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Controversial Essay Question Draws Fire in Harnett County

Posted August 31, 2000

— If you were a criminal what kind would you be? That question turned up in a seventh-grade classroom in Harnett County -- an essay question that has some questioning if it was appropriate.

Someone wrote an anonymous letter to the Western Harnett Middle School, requesting that an essay question be removed. The question: "If you were a criminal, what kind would you be? Why?"

The question was written last year in a list of essay topics, which was passed on to this year's class. The question was removed after the letter was received. The teacher who wrote the list is no longer in Harnett County.

School officials are speaking out.

"When I grew up, safety was not an issue," says Donald Andrews, the school system's superintendent. "But there is more violence in society, and the value of human life is not what it was when you and I grew up."

The Harnett County Board of Education's chairman says the question reflects a low standard.

"When you talk about an essay on why you'd be a criminal and what kind you'd be, I think we need to be looking higher than those kinds of goals," says T. Harrington Morrison.

"I think that's just part of the society we live in," says Janice Harrington, Western Harnett's principal. "I don't think we can take safety for granted anymore."

Some students turned the question around, saying they would never be a criminal.

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