Thursday, October 10, 2013


Fox News culture warrior Todd Starnes is appalled -- as are some of his fellow wingnuts, including a rather famous one from Alaska -- because a completely fictional class assignment in a Florida high school bears a disturbing resemblance to ... the completely fictional thing wingnuts found in the Affordable Care Act a few years ago:
A classroom of 14 and 15-year-old Illinois high school students were assigned the task of deciding the fate of ten fictional characters in an exercise that critics called a lesson in death panels.

The assignment was part of a sociology unit for freshmen and sophomore students at St. Joseph-Ogden High School and was first reported by writer Lenny Jarratt.

The lesson involves 10 people who are in desperate need of kidney dialysis....

But there's a problem. The local hospital only has enough machines to support six patients.

"That means four people are not going to live," the assignment states. "You must decide from the information below which six will survive."

According to the worksheet I received, the student opted to spare the doctor, lawyer, housewife, teacher, cop and Lutheran minister....

Among those unceremoniously dispatched to the hereafter were an ex-convict, a prostitute, college student and a disabled person.

It sure looked like a lesson on death panels to Jarratt.

"The first thing I thought was they were desensitizing kids to death panels," he told me. "They are preparing them for it."
Yeah, right -- this assignment is preparing impressionable young people to accept a thing that doesn't actually exist. You'll recall that what the right referred to as "death panels" were actually completely voluntary end-of-life medical planning sessions. The Affordable Care Act, as originally written, would have covered the cost of these sessions. But they were struck from the bill because right-wingers were horrified at what they thought the discussions were (or, rather, what political hatchetwoman Betsey McCaughey claimed they were).

And as for this completely fictional classroom assignment? Brian Brooks, the principal of the school in question, strenuously disputes the wingers' interpretation:
The assignment you are referring to is not a "Death Panel" assignment. The assignment is one in the sociology unit of our Introduction To Social Studies class. The purpose of the assignment is to educate students about social values and how people in our society unfortunately create biases based off of professions, race, gender, etc. The teacher's goal is to educate students in the fact that these social value biases exist, and that hopefully students will see things from a different perspective after the activity is completed. The teacher's purpose in the element of the assignment you are referring to is to get students emotionally involved....
Well, Sarah Palin is certainly emotionally involved:
Friends, please see the article linked below. Consider this school teacher's assignment which mandates that kids undertake the task of deciding the fate of characters in an exercise that can obviously be considered a numbing lesson in "death panels." Unbelievable.

We’ll be in NJ this Saturday to rally for Steve Lonegan for the U.S. Senate to thank his supporters for pushing back against Obamacare and to halt D.C.-inspired nonsense like this.

We should hope that influential adults could teach the next generation that it is never ethical, it is never right, for our government to take steps towards the destruction of the sanctity of innocent life. And the way to do that is for our culture to condemn and reject the insensitive callus that grows in a society by this kind of thinking. The teacher could hopefully explain how Orwellian and wrong this thinking is. And she'd go on to declare our right to LIFE, liberty, and the pursuit if happiness, upon which American exceptionalism was built. I challenge her to do so.
What does this have to do with American exceptionalism? Or Steve Lonegan? Beats me. I don't even know what the hell it has to do with the government, or D.C. The point is to get kids thinking about ethics and values and prejudices.

And by the way, Sarah, there's a thing called triage that is an actual part of actual medicine. Real medical professionals sometimes actually have to decide how to apportion limited medical resources. It's even constitutional!

But no, this has nothing to do with "death panels." Now, I only hope, for their sakes, that this teacher and principal have unlisted phone numbers. And bodyguards.

(Via Fox Nation.)


aimai said...

Maybe its because I'm quite old but I remember when it was common knowledge that there was a "god squad" of "important" people who made the actual decisions about who got which organs transplanted when. The supply of organs, let alone the supply of medical professionals and money, has always been tight. Before modern matching techniques and the development of the (theoretically fair) system of ranking and national sharing of organs individual decisions were made all the time on the basis of race, class, social status, etc..etc...etc...

At any rate the really interesting thing about the leap from classroom excercise to fox news piece is tha tthey are literally incapable of grasping the notion that education is open ended--that the purpose of a real classroom excercise is not to desensitize students, or make them get the "right" answer--its to teach them to explore the complexity of a situation--ethical, moral, historical, sociological. You have to hold the exercise to bring up the issues but there isn't one right way to resolve any given issue.

For fuck's sake this is Philosophy 101--you've got to ask questions and bat around the ideas. But to the authoritarian mind nothing can be stranger. They believe as a matter of course that the teacher has a plan and that that plan is indoctrination. Because that is wha tthey think teaching is for.

