Schools in the U.S. are back in session and it seems that teachers are eager to kick start their students’ minds with thought-provoking assignments. But one teacher in Ohio seems to have posed a controversial question with one particular class lesson.
Students at Roberts Middle School in Cuyahoga Falls were given an assignment titled, “Whom to leave behind.” The task was to choose eight passengers out of a list of 12 whom they would invite on a space ship destined for another planet. The rest would remain on Earth, which was described as “doomed for destruction.”
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While seemingly innocuous enough, it was the list of people students had to choose from that raised eyebrows. Among them were “a militant African-American medical student,” “a homosexual male, professional athlete,” and “a 21-year-old, female, Muslim international student.”
The assignment asked students to rank the passengers as “most deserving” and “least deserving” of surviving Earth’s destruction.
A photo of the assignment was posted to Facebook by Adam Miller, a Cuyahoga Falls city councilman, who described it as inappropriate and said it was “implanting prejudicial thoughts in these young impressionable minds.”
While the copy of the assignment posted on Miller’s page came from a student in a Grade 7 math class, it had been distributed to other classes at the school.
Miller, who spoke to the unnamed teacher, admitted that the origins of the assignment were honourable — it was meant to promote diversity and derived from a university resource guide — he and parents of students at the school remain perplexed by its message.
“What does her being Muslim have to do with it?” Bernadette Hartman, whose son received the assignment in his Grade 8 social studies class, said to WKYC. “What does being female have to do with it?”
“This paper divides. It doesn’t pull anybody together.”
For its part, the school has taken a step back and reviewed the validity of the assignment amid the outcry. A statement provided by Todd M. Nichols, superintendent of Cuyahoga Falls City Schools, was posted to the school district website.
“One of the District’s goals this year is training in the areas of diversity awareness and social justice,” he wrote.
“The intent of this lesson was to engage in an activity in diversity designed to promote tolerance and break down stereotypes. The activity, which was drawn from the University of Houston’s Diversity Activities Resource Guide, was used as an ice-breaker during the first full week of school such that students can better understand each other and participate in group activities more successfully.”
He ended by offering an apology and saying that the district would choose future assignments of this nature “more carefully.”
Some critics of the assignment pointed out that although the concept itself wasn’t shocking, it wasn’t appropriate for middle school-aged children who would have difficulty grasping the nuances of the task.
In a statement to Yahoo Lifestyle, a spokesperson for the University of Houston said:
“The Diversity Activities Resource Guide is a collection of exercises, often developed by third-party sources. While UH did not create this specific activity, we use it as a resource for college students in an effort to create awareness about cultural bias with the hope of sparking productive discussions and enlightening self-reflection. We encourage facilitators of this exercise to be trained in diversity and inclusion issues to appropriately handle difficult conversations that could arise.”