A teacher in the Hillsborough County School District gave students a “Lifeboat Quiz” asking students to choose who lives and dies during a hypothetical sea disaster.
They were told 15 people need to be saved but there was only room for nine people on the boat. They then had to choose among options including “the black guy,” “the Hispanic woman,” “the pregnant woman, ” and also Barack Obama , Donald Trump, and, uh, Justin Bieber.
The students were 11; this was the 6th grade in the Giunta Middle School in Riverview, Florida . A mother of one of the students turned this into news by claiming the test was racist—she knew the magic word, all right. It’s not racist at all. What it is is incompetent and inappropriate. Naturally, the debate has been immediately detoured into issues like diversity, which have nothing to do with what’s wrong with the test. I could imagine an excellent teacher steering the discussion of a lifeboat dilemma into a useful general discussion of bias and ethics. I cannot imagine anyone who would think this quiz could support such a discussion being skilled enough to teach such a lesson. If the teacher told students that their choices should consider diversity quotas, she should be fired. What are the odds, do you think?
To begin with, the whole set-up, in which one person has the power to choose life or death among 15 people is inherently unethical. Only some kind of cooperative decision-making process involving everyone, or, in the alternative, a random process treating each individual equally, would have any chance of achieving an ethical result. Ask the students what criteria, if any, they would use in making a choice—past value to society, age, health, current importance or role, likely future value, or something else. Obviously race, ethnicity, gender and celebrity should be irrelevant, and maybe that was one of the points of the exercise. But this is way, way beyond the comprehension level of most sixth graders.
Survival hypotheticals are difficult in college, law school and advanced philosophy courses. They involve isolated situations devoid of law enforcement and rules, and involve inherently unfair choices. Absent a thorough understanding of Kantian ethics, the Golden Rule and Utilitarianism, student would not have the tools to analyze the problem, as the above quiz sheet answers eloquently illustrate.
We often hear arguments that ethics should be taught in the public schools. If this is the level of competence teachers are capable of contributing to that task, we need to abandon that fantasy. They will do more harm than good.
Facts: Global News