A hypothetical zombie apocalypse is to blame for recent controversy at Parkers Prairie High School.
A teacher gave ninth-grade geography students an assignment that Principal Carey Johnson initially said is part of a nationally recognized curriculum called Zombie-Based Learning. One of the questions asked students to choose three people to sacrifice during a zombie apocalypse and explain why they were chosen.
The assignment from teacher angered some parents of ninth-graders, such as Michelle Diedrich.
“I told her (the principal) I want a copy of the zero for my daughter’s grade,” Diedrich said. “I will be proud because that zero is how many children she (the daughter) gave up.”
While the Zombie-Based Learning curriculum, created by Washington state teacher David Hunter, has been used in the district for a number of years, this specific question had never been included alongside the curriculum previously. Hunter says it is not part of the curriculum he has written.
“The Zombie-Based Learning that I’ve written and published does not talk about people dying, killing zombies or even weapons,” Hunter said in an email.
Hunter says that instead, his curriculum focuses on out-smarting and out-thinking zombies in order to survive and that it is very directly tied to using geographic thinking skills.
“It worries me that these (questions) were seen as good ideas,” he said. “I’m all about a little bit of controversy to get kids interested, like the idea that students get to use geography to plan how they survive the zombie apocalypse, but I also think there are some serious lines that shouldn’t be crossed.”
According to Johnson, the teacher gave the writing assignment as a supplement in addition to the curriculum. After concerns were raised, the school decided not to grade the assignment.
Diedrich first gained knowledge of the assignment on Sunday, Nov. 12, when her daughter sat down to do her homework.
“I thought she had actually misinterpreted,” Diedrich said. “I had her print it off. I read it and told her she’s not going to do it. We do not sacrifice others to save ourselves.”
Diedrich went to the administration at the Parkers Prairie High School. But Johnson said the assignment already been brought to her attention on Friday, Nov. 10.
“The teacher (of the geography class) and I met in my office and he explained the assignment that had been given to two sections of ninth-grade geography on Thursday, Nov. 9,” Johnson said. “I expressed to the teacher my concerns regarding the assignment, and he agreed that the homework assignment should be canceled.
But on Monday, Diedrich’s daughter came home and said the assignment was still due.
“I sent another email, begging them not to do it,” Diedrich said. “I kept thinking about that child that’s going to hear his name. They (students) were talking about it in class and talking about who they were going to pick. That one child is going to break. My daughter said there was one who got put on a lot of the lists.”
However, Johnson says the assignment had been retracted, but that the ones that had already been completed were collected and discarded.
“The teacher informed both sections of ninth-grade geography that the assignment was canceled and that he apologized for any anxiety the assignment may have created,” Johnson said. “The teacher collected the assignment work that had been completed and destroyed the documents.”
Students in the Parkers Prairie school district also had opinions on the assignment, which they shared in comments on Facebook.
“I do remember this assignment, our class had no problem with this assignment,” wrote Gunnar Thoennes, a junior at Parkers Prairie High School. “If you correctly read the instructions he (the teacher) has copied onto Google Classroom it says ‘your people.’ Nowhere on the assignment does it say that you have to choose friends or family to be on that list.”
In addition to picking three people to sacrifice, students in Will Grieger’s class were asked to name 25 objects in their home that could be used to kill a zombie, and then write a write a scene with a main character killing a zombie with those objects. This also raised concern for Diedrich.
“I don't think it’s healthy for anyone to think about 25 ways to kill someone,” she said.
The questions appear on a long list of zombie writing prompts from a source outside the Zombie-Based Learning curriculum.
Diedrich says the assignment has already caused hurt for students and does not want to meet with school administration.
“The damage is done,” she said. “I just wanted to stop it so that one kid didn’t hear their name.”
Johnson says she stands by the staff at Parkers Prairie High School and believes they are committed to doing what is best for students.
“We respect the sensitivity of the issue and take it seriously,” she said. “We always put our students first. The staff at Parkers Prairie High School is committed to our mission, which is to help students realize their fullest potential.”