Michelle Pritchard’s fifth-grade class from Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School finished up 2020 with an ethical problem to solve.
It was the end of the Exploring Unit, during which the class studied Spanish explorers and their search for “gold, God and glory” in the 1400s and Portuguese explorers Ferdinand Magellan and Vasco da Gama in the 1500s.
The class also delved into the Columbian exchange, the widespread transfer of plants, animals, culture, human populations and diseases between the Americas, Africa and the Old World. The practice was named for Christopher Columbus after his voyage to the New World in 1492.
The November issue of Scholastic News magazine had a story about space exploration, so Pritchard took her students from the 1500s to modern times with a discussion on the similarities and differences of the different eras of exploration.
The students’ pursuit of knowledge – an exploration in itself – was helped along with another article in the December issue of Scholastic News. This one prompted students to think about ethics and morals. The article was about deep sea treasure hunters.
The students had to put themselves into the role of treasure hunter and decide whether they would return any treasure they found to the country the ships originally came from or keep it for themselves.
The assignment was to use facts from the article to support their answers.
Here’s the story: Robert Pritchett and his crew searched the Atlantic Ocean off Cape Canaveral for more than three years for the shipwreck of the La Trinite. The ship was sent from France to protect a French colony, but sank in a storm in 1565.
For 451 years the ship and its artifacts were lost. But by using high-tech equipment, Pritchett and the crew found the shipwreck in May 2016. Three bronze cannons and dozens of other artifacts were found in the wreckage, but they didn’t get to keep them. By law, sunken ships belong to the country that sent them, even centuries later.
A Florida court ruled the ship and its contents belonged to France, not Pritchett. The ruling sparked an old debate about whether treasure hunters should keep what they discover.
The students read and digested the information about that debate and made their choices whether to keep the loot or return it to the home country.
Here are the students’ responses:
“I think they should get paid or keep something. These people spend parts of their lives finding parts of human history and using their time to find this stuff. They spend millions on tools and people to help find this stuff so they should get at least something back. Also if they can’t sell it they should at least be able to keep it as a prize to show in their collections. Those are my reasons that we should keep artifacts from our history,” wrote Braylen.
Eleanor wrote, “My opinion on treasure hunting is that I think it’s important to find keys to our past to discover more about our history. I also think it’s important that we preserve the lost treasure we find. Like the text states, ‘Many experts argue that any artifacts recovered from sunken ships belong in museums, not in the collections of treasure hunters.’ I agree with this opinion because I would like to go to a museum one day and learn about these important pieces of history.”
“In my opinion, people who find treasure should be able to keep it or do what they want with it. Firstly, these people spend lots of money for the expeditions by buying tools and being able to go to the places where they search for it. Also, salvors spend lots of time looking for ships, it could take years. Including that if the person’s artifacts get taken away and they just waste money, they won’t want to find artifacts anymore and there are still lots to be discovered. Lastly, they can just earn money by selling what they found to scientists or museums instead of having it taken away once they find it. I think that treasure hunters should be able to do as they wish with what they found,” wrote Marley.
Bobbi wrote, “No, I do not agree with treasure hunters keeping the treasure. I do not agree because it is part of history. So it should go in a museum. If the hunters kept the treasure, we would never have artifacts. We would never learn about history.”
“I agree the treasure hunters should be able to keep what they find. According to the article, Pritchett says, ‘he spent four million dollars searching for La Trinite.’ They spent all this money so they should be able to keep what they find. If they’re not able to keep the treasure, then they wasted a lot of their own money. These are the reasons why treasure hunters should keep what they find,” wrote Dali.
Layda wrote, “I think that if you find buried treasure, you should at least turn it in to a museum. Because some artifacts can help scientists understand history. The artifacts can be very valuable. You can learn so much about history just through studying an object. Besides, in a museum the artifacts can be preserved, so they won’t get damaged or broken. The passage states, ‘After all, such items hold priceless information that can help us understand history, says archeologist James Delgado.’ If important relics get into the wrong hands, maybe some people would think that the artifacts weren’t valuable enough and just toss them away.”
Pritchard was impressed with the students’ work.
“The kids did a great job on supporting their opinion and some really did a great job with adding in their text evidence,” Pritchard wrote in a Facebook post. “I love it when we can incorporate our reading, writing and social studies standards all into a unit.”