By KATE HUNTER
So, an English teacher on New York’s affluent Upper West Side is in big trouble because she asked her ninth grade students to write a suicide note.
Before you yell, ‘whaaaaaaaat?’ let me explain. The kids weren’t being asked to pen their own suicide note, but that of a character in the acclaimed novel The Secret Life Of Bees.
The New York Post reported:
Newbie English teacher Jessica Barrish’s assignment focused on having kids channel fictitious character May Boatwright by writing in first person — as if they were her — about her legacy and how they wanted to be remembered by her sisters.
“How would you justify ending your life? What reasons would you give?” the project asked.
Some parents weren’t happy:
“We were pretty stunned at the scope of the assignment,” said a father of a ninth-grade student at the school. “We thought this was such an outrageous assignment for a 14-year-old to get,” he added. “We pay a lot of money to send our kids to the school.”
Ahhh. Right. I’m not sure what he meant by that. Are kids at cheaper, or (gasp) public schools are better able to cope with suicide-themed assignments?
School fees aside, I get why parents might have been upset – the topic of suicide is confronting at best, and at worst, could trigger self-harm in a child who’s already deeply troubled.
Still, part of me thought the parents over-reacted.
In my role as a *ahem* novelist, I spend a fair bit of time talking to high school students about reading and writing stories. Most of the time the kids are happy to listen to me. Or at least be physically present. It means they’re not in maths.
If it’s a writer’s group or an English extension class, getting kids to write is easy-peasy. It’s getting them to stop that’s hard. A regular English class is a tougher nut, and you have to work hard to get them involved. So I can see what this teacher was doing – trying hard to engage her students, help them get under the skin of the character they were trying to understand.
Teenagers (most of them) love to write macabre stuff. It’s a default position for their writing.
Ask a dozen teenage girls to write 200 words from the perspective of a nun in the eighteenth century, and I guarantee at least ten of them will have that nun wanting to top herself. One will have her in love with a monk in the neighbouring monastery and the other will write about the nun joining a brothel.