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Controversial school assignment asks students who is 'deserving' of life: a homosexual pro athlete or black medical student?

Elise Solé
Yahoo Lifestyle
An Ohio school has apologized for asking students to rank the life of people depending on their race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. (Photo: Getty Images)

An Ohio middle school has apologized for an assignment that asked students to hypothetically save people’s lives depending on their race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.

A photo of the assignment, titled “Whom to Leave Behind,” was posted to Facebook on Wednesday by Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio 6th Ward City Councilman Adam Miller, who called the project “inappropriate.”


I spoke with the teacher and I certainly can appreciate the fact that he wants to promote diversity etc. It was a…

Posted by Adam Miller on Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The assignment, which was given out by an unidentified teacher at Roberts Middle School in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, instructed students to examine a list of 12 people selected to fly on a spaceship to another planet to avoid the Earth’s destruction. However, due to the ship’s space limitation, students must cut four people, ranking the list into “most deserving” and “least deserving” of life.

Here are the categories:

  • An accountant with a substance abuse problem.

  • A militant African-American medical student.

  • A 33-year-old Native American manager who does not speak English.

  • The accountant’s pregnant wife.

  • A famous novelist with a physical disability.

  • A 21-year-old female Muslim international student.

  • A Hispanic clergyman who is against homosexuality.

  • A female movie star who was recently the victim of sexual assault.

  • A racist armed police officer who has been accused of using excessive force.

  • A homosexual male, professional athlete.

  • An Asian, orphaned, 12-year-old boy.

  • A 60-year-old Jewish university administrator.

According to Miller’s Facebook page, parents raised their concerns to the school on Aug. 20. On Thursday, Todd M. Nichols, superintendent of Cuyahoga Falls City Schools, released a statement: “They were just made aware of the situation and are investigating,” according to local news station WOIO.

Parent Bernadette Hartman, whose son received the assignment, told news outlet WKYC, “What does her being Muslim have to do with it? What does being female have to do with it?” She added, “It’s hard for me to put it into words. It’s just hard.”

“This paper divides,” she said. “It doesn’t pull anybody together.” And parent Denise Petron asked of the teacher, “What did he expect to get out of this?”

On Facebook, Miller confirmed that the assignment was part of a seventh-grade math class and that parents had reached out to the city councilman as a “last resort” after their complaints went unanswered by the school.

In the comments section of Miller’s post, parents reacted. “I’m honestly having a hard time believing that anyone thought this was appropriate to give to kids,” wrote one person. The assignment was also slammed as “very disturbing,” age-inappropriate, and a poor example of traditional ethical projects that encouraged critical thought. “Liberal or conservative, thinking about how damning your kids’ answers could be if the teacher didn’t agree with their viewpoints,” wrote someone. 

Since the maelstrom of criticism erupted over the assignment, the school has issued another statement. When contacted, the office of Todd M. Nichols, superintendent of Cuyahoga Falls City Schools in Ohio, directed Yahoo Lifestyle to an explanation posted on the website of Roberts Middle School. “With regard to the assignment recently issued by a teacher at Roberts Middle School, it is important to provide context,” the statement said. “One of the District’s goals this year is training in the areas of diversity awareness and social justice. In this case, the intent of this assignment aligned with the goals of the District and was issued in four seventh- and eighth-grade classes.” 

“The intent of this lesson was to engage in an activity in diversity designed to promote tolerance and break down stereotypes,” the statement said. “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.”

“Unfortunately, some parents were upset and concerned by this particular assignment and thought it was not age-appropriate,” the letter concluded. “The teacher and District offer their most sincere apologies for the offense caused by the content used in this assignment.  Future assignments on this topic will be more carefully selected.”

A representative from the University of Houston sent the following statement to Yahoo Lifestyle:

“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.”    

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