We’ve been down this road before. A well-meaning but misguided teacher hands out an assignment that students and parents find offensive. In one example from LU’s archives, students were asked to compare police to KKK members and/or slave owners. Sometimes the school administration backs down, and sometimes they stand their ground.
I invite readers to judge for themselves whether an assignment given to students at Bishop McDevitt High School in Wyncote, Pa. was a bridge too far, as students and parents are submitting. The general topic was the Derek Chauvin trial. The specific questions included the following:
- It is said that the death of George Floyd was due to the amount of drugs in his system that then affected his heart. The cop Derek Chauvin aggravated the issue by putting a knee on Floyd’s neck. Should Chauvin have been charged with murder if he did not directly kill him? Why or Why not. Must explain in at least 5 sentences.
- Chauvin did not follow protocol and had a knee on Floyd’s neck for way longer than necessary. Floyd was resisting arrest, so why is Chauvin still considered breaking the law through negligence? Explain. If you don’t know what negligence is then look up the word.
One student in the class sent a message to the teacher stating, “I feel as if the questions asked are highly insensitive. I am uncomfortable reading let alone answering the questions provided.” The teacher wrote back, “I’m sorry you feel this way. It was just an assignment to have you critically think from all perspectives. I understand if you do not wish to complete the assignment and would rather take the 0.”
But the student’s family is demanding a new assignment. The girl’s father, identified only as “Tim,” told reporters with ABC affiliate WPVI, “You can’t discuss something that’s so fresh. And then you don’t have facts in there, you just want people to answer your opinion.” The child’s stepmother, agreed, maintaining “It was just questions about the teacher’s opinions,” while the student’s aunt added, “This teacher has placed her political views in the classroom and she is manipulating her students with it.”
One detail that is overlooked in these reactions the nature of the class in which this assignment was given. According to WPVI, the class was in “criminal justice.” I couldn’t find a course with that title in Bishop McDevitt’s Course Selection Book for the 2021-2022 academic year, though I did come across the following description of a course title “Business Law,” which is available only to sophomores, juniors, and seniors:
This elective college prep course provides an overview of law and how it is applied in the world today. This course will provide a solid foundation for any student interested in going to law school or any student simply wanting to understand more about the laws that we are expected to abide by as a society today. Concepts addressed will include laws and the legal system, business ethics, constitutional rights, court systems, criminal law and procedure, civil law and procedure, contract law, offers and acceptance, genuineness of assent, consideration, legal capacity to contract, sales contracts, property law, agency law, and discrimination in employment. Students will participate in a mock trial and serve as the judge, jury, bailiff, attorneys, and witnesses in a criminal case. The course serves as a good starting point for anyone who is planning a career in law.
If this is the course in question, I would argue that the assignment was consistent with the stated goals. A “solid foundation” in the the working of the “laws that we are expected to abide by as a society today” would benefit all Americans. Let me know what you think.