Ethics Quiz: The High School Obituary Assignment

Right on cue, after the post earlier today mentioning how the hysteria over school shootings was giving kids a false belief that they were not safe in school, comes this story:

Psychology teacher Jeffrey Keene, a teacher at Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando, gave his 11th and 12th grade students an assignment ahead of a scheduled active shooter drill.

He told them to write their obituaries. Some of the students reported the assignment to school administrators, and by the end of the day Keene, who as a new hire was on probation and could be fired at will, was.

Keene, to his credit (no weenie he!) was unrepentant, telling reporters,

“It wasn’t to scare them or make them feel like they were going to die, but just to help them understand what’s important in their lives and how they want to move forward with their lives and how they want to pursue things in their journey. If they died 24 hours from now, what would they do differently than they did yesterday? And that’s to get them to get rid of all the fluff and show them what’s important in the world….It wasn’t to say, ‘You’re going to die, and let’s stress you out. If you can’t talk real to them, then what’s happening in this environment?

In my mind, I’ve done nothing wrong.”

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is…

Did he?

12 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: The High School Obituary Assignment

  1. No. He did nothing wrong if he made the same statement to the students at the time. Even if he hadn’t, it does not rise to a fireable offense. This particular assignment is found in freshman college courses that are composition based.

    The problem I have with educators is that they focus on explaining what but not why. This teacher was trying to do his job. That’s it. The principal is just an example of a mediocre teacher who hates teaching but loves the security of being an administrator.

    • I think I agree that the assignment was valid and is an invitation for some creative responses and some useful self-examination. Timing it with the drills was bound to create misunderstanding, however, if he wasn’t clear about the purpose of the exercise. I also agree that even if he was insufficiently clear, it was not a firing offense.

  2. Jack wrote, “Some of the students reported the assignment to school administrators…”

    Those students are snowflakes snowflaking hard.

    Jack wrote, “…and by the end of the day Keene, who as a new hire was on probation and could be fired at will, was.”

    This was a completely predictable reaction by the school since social justice snowflakes are now the ruling class and running the asylum/school. No one is gong to want to stand up to the new social justice warriors ruling class lest they be their next target.

    The assignment might have been pushing it, but in an educational sense and these are 11th & 12th grade students going out into the world in a year or less, I think it’s challenging, it inspires some critical thinking and self evaluation and is reasonably acceptable.

    What’s the real problem is the reaction from some of the students and the school administration.

  3. If it was wrong for the teacher to provide an assignment reminding these students about their mortality and legacy, than it’s also wrong to conduct drills that do the exact same thing.

    Perhaps the drills are worse– they advocate cowering in isolated pockets while waiting for the government to do one of two things: swoop in decisively and resolve the problem, or hide behind trees and sit on their thumbs for hours until someone does do something.

    The teacher’s assignment gives the students agency and informs them of choices available to them, the drill and government response teach them to be victims and subjects to fate.

  4. Timing is everything.

    At the time Dead Poet’s Society came out, I had an English teacher that was comparable to the character played by Robin Williams.

    He died roughly 6 years later. At a Catholic High School, he made a point of using his death (cancer) as a teaching tool. There was a school ceremony for the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, a Sacrament few will typically witness as third parties.

    He commissioned a former student to build him a pine box casket. He said he planned to have it sitting in his class one day as a discussion object (I do not know if that ever happened).

    In short, he was a consummate educator and felt that his death, particularly considering the religious nature of the school, gave him a final opportunity to teach his students a lesson about life, death, and faith.

    With that in mind, is there anything inherently wrong with this assignment?


    Was the assignment poorly timed?


    (Side questions: Are active shooter drills treated more seriously than fire drills? If so, why? Are fire drills just a remnant of the past that no one takes seriously? Are active shooter drills any more relevant that active shooter drills? If he announced his assignment ahead of a fire drill, would anyone really care?)

    Unfortunately, whether he did anything wrong probably results from what is in his own head. It’s a valid lesson item. But, if he timed it for the drill, that is his fault. If he didn’t, that is just poor timing.

    I would give him the benefit of the doubt.

    -And give him the What For!


    • My mother taught in a Catholic school for 23 years, teaching 7th and 8th graders science and math, with computer basics as an introduction (this was 1990-1991). In her last year she ws diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. She told the class and their parents, and let them know what would happen in a year, trying to keep things as normal as possible. Her classes seemed to understand and were very helpful to her.

      This teacher did nothing wrong abd should not have been fired.


      • Very, very, very sorry to hear about your mother, John. I taught in Catholic schools for just two and a half years. I wasn’t one of those special people like your mother who could teach year after year. But I attended Catholic schools for fifteen years, K through 12 and law school. This guy just did this at the wrong time. If I’d done this lesson in this environment before such a drill, I’d have been fired. And if I’d been the principal, I’d have fired me. Judgement this bad is not a good indicator of a guy you can let spend unsupervised time with the kids in your school. Marginally interesting lesson plan. Super bad time. Basic rule of teaching: don’t do things that cause parents to call the office.

        • Thanks, OB.

          My mom passed away on 1991. She was a true teacher. I was floored when students she taught in her first years at the school attended her funeral with their children who were in her classes at the time she died.


  5. Thanks, OB.

    My mom passed away on 1991. She was a true teacher. I was floored when students she taught in her first years at the school attended her funeral with their children who were in her classes at the time she died.


    • That’s tremendous. Good for her. I just hope all of us had four or five teachers like your mom during our education. It’s a sacred trust that your mother honored.

  6. “Momentous mori”. We should all do this excercise to provide us a means to amend our live for the good. All of us are in need of amending

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