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Back to Nov. Ed Reporter

Education Reporter
NUMBER 166 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS NOVEMBER 1999

'Killer' Assignment Upsets Parents

FRANKLIN, OH -- A teacher of freshman and sophomore English at Franklin High School gave her students a writing assignment posing this question: "If you had to assassinate one famous person who is alive right now, who would it be and how would you do it?" The question was included in a writing "prompt" or list of topics for the students to write about in their daily journals.

The question provoked an outcry from parents, who wonder how such an issue could be raised in the wake of last years tragedy at Columbine High School. The Cincinnati Enquirer (October 25) quoted one unhappy parent as saying: "You get them [the students] thinking about how to off somebody. I hate to think that kids have to think about these kinds of things." Another parent said the question "was in poor taste considering what's happened [with school violence]."

Angry parents also point to the obvious double standard inherent in the assignment -- while students at many schools are suspended for any suggestion of violent acts, a teacher can compel her students to think and write about murder.

Franklin officials said they informed the teacher that her assassination question was "inappropriate," but that no further measures would be taken. At least one parent thought the school should have taken more action sooner. "I think the school just brushed it under the carpet," she told the Cincinnati Enquirer.

The writing prompt also contained questions such as: "If you had to lose everyone you know in a tragic accident except one person, who would you save?" and, "If you could keep only one of your five senses, which would you save?" These questions are reminiscent of the classic "Lifeboat Game," in which children are told that of 10 people in a sinking lifeboat, only five can be saved. They are asked to decide which lives are worth saving and who should be thrown overboard. For 15 years, parents and education activists have blasted the "Lifeboat Game," and similar "situation ethics" exercises conducted in the public schools.

While officials at Franklin have indicated that the writing assignment wasn't mandatory, parents say their children were given a calendar with due dates for each of the questions listed on the writing prompt.


 
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