The Worst Nonviolent School Exercise Ever

I’m sorry, what?

An Ohio school superintendent has apologized for a class exercise that asked middle school students to choose from a list of racially, ethnically and religiously diverse candidates to save or leave behind if Earth were “doomed for destruction.”

The assignment presented 12 potential spaceship passengers, including “a militant African-American medical student,” “a Hispanic clergyman who is against homosexuality,” “an Asian, orphaned 12-year-old boy,” “a homosexual male professional athlete,” and a “60-year-old Jewish university administrator.” The students were instructed to select eight to take to safety on another planet, ranking them from the most deserving to the least.

“It’s disturbing all the way around,” said Bernadette Hartman, whose son completed the assignment during an eighth-grade social studies class at Roberts Middle School in Cuyahoga Falls, a large suburb near Akron.

How did anybody think this is a good idea? Is it even “backfiring” when you’re basically pointing the gun at yourself?

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8 thoughts on “The Worst Nonviolent School Exercise Ever

  1. Rand wrote a thing about the ethics of emergencies that is on point here.
    She tore apart such constructions as demonstrative of ethics in the first part of it.
    Should make a gift of it to this superintendent.

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  2. It’s the old “lifeboat” exercise, but on steroids.

    We had to do the “lifeboat” exercise when I was a freshman in high school, but as I remember, only age, sex, and possibly whether or not others depended on the person (e.g. a parent or a doctor) were factors, not religion, sexual orientation, political leaning.

    That was bad enough.

    Schools do lot of stupid stuff. I tweeted about the “blueie” exercise done in (IIRC) seventh grade, where “randomly” selected students were marked for one day with a blue greasepaint asterisk on their cheek, and the other students were given free rein to harass them, and teachers didn’t step in, and teachers could do stuff like make blueies move to the back of the classroom.

    I, a bullied child, started out before it thinking, “I’ll finally give the kids who tormented me theirs back!” but I wound up a blueie on the first day and lost any kind of desire to harass them afterward (If the exercise even continued after the first day….I don’t remember latter days of it and it’s entirely possible, in the unfair way public schools work, a powerful-enough parent complained and put a stop to it).

    It was an anti-racism exercise but wow, good job teachers, picking one of the picked-on students (I almost said “most picked-on,” because it felt like that) to be in the first round to get harassed. It felt really isolating to have not even the teachers sticking up for me.

    I’m surprised my parents didn’t do or say anything when I came home in tears. Then again, that was a pretty regular occurrence (me coming home in tears), so.

    People wonder why I’m such a screwed-up adult….

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    • We did the “lifeboat” exercise Freshman year as well, after reading a story on Hiroshima (*). We also learned that the exercise was seen as objectionable by many and we were expected to discuss or write about our thoughts about that. In retrospect, the exercise seems like a Cold War era relic.

      (*) A quick google suggests it might have been the John Hersey story.

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      • I was a high school freshman in 1983-1984, so yeah, Cold War relics would still have been very much a thing.

        I remember just feeling very unsettled by it even though they weren’t real people. (And as an adult, I realize: in a real world lifeboat situation, I might as well jump overboard, seeing as I don’t have children and don’t really have anyone “depending” on me in that way. That’s….not a good way to feel.)

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  3. Maybe it is because I grew up in a town where 50 percent of the students were Jewish and about a quarter were Asian-American* but I have never seen anything like this occur in my district. I don’t even remember the lifeboat test.

    I have to be honest, I don’t understand the thought process in trying to come up with an exercise like this. Also it shows that a lot of people fear getting sacked because no one ever mentions “Hey guys, maybe this a bad idea…..”

    *Interestingly Wikipedia tells me that my high school now has a student body that is 50 percent Asian. I’m trying to figure this out because the town is still majority European Jewish according to wiki and there are only two high schools.

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    • These exercises are creating by not bright and parochial people trying to be bright and cosmopolitan.

      I think that our school district saved us from a lot of lunacy that goes on in the rest of the country. We didn’t get exposed to DARE anti-drug education or abstinence based sex education. What we received wasn’t anything like existed in the Netherlands but I don’t think our high school ever just said anything like don’t have sex or wait.

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