Writing an essay on a controversial subject—which includes issues like abortion or the death penalty—has become an extremely important exercise at every level of education. One of the reasons why controversial essays are so often assigned in composition classes is that they help you hone your English communication skills. In fact, controversial essay topics can be assigned in any class and at any level of school.
This guide will help you choose an appropriate controversial essay topic for any class, at any level of school from middle school onward. Whether you are a teacher or a student, this guide helps you choose appropriate controversial essay topics for each developmental stage. Most of these topics can be transformed into something more specific or more generalized, adapted to suit your needs or the requirements of the assignment.
What is a Controversial Essay?
A controversial essay is one in which you take a stand on a subject that people have very strong opinions about. Almost every topic can be made controversial by taking a radical or even absurd stand. For example, you could say “Ice cream producers should be forced to come up with better flavors and therefore vanilla and chocolate should both be banned.” Of course, most of the controversial essay topics you come up with or are assigned to write about will be more meaningful, about current events, immigration, healthcare reform, the death penalty, and other issues that get people angry or upset.
Generally, a controversial essay topic will be presented in ways that have two sides: a pro and a con side. You will need to support the claims you make in a controversial essay with evidence from class readings or other credible sources. You can also use websites that deal specifically with controversial topics like ProCon for ideas on how to approach your controversial essay topic.
How to Choose a Topic
If your assignment is open-ended, you can choose from the following list of topics or allow these topics to give you ideas of something else that matters to you. Always remember that it is sometimes easier or more fun to take the opposite side of the one you actually believe in. You will find that it helps you to become more aware of the issues and more open-minded about why others disagree with you.
Controversial Essay Topics
Middle School Controversial Essay Topics
Middle school is about when you will first be expected to write bout controversial essay topics. At this stage in education, you will mainly focus on the five-paragraph essay structure and how to write using formal language to prepare you for high school. The following are 20 examples of possible controversial essay topics you can use for middle school courses.
- School uniforms should/should not be mandatory in middle school because it takes attention away from how kids are dressed or how much money their parents have.
- Middle schools should/should not ban junk food and soda pop from vending machines or cafeterias to reduce problems like obesity.
- Should mobile phones be banned from the classroom?
- Does technology enhance or detract from human relationships?
- Teachers in middle school should/should not assign homework to allow students the opportunity to participate more in extracurricular activities or to reduce stress.
- Community service should/should not be required of all students in middle school.
- Violent video games do/do not make people violent.
- Art and music should be mandatory classes and valued as much as math and English in school.
- Sex education should/should not be mandatory.
- Prayer should/should not be banned from school.
- Burning or desecrating the American flag is/is not a fundamental civil right.
- Meat should be banned for animal rights and/or for environmental reasons.
- Should students also grade their teachers?
- Physical education should be mandatory.
- College education is/is not necessary for future success.
- It is ok to kill cows and pigs but not dogs and cats for meat.
- Should sports teams abolish the use of Native American team names and mascots?
- The government should mandate that men and women receive the same pay for the same job.
- Voting should be mandatory.
- An alien invasion would be good for planet earth because it would bring all human beings together for a common cause.
High School Controversial Essay
By the time you enter high school, you will be expected to conduct independent research that you would use to support the claims you make when writing about controversial topics. The subjects that you write about might also be more sophisticated, building on the knowledge you are starting to accumulate in all of your different classes. When you choose among the possible controversial essay topics below, you may want to use outside sources to substantiate your argument.
- Abortion is not murder.
- The United States should ban all handguns, automatic and assault weapons, only allowing rifles for recreational hunting.
- All drugs should be legal so that the government can ensure they are safe and to reduce the power of organized crime.
- The minimum wage should be raised so that anyone working full time is able to afford all the standard daily life expenses.
- Teaches should be trained to use a gun and there should be armed security guards in school.
- Should slaughterhouses be banned, even if it would mean raising the price of meat?
- The death penalty should be banned.
- Affirmative action leads to “reverse discrimination.”
- Should healthcare be a basic right like education, guaranteeing that all people have at least some healthcare coverage via a slight increase in taxes?
