The other day I read in the news about a high school teacher in Australia who assigned the students in her conflict and terrorism class to plot an act of terrorism.  The students were asked to plan a terrorist attack that would kill as many innocent people as possible. 

As an educator myself, I understand the teacher’s desire to spark her students’ creativity in a project related to events that really do occur in our world today.  But I have to question her methods.  Can you imagine your 15-year-old daughter coming home and asking you to help her plan a terrorist attack?!  I know I would be less than thrilled.

I think one of the reasons this article lingered with me is because I actually completed a similar assignment myself.  I was taking a criminology class in college, and I had to write a paper describing in great detail a realistic terrorist attack.  (I won’t share my very creative idea lest I get in trouble myself!)  But this was ages ago, several years before the attacks on 9/11.  We live in a different world now.  Back then, I didn’t think twice about the assignment.  After all, our class was focusing on terrorism, and the assignment made me realize that there really are crazy people in this world who sit around brainstorming the exact same thing I was.  But now?  Between terrorist attacks and school shootings, should we really be ENCOURAGING our kids to think like that?

So what do you think?  Are you outraged by this teacher’s assignment?  Or do you think the assignment would have taught them “feelings of regret and sympathy for the victims of their fictional massacre” as one parent said?


15 Comments on Students Forced to Think Like Terrorists?

  1. While I don't agree with the parent's view you described as "feelings of regret and sympathy for the victims of their fictional massacre" being learned from the assignment, I think it's possible the teacher could have been motivated to make students aware of what security management and other security type careers must to when they prepare for different disastrous events, including terrorist attacks.

    I am taking a political science class on predicting the future this semester and we will be learning to predict various outcomes for the future. It's possible this could have been at the root of the assignment: to make students think about these various scenarios that are likely to prepare them for them, or possibly to see what precautions can be taken to prevent or lessen the blow of such attacks.

    I don't think it is wrong to use these kinds of exercises in education, but I definitely think they should be used with caution. If the high school students are mature enough to understand the goals of the assignment, then go for it! All in all, I think an assignment like that should be reviewed and done with the utmost caution in whatever circumstances the teacher has at hand.

  2. I think this is ridiculous. However, I don't know how they view terrorism in Australia. Even before 9/11, there were terrorist acts all over the world, and yet you thought nothing of the assignment you yourself had to do. I think we don't think about it, until it happens to us, or "on our turf"

    But, hello! The difference: YOU WERE IN COLLEGE! I don't see how handing this assignment to high schoolers is ok. I'm close enough to high school age to remember my thought process back then. NOT MATURE and most definitely not mature enough to handle this. I was in high school when 9/11 occured and remember being so broken. I just can't imagine an assignment like this.

  3. I discussed this with my sister in law and she said it was something she would never encourage her children to do. Being a middle school teacher encouraging a child to think about planning anything involving violence is never a good idea. I think you doing it a college student is much different than asking a 15 year old to it.

  4. As an English woman that grew up with the constant threat of Irish bombs, I would be most interested if my daughter came home with a project like this. It could be used as a jumping off point for sooo many different lessons!! Maybe the security services could also learn a lesson if they were sent copies of these assignments!!! I may not be an Army wife any more but I used to be so feel that I have a valid opinion!!! 🙂

  5. As I don't know what the exact curriculum was, nor how she presented it to the class, or even how mature the teens in question were(American teens seem a little less mature than those in other countries) I can't say if it was good or bad. I do think that it's something that should be addressed, for the same reasons that we tell our children to not talk to strangers. If we don't give them tools to approach life with knowledge and a skill set that "normal" life gives them, will they be able to deal with things when they happen? Teaching them how to think like a (insert bad guy here) shows them how easy it is to do, and helps them to spot it when it happens. And I know some parents will get/are up in arms over whether or it will turn Jonny or Susy into a (insert bad guy here), but really, that's the job of parents, to install a set of morals, empathy, and respect. It's the teacher's job to teach.
    Just my two cents, but I'll have to owe you 'cause payday's not here yet 🙂

  6. I just don't think these kind of assignments are worthwhile unless the point is something – maybe asking something that happened already and discussing what didn't work or how it could have been avoided…or well just about ANYTHING else. We are living in a different day and age now – and the fact that my 9 year old knows not to say "bomb" in an airport is a testament to that.

    In other news – CONGRATS on the PBS thing!! Great work and I am not surprised at all!!

    – Swati

  7. Yikes! I know this is a teacher-directed assignment, but what happens if sometime down the road someone takes a kid's project out of context and the kid gets in huge trouble?! An assignment like that might fly in Australia, but I think I'd fall over if it was asked of American high school students! I think a viable alternative (given the title of the class and age of students) would either be a class project with the same goal or plain old class discussion.

  8. I don't think it's that big a deal to be honest, if done properly it could teach them a lot. empathy and understanding of just how tragic these things can be, security measures and reasons, history and current events. I doubt very much the teacher just said 'go away and plan a terrorist attack' and that there was a lot more to it than that – this is Fox News after all.

  9. Um, I actually find this teacher's assignment offensive and completely inappropriate. It is important to teach creativity and learn to look at the world optimistically from different points of view…but you cannot ignore reality. And terrorism is a huge reality in our world today that should be taken very seriously, not as a game.

  10. Okay, so I will start by saying that I read your blog as something interesting to pass the time and see how "the other side" feels about different topics. I am a soldier in the intelligence field, I have been in the military more than a day and this is what I do on a daily basis. I was trained to and still everyday have to think like the enemy, no matter whom that enemy may be, terrorist, or another country or criminal elements alike. I think that this assignment was a great idea, although it does need a very skilled teacher in order for it to come out the way it was meant. This kind of assignment is meant to make people realize what kind of mindset it takes in order to conduct these types of attacks, and to see how the security measures that are in place actually help to protect them instead of just being a hindrance. For example, how many of you have complained about lines at airport and thought about how much of a pain it was, why can't they just hurry up and let me through? Those security measures are there to protect you and someone like me had to "wargame" the situation to figure out how they needed to be implemented. These children, if they take the assignment seriously, will look at the world in a new light and see what is actually going on around them. As for turning children into terrorists, not likely. As Kristina Waters said "And I know some parents will get/are up in arms over whether or it will turn Jonny or Susy into a (insert bad guy here), but really, that's the job of parents, to install a set of morals, empathy, and respect. It's the teacher's job to teach." It takes either a deep rooted ideology or a serious mental issue for someone to become a terrorist. This one assignment will not get someone started down that path. Maybe even these children will be able to see the signs of classmates or other people around them and be able to prevent an attack from happening one day. Burying your head in the sand like an ostrich will never make the problems of the world go away, terrorism is not a passing fad that you can ignore and it will take an active approach from the populace to stop it from happening…

  11. As a creative writing teacher I did assign something similar; however, not post 9/11. With terrorism an every day reality, it's not something that needs to be "imagined."

  12. Oh my….it sure got heated around here. I guess my comment isn't going to sound that great…but here it goes. As a parent, I don't think that I would've let my child write that article. I fully understand the measures that are taken to protect us by our military…(obviously because I'm married to the USMC). I also understand the other point of views, but it doesn't mean that I agree with it.

    I think subject matter such as this, will always be a sensitive subject matter.

  13. I agree with The Misguided Prodigy, but maybe that's because my husband discusses such things with me and I get a soldier's view point first hand.

    Now, would I give the assignment to 15yo kids? Not personally. I would see this more at a college level, but that's not to say that under the right controls that this couldn't be a very valuable assignment.

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