It's a scary time in the world, especially for teens, some of whom are likely struggling for the first time with the horrifying reality of effective terrorism. And it's likely hard for teachers to talk American teens through the threat posed by the Islamic State, how it differs regionally, how the terrorist organization came to be, and why some people might be recruited to commit senseless, violent acts that kill civilians and—almost always—themselves.
One ninth grade teacher at Salem Junior High School in Utah offers others an example of what not to do. Mainly, don't assign a class of 14- and 15-year-olds to mock up an ISIS recruitment poster. CBS News offers more details on what students were asked to do, and why:
The assignment came as students were discussing the Middle East, terrorism and propaganda, including the use of propaganda during World War II, Hiskey said.
"I was like, what are you talking about," one mom said to her daughter when she learned of the assignment. Annie Langston told Fox 13 in Salt Lake City, "My initial response was, 'there’s no way you’re going to do this assignment.'"
Langston sent a very polite letter to her daughter's school. "In light of what happened in Paris, is that the reason for this assignment? I feel a different assignment or report could’ve been chosen or a discussion in class about the tragic events."
A different assignment—one that did not invite a bunch of teens to Google, "how to recruit for ISIS," as Langston's daughter Mikalia did—would probably have been a better choice. Not a good internet rabbit-hole for impressionable teens! For one, Googling "ISIS" will dredge up disturbing information and images. For another, we'd imagine the NSA will not take kindly to the search (especially coming from several different computers at the same time). At least one parent shared this concern, KUTV reports.
The school has since apologized and canceled the assignment; posters there were completed and turned in have been destroyed.
Lana Hiskey, a spokesperson for the Nebo School District, told KUTV on Thursday that, "We're grateful when parents have a concern, that they will call the school and let the principal know immediately," adding, "There were just over 60 students involved in this assignment and we've had four phone calls or communication with parents that had concerns." Hiskey added that the rookie teacher, in her first year, "was just very enthusiastic and wanted students to understand that propaganda is not good."
The teacher will not lose her job over the incident, but we bet she learned her lesson.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.