- Should parents be allowed to microchip their kids in case of emergencies like abductions, runaways, or to inform medics of the child’s special needs?
- Cannabis should/should not be legal nationwide.
- The drinking age should/should not be lowered to 18, because being old enough to vote means being old enough to drink.
- Affirmative action policies are necessary due to the persistence of unconscious discrimination and institutionalized racism.
- The United States should build a border wall both with Canada and Mexico to prevent further problems with undocumented immigrants.
- Religious fundamentalism is more problematic among Muslims than among Christians.
- Although it does require some athletic skills, cheerleading is sexist and unnecessary.
- Do schools teach enough practical life skills such as how to invest your money or how to resolve interpersonal conflict effectively?
- Is enough being done to discourage gender tracking in school, such as expecting boys to do better in math and girls to do better in language arts?
- Religion does more harm than good.
- Companies should be required to make all salaries transparent.
College Controversial Essay Topics
In college, writing about controversial subjects becomes commonplace. You are expected to write about subjects far more in depth, using substantial research that draws from specific subject areas.
- All police officers in the United States should be given the same standard type of training and given psychological assessments in order to reduce corruption and unnecessary use of force.
- All college students should be required to spend at least one semester abroad.
- Undergraduate tuition should be free or even viewed as an extension of mandatory grade school education.
- Which is a more globally pervasive form of discrimination: gender, class, or race?
- The #metoo movement has gone too far, leading to senseless accusations of sexual misconduct without discussing the more important issues like unequal pay.
- Gender is socially constructed.
- The United States government should construct a reparations plan to mitigate the economic, social, and political problems lingering from the failure of Reconstruction.
- There is no evidence of a historical Jesus.
- Is America truly the land of opportunity or do underprivileged people have almost no chance of overcoming barriers to success?
- It is easier to change human behavior using marketing tactics than using the law.
- The United States should follow the Dutch model of liberalizing physician-assisted suicide.
- Menstrual care such as sanitary pads should be tax-free and/or covered under health insurance policies.
- Preventable illnesses should not be covered under insurance policies.
- The government needs to take a more active role in mandating that energy companies bring to market sustainable energy products and services such as electric cars or solar panels.
- It would have been far more effective had the Union worked with France and England to impose a trade embargo on the South to pressure the Confederacy into abolition rather than resorting to a bloody war.
- Wage transparency and salary caps would be an ethical and effective method to reduce the severity of income disparity.
- Media literacy and science literacy need to become more pressing priorities for public service and public health organizations.
- The war on drugs has failed and continues to drain resources from domestic and international law enforcement and counterterrorism organizations.
- Cyberterrorism is the single greatest threat to global and national security.
- Climate change is the single greatest threat to global and national security.
Current Events Controversial Essay Topics
Writing about controversial essay topics related to current events is something you should get used to doing by high school or even earlier. Current events include news stories within the past year—topics that affect the world, your country, or your local community.
To find controversial essay topics that treat current events, just pay more attention to the news and locate subjects that interest you or which pertain to your class. The following examples from recent current events should be enough to get you started.
1. The United States should intervene to help overthrow the Venezuelan government.
2. Facebook is becoming too invasive, especially since it is now linked to several other social media apps.
3. Anti-vaccers have become a major public health problem, and the government needs to crack down on parents who refuse to vaccinate their children.
4. The Islamic State is not as defeated as the government would have us believe, as extremists will simply transform themselves into another terrorist organization.
5. The Ethiopian Air crash will inevitably reveal criminal negligence within the Boeing organization.
6. President Trump is guilty of abuse of power by officially declaring immigration a national emergency.
7. The Mueller Report should be released to Congress in its entirety.
8. With climate change disasters a pending inevitability, nations around the world need to work together immediately to put in place disaster relief strategies.
9. The Democratic party lacks cohesive leadership and direction and should take a more decisive left-leaning stance.
10. Conglomeration has been dominating the global business landscape to a dangerous degree.
11. The pipeline disaster in Mexico is only one of several other recent examples of why there should be an immediate halt on the construction of future oil and natural gas pipelines.
