COOS BAY — Sunset Middle School parents voiced concern after some students returned home with a notification that they would be microchipped.
On the day this letter was handed out in class, students were not told it was fake. Though that was done intentionally as a way to introduce the utopia/dystopia unit, 7th grade teacher Jenn Winston told The World she would not do this again, or at least would use the letter differently next time.
“On Tuesday, I handed out what I said is a copy of a letter going out to their parents and that I was giving it to them as an involved school representative so they have a heads up,” Winston said. “We read through it and I asked how they felt ... the responses were fascinating.”
The fake letter was supposed to be issued by a government agency called “Involve,” describing a four-step process to help students be successful in life. Step one was to inject students with an implant to monitor social and emotional health, and that participation was mandatory.
Step two was to test students to determine their strengths, and step three was to assign them to a division where they would be best suited, which included Administrative, Operative, and Proletarian, which is a working class.
Step four was “their life-long fulfillment of implementing contribution and citizenship” to society.
After going through the letter on day one with her students, when they believed it to be real, Winston said two-thirds were upset. Half of that group was upset about the shot with the implant, while the other half was upset they wouldn’t be able to choose their future career.
“But a third of them was excited this would happen,” she said. “Their whole demeanor was calm and relieved.”
Of those, she said they were glad to not have to worry about their future.
“That sense of protection, a third of them clung to that,” she said. “Of the ones upset with it, about half said ‘it’s the government, so I guess it is okay.’”
Winston handed out the letter in the second period on Tuesday, Nov. 13. The idea was to let students believe it was real until Wednesday, Nov. 14 when she would explain the purpose behind the letter and the new unit they were studying.
However, after that second period class ended, Winston realized it would blow up beyond what she intended.
“I sent a copy of the fake letter to the parents and emailed them to let them know it is fake,” she said. “I said they are perfectly free to tell students it isn’t real, but I wouldn’t tell them until (Wednesday).”
When she did tell students on Wednesday that it wasn’t real, she stated off apologizing for any stress it caused them and let them know it wasn’t a prank.
“It was intended to get them to feel whatever reaction they came up with of the government taking over,” she said. “This is how it could happen and how an entity could take over and you trust the people saying these things. In real life, utopia has never happened because we all have free will and their personal reaction is perfect because it determines their future and how they react to outside forces.”
This letter specifically introduced the novel the class is now starting to read, which is City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau.
“The parent’s reaction is completely valid, not knowing the background I had in mind,” Winston said. “The ones who didn’t get a chance to read my email, I told everyone today in class to please go home and tell your parents it wasn’t real. Hopefully tomorrow it will die down.”
The next time Winston plans on using this letter, she said, will be as propaganda instead of a thought-booster where students know immediately that it isn’t real.
“We apologize if folks were upset,” said Chad Putman, director of teaching and learning with the Coos Bay School District. “That wasn’t our intent with the lesson. Most of our curriculum goes through an adoption process. At times there are other lessons our teachers use to enrich the content and this is an example of that.”
“This was a learning experience,” he added. “We will adjust accordingly. It sounds like we’re on the right track, but don’t want to worry students or parents.”
After all was said and done, Winston had students tell her “this was a cool idea.”
“I may have gone about it in an unconventional way, but they are excited,” she said. “I am sincerely apologetic for any stress I caused.”