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It says something that the first words out of my mouth are, “No, that’s cannibalism and we’ve already discussed why that’s wrong.”
It’s becoming an unfortunate catchphrase in our room, even long after our European Exploration unit is over and Captain Cook is a distant memory in the minds of fifth graders. We’ve moved on, covered the Renaissance and Reformation, studied the Civil War in great detail, and now we are learning about Westward Expansion.
We thought it would be fun to use an Oregon Trail-inspired game in this unit.
I should have known better.
Kudos to London for thinking outside the box in our Oregon Trail Fiasco but, Jesus kid, Donner Party much? If I didn’t know she was doing it to get a reaction out of me, I’d be worried.
“But, I lost all the food!” she cries, waving her slip of paper in the air. At the start of each history class, the kids grab a slip of paper from the bowl I’m using and it dictates their fate that day on the Oregon Trail.
There is a lot of starvation and very little dysentery.
London’s wagon has been lost in a river, and she also has a new baby to take care of. She isn’t happy with either of these developments. “And now there’s this baby I don’t want—oh!” She brightens. If she suggests cannibalism as the solution to this particular problem again, I’m calling her parents and we are having another meeting right then and there. “Can I sell it to an Indian tribe?”
I’m sorry, what?
“Native American,” one of her classmates corrects. “Or Indigenous Peoples. They’re not Indians. I’m Indian.” The eyeroll that accompanies that statement is on point and I resist the urge to bestow a high-five.
“The baby,” London clarifies. “Can I sell it to one of the Native American tribes we encounter? Then I would have money for food that isn’t people.” She seems very proud of this idea. I can’t tell if she really thinks it’s a good idea or not and I’m too afraid to ask.
“That’s not a bad solution,” another classmate chimes in.
“No, that is a terrible solution.” I need to stop this one before it gets out of hand. “You’re not selling anyone.”
“If she has a baby she doesn’t want, and there’s someone who wants the baby—”
“No, that is slavery and that is wrong,” I interject quickly, trying to stop this madness. We’ve discussed this. We had a whole unit about this. They were horrified. They showed morals. I was proud.
“Isn’t that what adoption is?”
“Nobody sells their children when they’re put up for adoption.” There are, of course, terrible, terrible truths that exist in the world don’t need to be shared just yet. “That’s not how adoption works. London, think of something else.”
“But I don’t want another baby!” she wails. I eye the door on the other side of the room. Knowing my luck, someone will choose this moment to walk in and have some kind of unannounced observation.
“What?” My poor TA is also on the other side of the room, helping students problem-solve and answering questions about their Fate Cards. Mr. V has no idea what’s going on, and neither does anyone on that side of the room.
I am never doing this again.
I hold up the slip of paper which, thankfully, appears to address any concern he might have about what is happening.
Until London proposes, again, that she sell the baby to someone who does want it.
“What?” I can’t tell if he wants to laugh or cry. My money’s on cry, because that’s definitely what I want to do at this point.
“It makes sense,” one of the kids across the room agrees. “It’s supply and demand—”
“Nope, nope, cutting you off there,” I stop her.
“I’d sell my little sister if—”
“OK, listen up,” I command. I’m using my Scary Teacher Voice. The one that has earned me the title of Mean Teacher more times than I can count and has instilled fear in the hearts of everyone who wasn’t in my class. “Let’s think back on everything we’ve ever learned about in history. What is it called when you sell people?”
A tentative hand goes up. “Slavery?”
“Yes. So, no. You will not be selling anyone. Even if this is a fictional situation,” I add, knowing where their arguments will go next. “End. Of. Discussion.”
Mr. V is past horrified at this point.
(Did I mention Mr. V is originally from Angola?)
We are never playing this Oregon Trail game again.
The names of the students in this story have been changed to protect their privacy. “Cannibalism Is Still Wrong” is part of a collection of short stories from my four-year stint as an elementary school teacher, So That Happened: The Funnier Side of Teaching. Teaching is far from easy; it’s important to remember the funny stuff!
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