Anonymous said...

I remember doing something like this when I was in 8th grade, and I am over 40! It wasn't transplants then, but who you would take into a bunker before a nuclear attack. (the 80s rocked!)

I suppose if the class was asked about 'Who would you let be Saved when Jesus returns?' I'm sure THAT would pass muster.

Anonymous said...

We did this in Spanish class in 1987, as an exercise in Spanish vocabulary: who shoud get the heart transplant? I did my presentation in the form of a rap song. Most people did comedy skits of some sort. This is beyond weak.

Dark Avenger said...

Even before organ transplants, the concept of limited resources was covered in Bernard Shaws' The Doctors' Dilemma, which was inspired by a question a doctor asked about a patient who wanted a new and experimental treatment for his condition, "Is he worth it?"

Caribou Barbie should go wrestle a moose or find something else to do besides apply her word salad politics to current affairs.

Victor said...

Maybe the teacher was preparing the students for careers in health care companies in case the Republicans do, indeed, repeal Obamacare.

And if that happens, they'll have to decide who to exempt from coverage, and whose operations to pay for, and whose health coverage to drop - you know, the "Death Panels" we had until PPACA passed.

Philo Vaihinger said...

First come, first served.

Anything else involves a pretense at valuing human lives that can only be grossly offensive.

And, no, babies are not intrinsically more important than adults.

"Baby on board"?

Big whoop.

aimai said...

Yeah, babies are intrinsically more important than most adults. Sad, but true.

aimai said...

I'd also like to complement the person with the string of apparently random symbols and numbers upthread--alas a difficult to remembernym, for pointing out that "who gets into heaven and who goes to hell" would obviously be a very popular evangelical philosophy game lesson plan and one that they would not bat an eye at having delivered to their child.

Danp said...

For pity sakes. Shouldn't these decisions be made by insurance companies?!?!? At least the kids knew to save the rich and powerful. They even showed mercy toward the Lutheran.

Ten Bears said...

Apparently the stupid squaw has never watched an episode of M*A*S*H.

Lutherans ate "Christians". "Christians" are animals, egg-sucking dogs, and this world will never know Peace until they're all taken out back of the barn and summarily executed.

No fear.

The New York Crank said...

On the other hand, I do wonder whether the kids were also encouraged, at least a little bit, to think outside the box. Only a couple of dialysis machines and too many kidney patients? How about buying a third machine? Or helicoptering the hooker and the disabled person and the college student to another hospital? Or hunting around for a transplanatable kidney?

Oh, that costs money and might end up upping the doctor, lawyer or minister's taxes? Screw it then. Kill the hooker, the gimp and the college nerd, who's too pointy-headed intellectua anyway. Just so long as we don't have death panels.

Or something.

Very crankily yours,
The New York Crank

Lawrence said...

We'll take the ninjas, but not the Irish. All right, everybody then.

And really, no love for the hooker? Is the disabled person Stephen Hawking, or Tammy Duckworth? They picked the Lutheran mountebank over the college student? The lawyer might want to die. It's the only way to get out from under those student loans. Have these kids seen what cops are up to these days? This sounds like a semester's worth of teachable moments.

Glennis said...

It's too bad the kids weren't asked to recreate the nuclear bomb exercise - news of that would send Caribou Barbie right to the bunkers and at least shut her up for a while!

Phoenician said...

OFFS - this is just an updated version of the "lifeboat" dilemma we were batting around in class back when I was eleven or twelve.

@Philo :

First come, first served.

Anything else involves a pretense at valuing human lives that can only be grossly offensive.

And, no, babies are not intrinsically more important than adults.


So you'd give a heart to a 80 year old smoking diabetic who has a 40% chance of surviving the operation in preference to an otherwise healthy 15 year old with an 80% chance of surviving if the former got sick first?

Examinator said...

What if the 15 year old was a gang banger,psychopath, mentally retarded, etc..
And the 80 yo was a research scientist on the verge of discovering an injection against Tea baggerism or something less important like a cure to cancer ?

The point is those sorts of decisions can't be meaningfully made WITHOUT consideration of the specific individuals involved.

Aimai is correct Education doesn't make geniuses/experts it can only teach the basics and the tools to be able to go further. It is what comes after education or what the individual does with the tools that define the Genius/ expert. The world is full of educated idiots.
One only needs to look at experts/ specialists in one field who take it upon themselves to pontificate on other fields.

i.e. the geologist who emphatically denies AGW or the anthropologist who ignores genetics, Epigenetics, brain research, brain psychology, etc. and confuses cause and effect.