A classroom of 14 and 15-year-old Illinois high school students was assigned the task of deciding the fate of ten fictional characters in an exercise that critics called a lesson in death panels.
The assignment was part of a sociology unit for freshmen and sophomore students at St. Joseph-Ogden High School in St. Joseph, just east of Champaign. The story was first reported by Champion News.
The lesson involves 10 people who are in desperate need of kidney dialysis.
“Unless they receive this procedure, they will die,” the lesson states.
But there’s a problem. The local hospital only has enough machines to support six patients.
“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 I received, 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.
It sure looked like a lesson on death panels to Jarratt.
“The first thing I thought was they were desensitizing kids to death panels,” he told me. “They are preparing them for it.”
Principal Brian Brooks told me that assessment is way off base.
“The assignment has nothing to do with a ‘Death Panel,’” he said.
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.
That’s all well and good if you were the doctor — but try telling that to the 9-year-old disabled kid.
“The teacher’s purpose in the element of the assignment you are referring to is to get students emotionally involved in order to participate in the classroom discussion,” he said.
Jarratt said he suspects there’s more to the assignment than just a lesson in bias.
“There are so many other ways to teach about that,” he said. “Why would they go down that road — especially with freshmen in high school?”
No matter what how the school tries to explain it, a group of young kids was deciding who got to live and who got a death sentence.
St. Joseph-Ogden High School’s social studies class sounds more like a recruitment center for the Department of Health and Human Services.