, I have noticed my reading endurance flagging. I once found myself boasting at a faculty meeting that I had read through my entire hourlong train ride without looking at my phone. My colleagues agreed this was a major feat, one they had not achieved recently. Even if I rarely attain that high level of focus, though, I am able to “turn it on” when demanded, for instance to plow through a big novel during a holiday break. That’s because I was able to develop and practice those skills of extended concentration and attentive reading before the intervention of the smartphone. For children who were raised with smartphones, by contrast, that foundation is missing. It is probably no coincidence that the iPhone itself, originally released in 2007, is approaching college age, meaning that professors are increasingly dealing with students who would have become addicted to the dopamine hit of the omnipresent screen long before they were introduced to the more subtle pleasures of the page.

The second go-to explanation is the massive disruption of school closures during COVID-19. There is still some debate about the necessity of those measures, but what is not up for debate any longer is the very real learning loss that students suffered at every level. The impact will inevitably continue to be felt for the next decade or more, until the last cohort affected by the mass “pivot to online” finally graduates. I doubt that the pandemic closures were the decisive factor in themselves, however. Not only did the marked decline in reading resilience start before the pandemic, but the students I am seeing would have already been in high school during the school closures. Hence they would be better equipped to get something out of the online format and, more importantly, their basic reading competence would have already been established.

Less discussed than these broader cultural trends over which educators have little control are the major changes in reading pedagogy that have occurred in recent decades—some motivated by the ever-increasing demand to “teach to the test” and some by fads coming out of schools of education. In the latter category is the widely discussed decline in phonics education in favor of the “balanced literacy” approach advocated by education expert Lucy Calkins (who has more recently come to accept the need for more phonics instruction). I started to see the results of this ill-advised change several years ago, when students abruptly stopped attempting to sound out unfamiliar words and instead paused until they recognized the whole word as a unit. (In a recent class session, a smart, capable student was caught short by the word circumstances when reading a text out loud.) The result of this vibes-based literacy is that students never attain genuine fluency in reading. Even aside from the impact of smartphones, their experience of reading is constantly interrupted by their intentionally cultivated inability to process unfamiliar words.

For all the flaws of the balanced literacy method, it was presumably implemented by people who thought it would help. It is hard to see a similar motivation in the growing trend toward assigning students only the kind of short passages that can be included in a standardized test. Due in part to changes driven by the infamous Common Core standards , teachers now have to fight to assign their students longer readings, much less entire books, because those activities won’t feed directly into students getting higher test scores, which leads to schools getting more funding. The emphasis on standardized tests was always a distraction at best, but we have reached the point where it is actively cannibalizing students’ educational experience—an outcome no one intended or planned, and for which there is no possible justification.

We can’t go back in time and do the pandemic differently at this point, nor is there any realistic path to putting the smartphone genie back in the bottle. (Though I will note that we as a society do at least attempt to keep other addictive products out of the hands of children.) But I have to think that we can, at the very least, stop actively preventing young people from developing the ability to follow extended narratives and arguments in the classroom. Regardless of their profession or ultimate educational level, they will need those skills. The world is a complicated place. People—their histories and identities, their institutions and work processes, their fears and desires—are simply too complex to be captured in a worksheet with a paragraph and some reading comprehension questions. Large-scale prose writing is the best medium we have for capturing that complexity, and the education system should not be in the business of keeping students from learning how to engage effectively with it.

This is a matter not of snobbery, but of basic justice. I recognize that not everyone centers their lives on books as much as a humanities professor does. I think they’re missing out, but they’re adults and they can choose how to spend their time. What’s happening with the current generation is not that they are simply choosing TikTok over Jane Austen. They are being deprived of the ability to choose—for no real reason or benefit. We can and must stop perpetrating this crime on our young people.

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EU AI Act: first regulation on artificial intelligence

The use of artificial intelligence in the EU will be regulated by the AI Act, the world’s first comprehensive AI law. Find out how it will protect you.

A man faces a computer generated figure with programming language in the background

As part of its digital strategy , the EU wants to regulate artificial intelligence (AI) to ensure better conditions for the development and use of this innovative technology. AI can create many benefits , such as better healthcare; safer and cleaner transport; more efficient manufacturing; and cheaper and more sustainable energy.

In April 2021, the European Commission proposed the first EU regulatory framework for AI. It says that AI systems that can be used in different applications are analysed and classified according to the risk they pose to users. The different risk levels will mean more or less regulation. Once approved, these will be the world’s first rules on AI.

Learn more about what artificial intelligence is and how it is used

What Parliament wants in AI legislation

Parliament’s priority is to make sure that AI systems used in the EU are safe, transparent, traceable, non-discriminatory and environmentally friendly. AI systems should be overseen by people, rather than by automation, to prevent harmful outcomes.

Parliament also wants to establish a technology-neutral, uniform definition for AI that could be applied to future AI systems.

Learn more about Parliament’s work on AI and its vision for AI’s future

AI Act: different rules for different risk levels

The new rules establish obligations for providers and users depending on the level of risk from artificial intelligence. While many AI systems pose minimal risk, they need to be assessed.

