(The Lion) – Middle school students in Missouri were given a genetics assignment suggesting that traits like “thin”, blonde hair, and gray or blue eyes are the most valuable.
If that sounds eerily similar to eugenics, the monstrous and discredited vision of racial betterment that motivated figures like Hitler, you’re in good company: so thinks the mother who discovered the assignment and immediately contacted the district, Liberty Public Schools at Liberty, Missouri, a suburb of Kansas City.
Jennifer Bishop might never have known about the Jan. 19 assignment if her 8th grader hadn’t missed part of class and been given take-home materials. She e-mailed the school that same evening.
“I’m the only eighth-grade parent who knows,” Bishop told The Lion on Monday, 11 days after his son brought him home.
The assignment is called “designer baby” and is intended to teach students about the use of technology to alter genetics in organisms. The class was taught by middle school science teacher Staci Lester.
In the assignment, each student is given a worksheet representing a “child” with a list of genetic traits such as gender, eye and hair color, intelligence and weight, as well as a genetic disorder. Underneath the genetic traits given to the child are one or more alternatives that can be selected, but at a cost. Students are given varying but limited amounts of “money” to make changes.
The accompanying cost sheet is particularly alarming, Bishop says, leading her to warn district officials in her first complaint email about the possible connection to eugenics and even Hitler. The email was sent to a number of recipients, including superintendent Jeremy Tucker, school board president Nick Bartlow and vice president Angie Reed, chief equity officer Andrea Dixon-Seahorn, and principal Jill Mullen.
“I have no problem with teaching about genetic diseases, but handing students a child and asking them to ‘solve’ indicates that the child has a ‘problem’ and they can solve the ‘problem’ with money and resources,” he said. wrote Bishop in the email, which he shared with The Lion.
The cost sheet surprisingly values genetic characteristics such as blue eyes ($500) and blonde hair ($1,000) more than brown eyes ($200) and black hair ($800) or brown hair ($200). “Thin” genes ($4,000) are worth eight times as much as “stumpy” ones ($500). Increasing height becomes very costly, as do improving athletic ability, intelligence, and eyesight.
Then there’s the daunting list of 17 genetic diseases, detailed on a separate page. An ailment can be “removed”, most of it at great expense and sometimes beyond what a student can “afford”, which is designed to create an ethical dilemma and stimulate discussion in the classroom.
Achondroplasia, “the most common form of short limb dwarfism,” for example, costs $22,000 to have removed.
In his email to district officials, Bishop described how some in his own family have experienced the health effects of genetic disorders, yet are “worshipped for the person God created them to be.” She tells The Lion that her mother died of complications related to one of the ailments listed in the assignment and her sister is disabled due to a genetic disease.
Bishop’s son was assigned a “child” who suffered from the genetic Tay Sachs disease. “Children with Tay Sachs are born seemingly normal and then deteriorate over the years, dying in infancy,” the worksheet explains. And in this case, it cost him more to remove the disturbance ($17,000) than the money allocated ($14,000).
“It kind of brought up the thought of an instant resentment toward the child,” Bishop says. “You know, ‘I can’t fix this baby.'”
And while abortion of the baby doesn’t appear to be presented as an option, Bishop says one student has decided to throw away his paper, which is likely analogous to it.
“Genetic testing is currently not 100% accurate and we know people who have been told they shouldn’t have been here because there was something wrong with them,” Bishop wrote in his email to the school. “We are surrounded by many people who were also unwanted during pregnancy and are survivors of botched abortions.”
“No one monitors what is being taught”
District officials seemed to see problems with the assignment immediately, as revealed by replies to Bishop’s email sent the following day.
“We want you to know that as soon as we received your email — or in this case, as it was forwarded to me by our superintendent — we reviewed this class,” wrote Jeanette Westfall, assistant superintendent of instructional design at Bishop in an e -mail sent 20 January 17:46 “We will not use these materials at all going forward.”
However, Bishop says the genetics class continued that day, even though his son was exempted from the class.
