“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
–Declaration of Independence, 1776
What did the framers of the Declaration of Independence intend when they declared “the pursuit of happiness” an unalienable right? What is happiness anyway? How does one pursue it? These are some of the questions I’m hoping to address this spring with my Freshman Composition students.
This will be my 8th year as an adjunct teaching this class, but I’ve never formatted the class around a theme before. In fact, I’ll be teaching two sections next semester, which will give me time to adjust if lessons or discussions don’t go as planned. I don’t expect to adjust the composition content of the class much; it’s still a class about evaluating and composing valid arguments.
I’ve always felt that learning to write well is an admirable goal, but I think it will be more helpful to have something valuable to say before writing. That’s what I hope this theme will do for the class. Everyone should have opinions about what happiness is and how to go about finding it. I look forward to strong opinions, delivered respectfully.
Some of the factors that I think affect happiness are class, race, religion, equality, income, and ethnicity. We may discover more as students bring forward their own perceptions of the topic. On the way to writing about the pursuit of happiness, students will be reading essays from Lurching Toward Happiness in America, a Boston Review Book by sociologist Claude S. Fischer (also author of Made in America). I’ve enjoyed reading his collection of essays that identify various happiness factors and hope they spur great discussion among students in my classes. Fischer refers to dozens of research studies, books, and articles that address happiness.
In addition, I’ve read Gretchen Rubin’s book The Happiness Project and blog, which are less academic, yet just as thought-provoking. Students should be able to respond readily to these and other readings about happiness—it’s a subject that affects everyone.
By the end of the semester, I expect to have a better handle on how to conduct a composition class that focuses on a theme. And I look forward to hearing what students have to say about happiness. Oh, and I hope students’ passion about the topic will help them write some of the best arguments of their lives.