He Oughta Be an English Teacher

Peter Hahn grades the essays kids actually want to write

Published in 2006 Ohio Rising Stars — July 2006

There's a kid in Columbus who wants to implement a law deeming himself Supreme Ruler of the World. His first order of business? Exterminate all Michigan residents and make Michigan Stadium the national sewer.
The student proposed his idea as part of the Ohio State Bar Association’s Law Day “There Ought to Be a Law” essay contest, open to grades seven through 12. Columbus attorney Peter Hahn read this student’s essay during the second round of judging, and “When I read the first sentence, I thought, ‘All right, how did this one get through?’” he says. “But I kept reading it, thinking, ‘This is clever.’”
Hahn has read essays suggesting starting school later in the morning (citing research that shows kids’ brains naturally function better at 9 a.m. than at 7 a.m.); requiring community service for all high school students; and restraining pets in moving cars. “Even though the idea may be far-fetched, they really put the effort into it,” says Hahn. “The point is to see good creative writing, analytical thinking and presentation. That’s why it’s so fun to read these every year.”
A few years ago, one entrant suggested that home-schooled students should be allowed to take advantage of post-secondary education while still in high school. The OSBA Law Day committee passed along the student’s essay to his representative at the Legislature. “We invited the legislator to the [awards] banquet and he met the kid and told him he would take [the idea] to the Legislature with the hope of turning it into a bill ... can you imagine how that kid feels?” says Hahn.
Hahn graduated from Washington University School of Law in St. Louis in 1998 and has been with Buckingham, Doolittle & Burroughs ever since. In addition to his business practice, he finds time not only to judge essays but also to serve on the board of Ohio’s chapter of Kids Voting and to head the College of Wooster’s community service day in Columbus. “It’s part of my routine to be involved in these organizations. If you have to struggle to find the time, then it’s probably not that important to you, or your priorities are out of whack,” he says. “But for these activities, it’s just a matter of finding what you like to do and time finds itself.”
Hahn got involved in Kids Voting because of its goal to educate K-12 students about political and civic issues in a nonpartisan format. The organization provides a curriculum to participating schools that teaches young people to become educated, engaged voters. “The idea is they go and vote after having all this information, so they’re voting intelligently,” says Hahn. “They recognize candidates, they recognize issues, they debate the issues in class.”
Although the students are only mock voting, the organization has found that in areas with a local Kids Voting chapter, there’s an increase in actual voter turnout. “I thought, ‘Wow, what a great way to kill two birds with one stone,’” says Hahn. “You’ve got the kids learning more about civic and political issues, and they get excited about it and then the parents get excited about it.”
OK, so maybe the kids aren’t as excited about voting as they are about annexing Michigan, but at least it’s a start.

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