School Assignment Asks Teens to Write Their Own Suicide Notes

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Today in “teachers who should not be trusted to write their own lesson plans,” a London educator is surprised to be under fire for asking high school students to write their own suicide notes as an assignment in English class.

According to The Telegraph, students were studying Macbeth, and they’d gotten to the part where Lady Macbeth dies by “self and violent hands,” after her part in the murder of the King and the usurping of the throne by her husband. Macbeth is a dark and complicated play, and asking teenagers to really understand where the characters are coming from is difficult, but one teacher at  the Thomas Tallis school in London went way too far and actually asked the students to try to put themselves in Lady Macbeth’s position by pretending they were going to kill themselves and writing out their own suicide notes, from their own points of view.

Literature is a complicated field. As a student of literature, I would like to use the best words available to me to say: Are you fucking kidding me?

It is wildly irresponsible for any educator to ask a room full of teenagers to write suicide notes, and at least two classes–so 60 students–had been given this particular assignment before a parent found out and complained to the school.

The mother who complained said her teenage daughter has lost three acquaintances to suicide, and that she brought the assignment to her mother because she found it extremely distressing. That student isn’t the only one with personal experience with suicide, either. At least one other parent in the class said their child was in counseling to deal with the loss of a friend to suicide.

There are almost certainly other kids in that class struggling with stress and depression and suicidal thoughts. Having them write out suicide notes is a terribly irresponsible idea.

The school says it apologized to the concerned parent and said that “actions have been taken.” The headmistress says the parent accepted the apology.

Empathizing with complicated and flawed literary characters is an admirable goal, but these are teenagers the teacher is dealing with, and asking them to write suicide notes in class is grossly tone-deaf and irresponsible.

(Image: iStockPhoto / SIphotography)