New Brunswick school blasted over ethnic survival exercise

New Brunswick's education minister says he is "appalled" by a social studies exercise that asked children in an elementary school to pick among three ethnic and two language groups as possible survivors in a planetary explosion.

New Brunswick's education minister says he is "appalled" by a social studies exercise that asked children in an elementary school to pick among three ethnic and two language groups as possible survivors in a planetary explosion.

A teacher at the Ecole Mont-Carmel in the village of Ste-Marie-de-Kent recently gave the Grade 4 students a sheet that asked them to imagine an Acadian francophone was on another planet with an anglophone, a black African, a Chinese person, and an aboriginal person.

The students were told the planet was going to explode in 10 minutes, and were asked which three of the five people should take a seat in a rocket that would escape the explosion.

A spokeswoman for the Education Department says the mother of one of the students complained to the school's principal, saying her daughter was upset by having to make the choice.

The spokeswoman said the principal initially defended the exercise, prompting the complaint to the department. The principal wasn't available for comment on Wednesday.

Education Minister Kelly Lamrock, who is a former teacher, said the exercise isn't suitable and recommended it be taken out of the classroom.

"I've seen the exercise," he said in an interview. "I'm quite appalled at it. It's obviously unacceptable."

Lamrock said the exercise forces students to decide which ethnic or language group he or she prefers.

"It's one thing to examine attitudes for stereotypical thinking. It's another to require students to think in stereotypes and this crosses the line."

The department said the exercise is not part of the province's social sciences curriculum on cultural diversity.

"I'm told it isn't in any of our recommended exercises that goes out with the curriculum," said Lamrock, who also criticized "cartoonish" pictures on the exercise that he believes encourage stereotypes by depicting children from several different racial groups.

Gerald Richard, director of the district school board, said he believes the teacher intended to give a message of racial tolerance.

But after examining the material because of media interest in it, he decided it was too difficult for Grade 4 students to understand and asked the school to stop using it.

Although he doesn't agree with the method of teaching in the exercise, Richard said he thinks the "intention of the exercise was good."

"It was to try to make the point that prejudice wasn't acceptable," he said.

"The intention was to tell the children what the word prejudice means, and to become more tolerant and open."

One of the questions in the exercise asked the students if they found the choice difficult, and then asks them to explain why.

Jessie Lomax, the mother who complained to the school, told the CBC her daughter is the only child in the class from a different ethnic or racial group.

"She felt it was wrong, she didn't understand it," she said.

 
 
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