Highland High School, in Salt Lake city, Utah, gave their students an assignment to go on a ‘$5 date’. The assignment was part of an ‘Adult Role and Financial Literacy’ class. Completing the class was mandatory in order for students to graduate.
The uproar surrounding the assignment originated from a student’s mother, Jenn Oxborrow, who uploaded it to her Facebook. The status and accompanying photographs have been shared more than 2000 times. Her daughter, Lucy Mulligan, 16, was an honours student and had come home shocked by the language used. A different form of the assignment was given to boys and girls.
The assignment gave the students the task of creating a date where no more than $5 could be spent, excluding petrol. It claims, in the introduction, that the list of guidance for behaviour have been “suggested by the boys” and vice versa on the boys’ form but this is clearly untrue as the students were shocked by the list’s content.
I began reading the girls’ assignment optimistically as it told them: “If you don’t want to go out with the guy, tell him, don’t make up excuses.” A bit blunt, but a fair suggestion for both parties. However, it did not take long for me to understand Oxborrow’s disapproval as girls’ are told: “If you think you’re fat, keep it to yourself”, “Don’t fish for compliments” and “Show respect for him.” Despite the extremely sexist and stereotypical nature of this list, it ends with the confusingly kind: “Relax and be yourself.” (Be yourself but just don’t do anything from the list above…)
Oxborrow further claimed that “As a teacher, you have a responsibility to be inclusive and to think very carefully about the message you’re sharing.” The teacher who had given this assignment to her students in the high school remains nameless.
The boys’ assignment was just the same as it included examples that gave me hope like “Don’t feel entitled to a kiss (or more).” But just like its counterpart, it all went downhill: “Girls like flowers and little gifts” and “At a restaurant, say what you’re going to order so she will have a guide in ordering.” The weirdest one that was listed was: “Don’t drive recklessly.” This suggests not to do it on the date but as soon as you drop her off, ignore all pedestrians and speed limits.
The Principle of the school, Chris Jenson, did not have much to say about the issue apart from shifting the blame to the Utah teachers’ database of assignments: “My teachers did not write the lesson.” It is made clear that the teacher in question did not create the assignment. However, surely they were able to read the homework they were obtaining from the database and either agree or disagree with the message it was promoting? Jenson also tried to justify the assignment by explaining that “students could work on it all with a friend” as if talking about these enforced gender stereotypes in a group in a free period would lessen the surrounding outrage?
Jenn Oxborrow is also the executive director of the Utah Domestic Violence coalition and, unsurprisingly, voiced how one single assignment for young people in high school can “have serious consequences.” The heteronormative nature of the assignment truly resonated with Oxborrow and her experience with the high rates of domestic violence and teenage suicide within the conservative state.
Mark Peterson, Utah Board of Education, followed Jenson’s lead and reiterated that the assignment “came from an open source where teachers can upload and exchange worksheets.” Since the upload to social media caused such outrage, the worksheet has since been taken down.
Lucy Mulligan stated that “everything should not be ‘ok’ just because the assignment has been taken down.” Hopefully, the school become truly aware of how influential the messages provided within assigned homework can be for their students.