Cannibal Ed

Every year the Maricopa County Bar Association in Arizona sponsors an essay contest in junior high schools. But this year parents were brought up short. The assignment was to discuss the pros and cons of cannibalism. I'm not kidding. The assignment began with a story of three friends trapped in a cave. After several days, the children decided one of them had to be killed to provide food for the others. They drew straws, and the loser was murdered. Shortly afterward, the surviving children were rescued. The story was followed by several questions: Are the children guilty of murder? Do normal laws apply to this situation? And should the students have chosen the victim in a more "rational" manner? For example, should they have chosen the weakest or the least intelligent? These thorny ethical and legal dilemmas were to be resolved by kids 11 to 14 years old in 500 words or less. If you think kids that age are a little young to be grappling with such complex issues, you are not alone. Several parents protested the choice of topic, and a few school districts decided not to participate in the contest. Spokesmen for the Bar Association seemed genuinely puzzled. As they explained it, "The essay contest is designed to familiarize kids with points of law and how they affect them." But that's just the point. In real life, kids are not affected by issues like cannibalism. Their temptations are much more likely to be things like shoplifting or alcohol use. But the cannibal story is included in many teaching manuals used in moral education, Bar Association spokesmen pointed out. And unfortunately, they are right. Values programs often ask students to solve outlandish dilemmas they will never face. One standard activity asks students to decide whom to lock out of a bomb shelter in a nuclear war. Another makes kids decide whom to throw out of a lifeboat. Another asks them to choose which child to rescue from a burning house. Notice that many of these dilemmas have the same theme: They require students to choose who will live and die. They force children to evaluate human lives by utilitarian criteria. Who shall we toss out of the lifeboat: the old priest or the young businessman? The pregnant mother or the computer scientist? Who is more valuable to society? The use of such controversial dilemmas is presented as the latest teaching technique. But it's much more than that. Moral dilemmas like these inculcate a philosophy—a philosophy that says human life can be judged on crass utilitarian grounds . . . and that people who fail the test should be tossed out of the lifeboat. We've heard this philosophy before: in arguments for abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia. What's really frightening is that today it's being inculcated in young children—under the guise of education. I'd like to thank the parents of Maricopa County who faxed me information about the essay contest. We need to encourage all parents to exercise their biblical responsibility to be their children's primary educators. Parents should never be intimidated by professional educators or lawyers—who may sport long titles but may be short on the wisdom of God.


Chuck Colson


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