Unacceptable risk

Unacceptable risk AI systems are systems considered a threat to people and will be banned. They include:

  • Cognitive behavioural manipulation of people or specific vulnerable groups: for example voice-activated toys that encourage dangerous behaviour in children
  • Social scoring: classifying people based on behaviour, socio-economic status or personal characteristics
  • Biometric identification and categorisation of people
  • Real-time and remote biometric identification systems, such as facial recognition

Some exceptions may be allowed for law enforcement purposes. “Real-time” remote biometric identification systems will be allowed in a limited number of serious cases, while “post” remote biometric identification systems, where identification occurs after a significant delay, will be allowed to prosecute serious crimes and only after court approval.

AI systems that negatively affect safety or fundamental rights will be considered high risk and will be divided into two categories:

1) AI systems that are used in products falling under the EU’s product safety legislation . This includes toys, aviation, cars, medical devices and lifts.

2) AI systems falling into specific areas that will have to be registered in an EU database:

  • Management and operation of critical infrastructure
  • Education and vocational training
  • Employment, worker management and access to self-employment
  • Access to and enjoyment of essential private services and public services and benefits
  • Law enforcement
  • Migration, asylum and border control management
  • Assistance in legal interpretation and application of the law.

All high-risk AI systems will be assessed before being put on the market and also throughout their lifecycle.

General purpose and generative AI

Generative AI, like ChatGPT, would have to comply with transparency requirements:

  • Disclosing that the content was generated by AI
  • Designing the model to prevent it from generating illegal content
  • Publishing summaries of copyrighted data used for training

High-impact general-purpose AI models that might pose systemic risk, such as the more advanced AI model GPT-4, would have to undergo thorough evaluations and any serious incidents would have to be reported to the European Commission.

Limited risk

Limited risk AI systems should comply with minimal transparency requirements that would allow users to make informed decisions. After interacting with the applications, the user can then decide whether they want to continue using it. Users should be made aware when they are interacting with AI. This includes AI systems that generate or manipulate image, audio or video content, for example deepfakes.

On December 9 2023, Parliament reached a provisional agreement with the Council on the AI act . The agreed text will now have to be formally adopted by both Parliament and Council to become EU law. Before all MEPs have their say on the agreement, Parliament’s internal market and civil liberties committees will vote on it.

More on the EU’s digital measures

  • Cryptocurrency dangers and the benefits of EU legislation
  • Fighting cybercrime: new EU cybersecurity laws explained
  • Boosting data sharing in the EU: what are the benefits?
  • EU Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act
  • Five ways the European Parliament wants to protect online gamers
  • Artificial Intelligence Act

Related articles

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This section features overview and background articles for the general public. Press releases and materials for news media are available in the news section .

laws of life essay submission

California’s Negligence Tort Empowers Juries, Hurts Innovation

George Priest

A California state appellate court on Jan. 9 affirmed in Gilead Life Sciences, Inc. v. Superior Court of San Francisco the creation of a novel corporate tort, holding a firm liable for negligence for failing to develop and market a product superior to the firm’s current product on the market.

This is a radical change in the tort of negligence, first by allowing recovery of losses from side effects of which the purported victims had been informed, and second by empowering lay juries to determine how quickly a new, superior product must be introduced.

In the case, a class of 24,000 consumers using TDF, a medication to treat HIV/AIDS, sued Gilead Sciences Inc., the product’s manufacturer—not on the grounds that the product was defective in any regard, but because Gilead was negligent in not bringing a separate, allegedly superior product to the market earlier.

In our legal system, the tort of negligence typically charges a jury to determine whether an action of one party caused an injury to another because the first party failed to use reasonable care, leading to the injury. In product liability law, that usually means showing a product was defective due to negligent manufacture or design, or negligent failure to warn of dangers that better-informed consumers could avoid.

The class members admitted TDF wasn’t defective in any respect besides side effects that had been disclosed to them beforehand. Instead, they claimed Gilead was negligent by not developing and selling a substitute product with fewer side effects—purportedly to increase profits by not undercutting sales of the earlier product. They claimed as damages their injuries from the side effects.

The appellate court’s expansion of negligence in its ruling for the class members will likely reduce the number of new beneficial drugs on the market, increase their prices, and deter innovation in pharmaceuticals and other products.

TDF had harmful side effects, but it was approved by the Food and Drug Administration because the health benefits of the drug exceeded the harm from the side effects. Under basic products liability law, this makes the drug neither defective nor negligently designed as long as the potential side effects were communicated to consumers, which they were. Nonetheless, the negligence theory affirmed by the court makes Gilead liable for TDF’s side effects.

Manufacturers such as Gilead develop and market pharmaceuticals based on FDA approval—not on the expectation that they will bear liability for all the costs of harmful side effects. Because side effects can’t be totally eliminated, this new negligence rule compels manufacturers to build into the price of the product the expected liability costs from users who claim to have suffered side effects.

Lay juries may have the capacity to determine whether a product suffered a manufacturing defect, as those cases are typically settled before trial. But it’s questionable whether they can decide a product was defectively designed based on mere expert testimony that, in hindsight, some change in design would have prevented the injury. The same goes for determining, in a failure-to-warn case, whether the consumer could have avoided the injury had a different warning been offered.

