There’s No Room for the Weak in Oregon

The End of Cannibalism in Fifth Grade

Ever since the Captain Cook lesson, London has used cannibalism to get a rise out of her classmates. We’re in the middle of an Oregon Trail inspired game during our Westward Expansion unit and, instead of dysentery, it’s starvation that’s killing everyone off.

A small group has formed something of a Wagon Train (bless you all for paying attention to the readings) and London and David have been elected the leaders. London recently lost her wagon and oh boy was that a fun class

Luckily, Cassandra stepped up and her settler family took in London’s. The rest of their friends followed suit. They’re now sharing supplies amongst themselves, pooling resources together, and developing skills like hunting and fishing.

I’m weirdly proud of them.

Maybe the Oregon Trail game isn’t so terrible after all. Maybe I will do it again next year.

I start planning on creating a larger map, something we can pin to the wall and they can chart their progress on. I did something similar when I was in fifth grade, a game called The Hacker Trail. Thinking back, our teacher was a little concerned about our wagon train’s morals, but that was because we slaughtered two of the oxen we had and salted the meat. 

Not because we were trying to sell fictional family members. Or eat them. 

The game was fun. It’s something I really hope to do again next year, now that I know a little better how fifth graders think. It’s different from third grade. Very different.

My hopes and dreams for next year are shattered seconds later.

“Ok,” London says, fixing her Wagon Train with a look I’ve come to recognize. There might be tears. They might be mine. “We’re short on food, which means some of you will have to take one for the team.” I’m a little proud of her for using the idiom we learned months ago. It’s surprising what they latch on to sometimes. “In order to survive, we’re going to have to eat—”

“Stop trying to cannibalize your classmates.”

“Ugh, fine,” she groans. “But we’re all going to die of starvation.”

My phone buzzes in my pocket. It’s a text from Mr. V, wondering if we should email parents and start setting up meetings because they’re trying to sell people again on his side of the room.

You can send that one, I tell him.

“It’s survival of the fittest at this point,” I hear Cassandra announce. “There’s no room for the weak in Oregon.”

We are so not doing this again next year, I add.

The response is almost immediate: Agreed.

“Wait, no this is a game, right?” David interjects. “It’s all fictional.”

I nod. “Based on what happened to settlers going west during this time in history, yes.” 

“And people died on the Oregon Trail,” Aria says. The exasperation in her voice would be funny under any other circumstances. She’s generally one of the quieter students, but when it comes to debates and class-wide discussions, she is a force to be reckoned with. “That’s life!”

“Okay then, but, it’s a game.”

“Yes.”

“Okay. Well. I’m going to take my rifle and, oh look at that, there’s a buffalo! We’re no longer starving! Meat for everyone!”

“That’s not how it works!” Cassandra protests. “You can’t just make stuff up! You have to have a Fate Card! Otherwise it’s anarchy!” She looks to me, begging for my support in maintaining control in David’s buffalo-induced chaos.

“Oh look,” I deadpan. “There’s a buffalo.” She makes a strangled noise of protest and bangs her head against the desk in frustration. I should probably be more worried about that, but at least they’ve moved on from cannibalism.

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There’s No Room for the Weak in Oregon
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