Why You Might Want to Check School Assignments

by Colette Moran

Alec Torres reported a couple days ago on a sixth-grade class in Arkansas that had been instructed to rewrite the “outdated” Bill of Rights. Now comes this story out of Illinois about a high school sophomore class that was assigned to choose which of ten people were “worthy” of  kidney dialysis when a hospital only had six machines.

“That means four people are not going to live,” the assignment states. “You must decide from the information below which six will survive.”

According to the worksheet [the reporter looked at], the student opted to spare the doctor, lawyer, housewife, teacher, cop and Lutheran minister. The others weren’t so lucky.

Among those unceremoniously dispatched to the hereafter were an ex-convict, a prostitute, college student and a disabled person.

Sarah Palin and other conservatives were taken aback and complained that such an excersice would desensitize kids about the idea of “death panels.” The pricipal responded that that was not the case.

He said the purpose of the lesson was to teach students about social values and how people in our society unfortunately create biases based off of professions, race and gender.

“The teacher’s goal is to educate students on the fact that these social value biases exist, and that hopefully students will see things from a different perspective after the activity is completed,” he said.

But as the author of this story asks, wasn’t there a better way to examine bias in our society? (Put aside that it is a false choice – patients do not need to be on dialysis 24 hours a day, so why couldn’t they treat all ten patients?) Having a 15-year-old sit as judge and essentially executioner seems a bit much. In this day and age when human life has been devalued so much, why engage in such serious conversations as if they are “just another assignment”?

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