Principal Mullen sent a message to Bishop and all the parents of Lester’s eighth grade science students on Tuesday, 12 days after he was given the assignment and just hours after The Lion contacted Mullen, Westfall and Lester about a comment on this story:
“Recently, there was some content within a classroom activity that caused questions from some within the classroom community. After hearing the questions raised, the activity was delayed while our resume team reviewed the activity.
“Following a review, the decision was made not to continue with the lesson and instead simply move on to a different activity that successfully met the learning standard for the particular unit.”
Notably absent is any description of the assignment, topic, or reasons for terminating it.
Dallas Ackerman, director of communications for the district, told The Lion Wednesday morning that the materials weren’t up to state standards:
“The district was made aware of the assignment and immediately contacted the faculty to verify the materials in question. The assignment was interrupted by the teacher. The materials were not aligned with the state educational standard and will not be used in our district.”
But parents will surely wonder how an assignment like this, with its sensational deductions, ever got approved.
The truth is, it hasn’t been approved, Bishop says.
In a meeting with school officials about the assignment on Jan. 26, which included two assistant principals and Westfall — but not Teacher Lester or Principal Mullen — Bishop says she was told the district doesn’t review students’ lesson plans. teachers, and lesson plans are often created just two or three weeks in advance.
“The district has a new education approach called ‘Competence-Based Learning,’ in which teachers don’t have their lesson plans revised, according to assistant superintendent Jeanette Westfall,” Bishop explained in an email.
When asked about accountability, the district said teachers are reviewed periodically through “routine observation.”
“Lessons are created by teacher teams supported by professional best practice learning. Teachers are responsible for aligning activities with the instructional standard, and administrators screen and evaluate staff against our Network for Educator Effectiveness (NEE) standards through routine observations,” Ackerman wrote.
This means that the details of most lessons may never be reviewed by the administrators. Instead, the district’s approach is to put out fires as soon as they break out, Bishop says.
“[This] is the concern that I have and to which I have expressed [Mrs. Westfall]”, recalls Bishop of the meeting. “He will continue to have problems in the school system. And she’s been putting out fires, but only once she’s been notified of the fire.
And while the district seems to agree with Bishop that the designer baby job should be extinguished, its creator isn’t so sure.
Heidi Hisrich, the science teacher who adapted the children’s game designed by two high school students and made it available for other teachers to purchase online, says she always teaches it with “a background in eugenics and its horrors.” “.
“Student teams should consider the potential for gene editing to be used throughout their lives and associated ethical considerations,” Hisrich wrote in an email to The Lion. “Some students decide not to make changes, while others change things like eye color and intelligence. This leads to a discussion of whether children should be modified and, if so, what limits should be placed by society. Also, different teams receive different amounts of money, with the aim of stimulating discussion and consideration of “fairness”.
When asked whether the game and lesson should be modified to avoid the suggestion that children born with certain characteristics or genetic aberrations are less valuable than others, Hisrich writes:
“I don’t know if the activity itself should be modified, as much as it should be taught in context and with rich and thoughtful discussion of these difficult topics. However, I’m open to hearing ideas on how the business could be changed.
Transparency: Parents don’t have the details
For Bishop, the discovery of the offending genetics assignment was a fluke, due to the coincidence of his son missing class and taking it home. But how can parents find out what their children are learning in school?
“It’s hard,” Bishop says, even for her and her husband who are very purposeful and committed to their child’s learning.
Because the middle school hands out iPads to its students, the kids aren’t taking the paperwork home, she explains. And assignment details aren’t fully viewable through Canvas, the school’s online learning management software.
“Kids are 100% on iPads or MacBooks now, so we don’t get papers. We do not. They’re not taught from a textbook,” Bishop said. “So there’s really no way for parents to follow what’s being taught, unless you’re talking to your kids.
“And if I’m being honest, I don’t know [my child] he could have described it to me, where I would understand exactly what it was. So, it’s really hard to say.
Bishop believes this incident is part of a larger disconnect between school and parents.
“I feel that the school pushed us [parents] out,” he says. “They are making decisions for our children without us realizing it.”