12. The high-profile college application cheating scandal does nothing to address the underlying problems and root causes of inequities in higher education.
13. Although it is important to discuss institutionalized sexism and abuses of power, the accusations against Joe Biden were trivial and serve mainly as politically motivated slander as opposed to a genuine means of reducing sexism.
14. The European Union has considered a mandate to all automobile manufacturers to limit the top speeds for consumer vehicles.
15. As Botswana considers ending a ban on elephant hunting, and Iceland continues to allow whale hunting, greater international pressure should be placed on protecting animal rights.
16. Failure to adopt a cohesive Brexit strategy illuminates the reasons why the referendum has proven a complete failure.
17. The United States is not even in the top five countries according to a complex ranking system involving factors like human rights, gender equity, and environmental policy.
18. The new name of North Macedonia is a sound compromise that will pave the way for the nation’s admission into the European Union.
19. Racism and fascism continue to flourish throughout Europe, evidenced in incidents like the violent protests against Roma people in Rome.
20. Europe’s immigration policies are as contradictory and problematic as those of the United States, with just as many instances of humanitarian crises throughout the Mediterranean.
Immigration Controversial Essay Topics
Immigration policy in the United States has become one of the most controversial topics. Interestingly, immigration has almost always been a top issue in America. The nation has defined itself as a country of immigrants since the first settlers arrived on the Mayflower. Since then, attitudes towards newcomers have fluctuated. Chances are, you will have the opportunity to write about controversial topics related to immigration at some point in your academic career. Examples of specific topics you could cover include the following:
- Criminalization is an ineffective way of dealing with those who have violated current immigration policies.
- Immigration policies need to change in light of social, economic, and political realities.
- The best way to address the immigration crisis is to form North American economic bloc like the European Union.
- The private sector can take the lead in reducing many of the problems associated with illegal immigration, such as by establishing more corporate headquarters in Central America to stimulate job creation.
- Children of parents who overstayed their visas or who entered the country illegally should be permitted to remain in the United States.
- Regarding immigration policy, it is better to err on the side of caution to prevent criminals and terrorists from entering the country rather than to take the “bleeding heart” humanitarian approach.
- All race-based or nationality-based immigration policies should be categorically banned.
- Instead of cracking down on immigrants, the United States should liberalize its policies.
- The people who are labeled as “illegal” are usually doing the work no one else wants to do anyway, so the government should focus more on upgrading its own workforce rather than viewing immigrants as a threat.
- Starting with the Chinese Exclusion Act, American immigration policy has historically been racially motivated.
- Global population and labor migration has become inevitable and even desirable.
- The United States is not doing enough to promote immigration among highly skilled workers and focuses too much on enabling unskilled and low wage workers to receive Green Cards.
- There is no immigration “crisis,” and in fact the government and the media has blown the issue far out of proportion.
- Even if the majority of undocumented immigrants are innocent of any actual criminal wrongdoing, the fact that “bad seeds” do sometimes sneak into the country is enough of a problem to motivate building the border wall.
- Focusing on the US-Mexican border as the primary problem with immigration takes attention away from more sinister national security problems, namely terrorism.
- New immigrants to the United States are not given sufficient transitional supports to help with language learning and job hunting.
- Until a sensible solution is found, the United States should simply put a halt to all new applicants.
- People who are caught for violating the terms of their visa, or for entering the country on false pretenses should be deported immediately and banned from entering the country.
- The federal government should withhold funding to “sanctuary cities” that provide humanitarian services to “illegal immigrants.”
- Canadians and Mexicans should be allowed to live and work in the United States indefinitely under a special North American labor market agreement.
Sometimes choosing a controversial essay topic can be the most challenging part of the assignment. In some cases, choosing the controversial essay topic will be harder than writing the writing the essay.
If you were already given an actual topic to write about, that’s great. If not, it can take you hours just to figure out what you want to write about.
This guide takes some of the hard work out of your hands by giving you some ideas of things you can write about when assigned a controversial essay assignment. Choose carefully. It is usually best to pick controversial essay topics that interest you or that you already feel strongly about on some level because these subjects will be easier for you to write about.