By Sara Dogan
Parents of seventh and eighth grade students at Roberts Middle School in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio are outraged and disturbed after a social studies teacher gave their children an assignment asking them to rank 12 individuals, described by race, profession, gender, religion and sexuality, by who is most deserving to survive an apocalypse on Earth.
The assignment, titled “Whom to Leave Behind,” states “The twelve persons listed below have been selected as passengers for flight on a spaceship to another planet because tomorrow the planet Earth is doomed for destruction. Due to changes in space limitations it has now been determined that only eight persons may go. Any eight qualify. Your task is to select the eight (8) passengers who will make the trip.”
Students are then asked to rank the twelve individuals “based on those who you feel are most deserving to make the trip.” The descriptions of the potential survivors focus on race, religion, gender, profession, and political sentiment. They include “a racist armed police officer who is accused of using excessive force”; “a militant African-American medical student”; “a 33-year-old female Native American manager who does not speak English”; “a Hispanic clergyman who is against homosexuality”; “a 21-year-old female Muslim international student”; a “60-year-old Jewish university administrator”; and “a homosexual male professional athlete.” After ranking the potential survivors individually, students are supposed to come together as a class and reach a consensus about who should be selected to survive.
The exercise was developed by the Center for Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Houston as an exercise to help individuals realize their conscious and unconscious biases, and was intended for use by college students and adult faculty and staff.
Cuyahoga Falls Ward 6 City Councilman Adam Miller shared the assignment on social media after being contacted about it by concerned parents in his district and commented that he believed it was an “inappropriate project for young kids” which is “implanting prejudicial thoughts in these young impressionable minds.”
“This is NOT building a – ‘culture of caring’ – this is building a culture of animosity, antagonism & hostility!” Miller added.
Councilman Miller noted in further comments on Facebook that the school had initially not responded to parents’ concerns about the assignment and “I was contacted as a last resort.”
“The unresponsiveness to parents is why the parents, also my constituents, contacted me and I passed the info to a school board member,” he added.
Cuyahoga Falls School District Superintendent Todd Nichols released a statement calling the exercise an “icebreaker” and claiming that it was intended to “promote tolerance and break down stereotypes” and spark conversations about “diversity awareness and social justice.”
Nichols acknowledged that the assignment was a bad choice and stated, “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.”
Notably though, this was not the first time the assignment had been used at Roberts Middle School. The New York Times reports that it “had been used at this and other schools for some years,” and it was only after parents inadvertently discovered it and raised the alarm that it was viewed as problematic.