Teachers defend death hoax

Tricking teens into thinking their friends had been killed by a drunk driver was justified, say teachers at a San Diego County high school.

On a Monday morning last month, California Highway Patrol officers visited 20 classrooms at El Camino High School to announce some horrible news: Students had been killed in car wrecks over the weekend.

Classmates wept. Some became hysterical.

A few hours and many tears later, though, the pain turned to fury when the teenagers learned that it was all a hoax — a scared-straight exercise designed by school officials, with several dozen students’ participation, to dramatize the consequences of drinking and driving.

. . . At assemblies where speakers talked about the dangers of drunken driving, some students held posters that read: “Death is real. Don’t play with our emotions.”

The school had modified a program called Every 15 Minutes. (Contrary to what I wrote here, this was not created by Mothers Against Drunk Driving.) Normally, the undead are pulled out of class by someone in a Grim Reaper costume while their obituaries are read aloud. Everyone knows it’s not real.

El Camino High students who were in on the plan thought the Grim Reaper skit was too hokey, too Halloween. Administrators and teachers agreed to the hoax.

“They were traumatized, but we wanted them to be traumatized,” said guidance counselor Lori Tauber. “That’s how they get the message.”

Yes, but the message is not to trust authority figures.

Sadly, even real deaths don’t have a long-term effect. In Los Gatos, an affluent suburb of San Jose, a teen-ager was killed in 2003 riding with a drunken driver. Classmates were shocked — but underage drinking remains a problem.

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Comments

  1. L.C. Burgundy says:

    “They were traumatized, but we wanted them to be traumatized,” said guidance counselor Lori Tauber. “That’s how they get the message.”

    I wonder when this woman lost all her will to actually do a good job. This is the credo of a sociopath and a bully.

  2. I’ve sent people to jail for DUI. You’ll find no one who takes it more seriously. But crying wolf in such a dramatic way like this is fantastically dangerous. I also find it bizarre to imagine that in an environment where teachers and administrators are so often unrealistically terrified of litigation, they would practically ask to be sued for intentional infliction of emotional distress (in California, no less, the state where Justice Traynor first defined that tort in the 1950’s).

  3. dangermom says:

    So it’s OK to lie as long as you’re a school administrator with a mission to fulfil?

    If I had been one of these students, the only lesson I would learn is that admins and teachers are jerks who enjoy tormenting kids. That’s an awful, awful thing to do to anyone. Don’t these people think that kids have feelings?

  4. More people who believe that the end justifies the means. Once you establish that, all the rules are off.

  5. “Don’t these people think that kids have feelings?”

    Well, I’m sure they are quite aware the kids have feelings, since they were deliberately manipulating them. As for actually respecting the kids, which is where I think you’re going, they sound like standard nanny-state types who see normal people as things to be beaten into shape, no matter how disgusting the method.

  6. Education should be about truth in somewhat the way medicine should be about health. My version of the “Hippocratic Oath” for teachers would be “Never tell a fib.”

    For a while, I thought it should be “Always tell the truth,” but that’s too high a standard, because to tell the truth we must know the truth and often that’s beyond our grasp. But we always know when we are lying, and those educators intentionally fabricated a fib because–because. . .

    I don’t know. They thought they served a higher ideal than the truth, I guess. Bad mistake.

  7. wahoofive says:

    As for Los Gatos, 2003 is an infinitely long time ago to a high school student. And the lesson isn’t (or shouldn’t be) about underage drinking, but about DUI.

  8. I second wahoofive’s statement that “the lesson isn’t (or shouldn’t be) about underage drinking, but about DUI.” I have wondered in the last year or so if we are not confusing means and ends. Preventing unsafe driving is obviously a worthy end? Is prohibition of underage drinking a means to that end? I don’t know. Maybe it is counterproductive. I don’t remember hearing about binge drinking in the 80’s and 90’s like we hear about it now. Have we inadvertently increased the “forbidden fruit” tempation? I don’t know the answer to that, but I think it is a very important question.

  9. Margo/Mom says:

    If this were a research experiment, it wouldn’t get past the IRB. It’s unethical.

  10. how about calling up one of the teachers and telling them that their spouse dropped dead of a heart attack. after a few hours, tell them “hahaha, just kidding. just wanted to persuade you of the consequences of obesity.” the teachers and administrators at this school no doubt engage in lots of unhealthy, risky behaviors too, so why not use the same tough love on them;)

  11. How cruel! At least five times over the past five years, some of our students have arrived at school to hear that a classmate has died…once on the first day back from Christmas break…it’s horribly irresponsible to play with students’ emotions like this and can only breed mistrust. Kudos to the kids with the “death is real” signs at the assembly.

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  1. […] Jacobs: Teachers defend death hoax Posted in June 14th, 2008 by in Uncategorized Joanne Jacobs: Teachers defend death hoax Tricking teens into thinking their friends had been killed by a drunk driver was justified, say […]

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