High School Teacher Placed on Leave for Moral Problems Quiz (Update: Teacher Resigns)


A  high school teacher has been placed on administrative leave (with pay) after a parent complained about a lesson in which students were asked to morally reason about some provocative situations, according to The Columbus Dispatch last week.

Sarah Gillam, who teaches English at Hilliard Bradley High School in Hilliard, Ohio, had 10th grade students complete a test that posed various hypothetical morally-relevant situations for students to respond to by moving a slider along a spectrum of “ok” to “not ok”.

Some of the situations described might be considered offensive or too violent or sexual to administer in a high school. That at least appears to be the opinion of one parent, who shared news of the test on a Facebook page for the school’s parents. The result, reports the Dispatch, was “a public frenzy.”

The district is investigating the test while Ms. Gillam is on leave.

The “Moral Foundations Test,” is available online at IDRlabs. It is a collection of 36 scenarios. Some of them are on subjects perfectly appropriate for discussion in a high school, such as:

The head of a public department says that none of her employees are allowed to smoke at all, not even in their free time.

and

A new action figure becomes all the rage among the boys in Timmy’s class. When Timmy’s parents get to the store, they buy all of the action figures for Timmy, leaving none for the other children.

A surprisingly large number of scenarios having to do with sex, some of which might strike a typical parent as strange or inappropriate:

Using both a condom and the pill, a brother and a sister decide that they want to sleep with each other—just once, to see what it would be like.

and

A man orders a custom-built sex doll designed to look just like his niece.

A few are about the sexual behavior or attractiveness or women:

Sarah gets drunk in a bar and makes out with two strangers at once

When Kelly asks Steven out on a date, he sneers and says: “Like I’m gonna date a woman who looks like my overweight bulldog.”

In sex education class, the students are taught that since the sexes are equal, the girls should sleep with as many guys as they want without fear of being considered “sluts.”

And some concern violence, such as:

Sarah’s dog has four puppies. She can only find a home for two of them, so she kills the other two with a stone to the head.

While on a live on-air tv show, a man kills a baby rabbit with a knife.

It’s not a great test. I don’t think it’s job-losingly bad, but the set of situations is pointlessly bizarre, the descriptions are devoid of context and details, and as an educational instrument it’s not clear how much value it has.

It seems like good news that a teacher is including a little ethical reasoning in her lessons; it is too bad she didn’t make use of a better tool with which to do so.

Readers, if you know of better tests of this type, or good short lessons on ethical reasoning that a high school teacher could use, please share them in the comments.

Related: “Online Philosophy Materials for High School Students” and “Teaching Controversial Topics in High School Philosophy.”

(Thanks to Andrew Mills for bringing the story to my attention.)


UPDATE (9/12/18): The teacher, Sarah Gillam, has resigned, according to The Columbus Dispatch:

Gillam acknowledged that her resignation was connected to a quiz given to her sophomore Language Arts class, said Stacie Raterman, a spokeswoman for the district. 

“The circumstances that led to the resignation are disappointing, as she has recognized. While the district’s approved curriculum and educational materials encourage students to think critically, several items in this online quiz were simply inappropriate and inconsistent with established classroom resources,” the school board said in a written statement.

“This should never have been given. The district works hard to earn the respect and support of students, parents and the community at-large and we regret any mistrust this may have caused,” the board statement said.

photo by J. Weinberg

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