Students Told To Write Suicide Notes For Class Assignment

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A school in London upset parents and students when a teacher gave out an assignment for the students to write suicide notes as part of a Shakespeare project.

Suicide rates have increased by 60 percent worldwide in the last 45 years. Sadly, suicide is one of the three leading causes of death among those between the ages of 15 and 44.

Traditionally, elderly men have been most at risk for suicide, but nowadays, the rates among young people have increased to such a degree that they are the group with the highest risk.

Considering these statistics, it's no wonder that Thomas Tallis School in London came under fire when students were assigned to write suicide notes for a Shakespeare class project. This assignment did not sit well with many students, and their parents struggled to see the lesson's purpose.

When the kids complained about the unorthodox assignment, parents brought the matter, and their outrage, to the school. Administrators clarified that the students were not asked to write their own suicide notes, rather, they were told to write a note that echoed the feelings and thoughts of Lady Macbeth in her suicidal state.  

One mother, who didn't want to be named, said that her daughter had friends who had killed themselves. She went on to ask the local newspaper News Shopper, “On what universe was it ever, under any situation, a good idea to ask teenagers to write suicide notes?”

Another concerned parent said, “It’s fine for children to learn Shakespeare, but it is certainly not fine to get them to write suicide notes. Whoever came up with this needs to go back to teacher training college.”

An apology has come down from the senior staff at the school for upsetting the students, and Carolyn Rovers, the headteacher issued a statement about the incident:

“A parent contacted us with concerns about a written exercise given to a class during studies of a play by Shakespeare. The exercise was given to a class who had been studying Macbeth as part of a year 8 English lesson. The exercise was to write a suicide letter from Lady Macbeth to Macbeth explaining her decision to kill herself. The exercise is a well-known method for getting students to understand this dramatic twist in the play. The teacher who set the exercise is very experienced. Indeed, the exercise has been praised at a recent Ofsted inspection for the progress made by pupils studying the play. We appreciate that the exercise was upsetting to the family and have discussed the subject matter and approach with teaching staff. I met with the parent last week and apologised wholeheartedly on behalf of the school and reassured them about the actions that have been taken.”

Although Rovers promised that going forward assignments like this one will never happen again, it's hard to know what damage was already caused. It just goes to show that suicide prevention starts with teachers and administrators — they need to be educated on the warning signs and the proper way of handling class lessons.

Banner/thumbnail image credit: Flickr user Ben Sutherland

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