There is a flap going on in some school districts over Mission US: Flight to Freedom. This is an award winning digital learning game that calls for middle school kids to assume the role of Lucy King, a 14-year old African American held in slavery in pre-Civil War America. Not surprisingly, some people think the use of games like this for educational purposes is a great idea; while others think the content of this game, and the emotions it will stir up are inappropriate in the school setting.
Reading about this reminded me of a long ago case from Texas, Kingsville ISD v. Cooper, 611 F.2d 1109 (5th Cir. 1980). Janet Cooper, a History teacher in the district, had her contract nonrenewed by the school board, despite the fact that the school administrators had recommended her for renewal. What’s this about? Ms. Cooper alleged that she was being punished for the exercise of free speech rights in the classroom. Earlier in the year, Ms. Cooper employed a role-playing simulation game, designed to teach students what life was like in rural America during the post Civil War Reconstruction era. Some folks in the community did not like this, and Ms. Cooper was talked to by the principal and the HR director. But no one ever flat out told her not to use this technique. So she continued. The 5th Circuit was convinced that Ms. Cooper lost her job because of her proper exercise of free speech rights in the classroom.
That case was decided by the 5th Circuit in 1980, but the events occurred all the way back in 1971. Much has happened since then, both with regard to classroom technology, and the law. Ms. Cooper might not win her case today. Courts have curtailed the boundaries of “academic freedom” considerably, especially in the K-12 area. But it is interesting to see the evolution of educational role-playing from whatever Ms. Cooper did in 1971 to the digital, interactive world of today.
Whatever your district decides to do about games like this, remember that parents in Texas have the right to “opt out” of any school activity that “conflicts with the parent’s religious or moral beliefs.” T.E.C. 26.010(a). This is a temporary opt out. It must be requested in writing. And it is not available to avoid taking a test.
DAWG BONE: WE WILL SEE SOME INTERESTING CASES INVOLVING CONTROVERSIAL GAMING METHODS.