This Bizarre High School Assignment Belongs In The Past, Or Better Yet, The Trash

by Megan Zander
Image via Facebook/ Jenn Oxborrow

Sexist high school assignment instructed students to go on a date

A Utah mom was shocked this week when her 11th grader brought home an assignment for an AP class that required her to go on a date with the member of the opposite sex. And you thought having to help your kid with their book report was bad.

The assignment was part of the Adult Roles and Financial Literacy class at Highland High School in Salt Lake City. The class is required by the state in order to graduate. Mom Jenn Oxborrow shared the problematic instructions on Facebook, with her opinion of the assignment.

“My 11th grade AP honors student’s homework: “go on a date!” With a boy. And follow his suggestions–don’t correct his personal habits, don’t waste his money, and show him respect,” she wrote. “Thanks for educating our kids, Utah Department of Education. We really appreciate you evidence-based misogyny.”

“Eat the food you order.” “If you think you’re too fat, keep it to yourself.” “Be feminine and lady-like.” “Show respect for him.” Was this assignment written in the 1940s?

The boys’ assignment sheet for this project isn’t much better.

“Don’t gripe about the money you’re spending or don’t have.” “At a restaurant, say what you’re going to order so she will have a guide in ordering.” “No gross noises.” This entire project is one giant stereotype.

An adult skills class that wants to teach students how to have fun with only $5 isn’t a bad idea. But telling students they have to go on a date as part of their grade is. And the heteronormative gender roles at play here could be really upsetting or for a LGBTQ student or a student who is questioning their sexuality.

Fortunately, the Utah Board of Education agrees. Mark Peterson, spokesman for the Board, told The Salt Lake Tribune the assignment was being removed from the state’s curriculum database in response to the complaint made.

Teachers in Utah can upload their own materials for other teachers to use to a shared database, and it’s unlikely the Board will find out exactly how the assignment got onto the database. Either way, it’s history. “They’re inappropriate,” he said, “and we’re taking them down.”

Highland High’s principal, Chris Jenson, says the teacher never meant for the assignment to be followed exactly as written and that students where told the date could be casual or with a friend. “[The teacher] is just mortified,” Jenson said. “She wanted it to be a light-hearted lesson in social norms.”

Lucy Mulligan, Oxborrow’s daughter, said she interpreted the assignment otherwise. “She never said that it could be a friend,” Mulligan said. “She really didn’t leave it up to us if we wanted to or not.”

Miscommunication or not, principal Jenson also agreed the assignment had to go. “There’s no doubt that there is gender bias in the assignment,” he said. “There are some things that are relatively arcane in that assignment and that need to be updated or gotten rid of.”

Was it an assignment that probably shouldn’t have been handed out in the first place? Absolutely. But a school that’s responsive to the current social norms and the feelings of its students deserves an A+.