Controversial junior high ‘Whom to Leave Behind’ lesson meant to ‘promote tolerance’: superintendent

Controversial junior high ‘Whom to Leave Behind’ lesson meant to ‘promote tolerance’: superintendent
A controversial Ohio middle school “diversity” exercise — which asked students to choose certain types of people to leave behind on a doomed Earth while others escape on a space ship — “aligned with the goals” of the school district to “promote tolerance and break down stereotypes,” the superintendent said. (Image source: WJW-TV video screenshot)

A controversial Ohio middle school “diversity” exercise — which asked students to choose certain types of people to leave behind on a doomed Earth while others escape on a space ship — “aligned with the goals” of the school district to “promote tolerance and break down stereotypes,” the superintendent told WJW-TV.

The “Whom To Leave Behind” exercise was given to students at Roberts Middle School in Cuyahoga Falls late last month, telling them to select four people from a hypothetical list of 12 to leave behind as “tomorrow the planet Earth is doomed,” the station said, adding that the remaining eight would be passengers on a space ship to another planet.

The following are the 12 people students were told to rank from “most deserving” to “least deserving” for the escape trip, WJW said:

  • an accountant with a substance abuse problem
  • the accountant’s pregnant wife
  • a militant African-American medical student
  • a 33-year-old female Native American manager who does not speak English
  • 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 a 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

Uproar follows

Sixth Ward Councilman Adam Miller told WJW in an earlier story that concerned parents called him about the questionnaire, which he said could lead to “a lot of confusion” and “implant certain stereotypes and judgments within these young kids’ minds that they shouldn’t be having at this young age.”

Miller told the station he talked to the teacher who distributed the assignment and said the teacher was “remorseful.”

“He apologized for any concern the parents were upset about,” Miller added to WJW. “He said he was going to remove the assignment and not use it at any future dates.”

Adam Miller (Image source: WJW-TV video screenshot)

One parent, Tia Salchak, told WJW that her seventh-grader son was uncomfortable with the exercise, telling her he “felt like he was either being racist or judgmental” choosing people to leave behind “and I don’t raise my kids to judge others.”

Tia Salchak (Image source: WJW-TV video screenshot)

Here’s a video report on the controversy that aired prior to the superintendent’s apology:

School district responds

Cuyahoga Falls Superintendent Todd Nichols first told the station the matter was being investigated — and a week later Nichols provided the following statement on the district’s website:

With regard to the assignment recently issued by a teacher at Roberts Middle School, it is important to provide context. 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 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.

It is the responsibility of a 21st-century educator to deliver a holistic education to all of their students. In Cuyahoga Falls, one of our objectives is to engage in conversations concerning diversity and social justice.

Unfortunately, some parents were upset and concerned by this particular assignment and thought it was not age-appropriate. 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.