A homework assignment from Highland High School in Salt Lake City, Utah is going viral for all the wrong reasons this week. Jenn Oxborrow, a social worker and mother to high school junior Lucy Mulligan, recently shared to Facebook a teacher's assignment for the female students to go on dates — and, even more disturbingly, a very long list of suggestions for proper behavior on the date that are rooted in very outdated, misogynistic gender roles.
Bustle reached out to the Salt Lake City School District about the assignment, and Communications Officer Jason R. Olsen writes, "We are grateful the parents informed us so we could correct this situation. The teacher did not intend to hurt any students and is remorseful." Mark Peterson, a spokesperson for the Utah State Board of Education, told ABC4 Utah, "As soon as this was brought to our attention, it's clearly inappropriate, and we had it taken down." (Bustle has also reached out to the Utah Department of Education for comment and will update upon response.)
The assignment was for a class called Adult Roles and Financial Literacy, a course created by the state to prepare students to "understand human relationships involving individuals and families integrated with general financial literacy." In this case, however, many people feel that the curricula does not align with the course's goals.
"My 11th grade AP honors student's homework: 'go on a date!' With a boy," writes Oxborrow in her now viral post, which cuts to the core of the problematic nature of the assignment. "And follow his suggestions--don't correct his personal habits, don't waste his money, and show him respect. Thanks for educating our kids, Utah Department of Education. We really appreciate your evidence-based misogyny."
The boys in the class received a similar assignment, with the same theme to spend five dollars on the date — and the instructions on theirs were in the same disturbing vein.
This gendered behavior dictation aside, it is all kinds of inappropriate that a teacher is even suggesting that high school kids go on dates for an assignment in the first place. But what makes this incident all the more upsetting is that, according to Oxborrow, this is not the first time her daughter brought a concerning assignment to her attention.
"There have been a number of assignments over the course of the school year that had concerned me, but nothing as overt as this — this was really over the top," says Oxborrow to Bustle.
In addition to the harmful perpetuation of gender stereotypes that these kinds of assignments cause, the issue has even had the potential to affect students' grades in the course.
"My daughter missed a question on a test because it said, ‘True or false: when women come home at the end of the day, they work a second shift doing all the laundry and child-care and cooking,'" says Oxborrow. "And she marked false, because that’s not what she, you know, is seeking in a relationship, and not what’s been modeled for her at her home, and she received that as an incorrect answer to her test and lost a point in that class."
Luckily, Oxborrow's daughter Lucy was not one to take this particular assignment sitting down — not just for her own sake, but for that of her fellow students.
“[Lucy] texted me a picture of the assignment while she was at school and said, ‘This again,’ basically — like, here we go," says Oxborrow. "And she said, ‘I’m really ready to try and do something more about this’ — she had gone to her teacher, and I had requested meetings with her teacher, but once she had received that assignment that we posted a picture of, she said, ‘You know, Mom, I don’t feel good about not speaking up more about this because I’m seeing it take a toll on other people in the class, especially people who might not identify with the traditional gender roles.’”
Oxborrow shares that although she has attempted to have several face-to-face meetings with the teacher of the class in regards to the concerning nature of the assignments, it wasn't until the flurry of viral attention that the image of the dating assignment has gotten that the school has addressed it. Already the image of the assignment has been picked up by several news outlets, and generated more than 1,500 shares from Oxborrow's personal page.
“That was really validating for Lucy, to see that overwhelmingly, people agreed that this wasn’t appropriate and it was an overstep and it was out of date," says Oxborrow to Bustle.
Of course, moving forward, the next step is to take measures to make sure these kind of assignments aren't going out to more young, impressionable students — particularly because, according to Oxborrow, the financial planning class is actually a legislative initiative passed in 2008 that applies not just to her daughter Lucy's grade, but grades K-12.
“It’s morphed over the years into coaching kids on a very specific type of relationship, as if that’s a way to attain financial security. So that’s the part I have concerns about, and what I really want the school district here to do is make sure that they’re teaching that curricula in a way that is meeting the legislative intent and also drawn from evidence-based based practices — a fair, responsible, safe way to teach kids about financial literacy and healthy relationships," says Oxborrow. "We really want to find some solutions here. We want to make sure that kids are understanding what a truly healthy, respectful relationship looks like. That’s our goal. We just want to work with the schools and the teachers to make sure that’s happening."