Under the new tort theory affirmed in Gilead , a jury would be asked to review the development history of an alleged subsequent superior product and decide whether the experts manufacturing the product were negligent in not developing and selling the product earlier. They would also conclude what the loss to each plaintiff was, given the passage of time between their use of the earlier product and their adoption of the subsequent product.

This puts the timing of corporate decisions about product development into the hands of lay juries. Gilead involved pharmaceuticals, but its theory could be applied to automobiles—when the invention of the adjustable windshield wiper should have been brought to market, for example—or to any other manufacturing process for which safety has improved over time.

Tort law is one of many features of our modern legal system that has expanded dramatically since the 1960s. A major effect has been to substitute judgments by lay juries for those of legislators, regulators, and, most importantly, companies that must commit to improving safety or lose out to competitors.

This California case deters innovation and shifts power to lay juries at a vastly new level.

The case is Gilead Life Scis., Inc. v. Superior Ct. of S.F. , Cal. Ct. App., 1st Dist., No. A165558, 1/9/24.

This article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg Industry Group, Inc., the publisher of Bloomberg Law and Bloomberg Tax, or its owners.

Author Information

George L. Priest is professor of law and economics at Yale Law School.

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To contact the editors responsible for this story: Daniel Xu at [email protected] ; Jada Chin at [email protected]

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Dear Annie: Cancer survivor wants to enjoy her life, not spend time with rude in-laws

  • Published: Feb. 12, 2024, 3:21 a.m.

'Dear Annie' columnist Annie Lane

Annie Lane writes the Dear Annie advice column.

Dear Annie: At holidays and other family get-togethers, my parents-in-law prefer that I speak only when spoken to. They host every holiday. I believe they see me as extremely opinionated, which makes me vulgar at worst and irritating at best, in their eyes. My father-in-law once explained that he would teach me how to refrain from speaking, as he did his nephew’s wife, whom they also find irritating.

My in-laws do share their opinions about current events, albeit briefly, and talk extensively about their “important” friends, interests and the various activities they engage in on a daily basis. It’s been my job to listen, agree, compliment and refrain from offering any personal stories or thoughts.

What happens if I dare to express my own thoughts about any topic, even the most mundane? I’m met with disdainful facial expressions, or worse, complete silence, often someone turning around and walking away from me mid-sentence. When I’m asked about a personal matter to which only facts are relayed, such as my health, whatever I say is instantly negated or dismissed. So I make like a houseplant and just sit. I’d probably fall asleep if I weren’t so anxious and worried about offending them in some way.

This year I’ve battled cancer, while caring for my very young children and elderly parents. My in-laws were very helpful financially, by watching the children once a week during chemo infusions, and during my mastectomy. However, I’m starting to understand that surviving cancer entitles me to enjoy my life, especially holidays. For me, that means having conversation that includes more than agreeing “the green beans are delicious.” It means sharing thoughts and opinions about ourselves and the world around us.

My husband is very loving and supportive. Can we start having our own holidays, knowing my in-laws won’t be joining us? -- Seen But Not Heard

Dear Seen But Not Heard: You can absolutely start having holidays on your own. You have every right to enjoy your life. The way that your in-laws treated you was terrible. That type of behavior is rude and unacceptable. No one likes to feel judged by others. It is especially hurtful by family around the holidays.

Ideally, the holidays are a time when you feel relaxed, safe and warm -- not criticized, judged and shut down. Talk to your husband about speaking with his parents on your new plan ahead of time. If they can’t change their old ways, they will miss out on new loving experiences with their grandchildren, son and lovely daughter-in-law.

Send your questions for Annie Lane to [email protected] .

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  22. Literacy crisis in college students: Essay from a professor on students

    Recent years have seen successive waves of book bans in Republican-controlled states, aimed at pulling any text with "woke" themes from classrooms and library shelves.

  23. EU AI Act: first regulation on artificial intelligence

    Law enforcement; Migration, asylum and border control management; Assistance in legal interpretation and application of the law. All high-risk AI systems will be assessed before being put on the market and also throughout their lifecycle. General purpose and generative AI. Generative AI, like ChatGPT, would have to comply with transparency ...

  24. California's Negligence Tort Empowers Juries, Hurts Innovation

    A California state appellate court on Jan. 9 affirmed in Gilead Life Sciences, Inc. v. Superior Court of San Francisco the creation of a novel corporate tort, holding a firm liable for negligence for failing to develop and market a product superior to the firm's current product on the market.. This is a radical change in the tort of negligence, first by allowing recovery of losses from side ...

  25. What records are exempted from FERPA?

    Records of the law enforcement unit of an educational agency or institution. Law enforcement unit records are records that are: (1) created by a law enforcement unit; (2) created for a law enforcement purpose; and (3) maintained by the law enforcement unit.

  26. Dear Annie: Cancer survivor wants to enjoy her life, not spend time

    Dear Annie: At holidays and other family get-togethers, my parents-in-law prefer that I speak only when spoken to. They host every holiday. I believe they see me as extremely opinionated, which ...