High school apologizes for assigning suicide note as English homework

I don’t know if taboo is the right word, but it is different. We have some pretty good research that the ways we talk about suicide in the media can influence suicidal behavior in the population consuming that media, so it isn’t that big of a stretch to assume that requiring people to create media about suicide would risk similar outcomes.


There are many more useful writing exercises. Notes passed to bank tellers and airline hostesses are generally too brief for consideration. What about simulating a Nigerian 419 letter? I have had some beauties. There could be a lucrative career for a budding ne’er-do-well in the email scam business.

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This is one of those ideas that shouldn’t even become a complete sentence in your head before you’re busy trying to forget you even came up with it.


Or, better still, The Orange Man.

I don’t really see the problem with this assignment. They’re only giving them practice for the inevitable disappointments of their lives, which are sure to follow.

I mean, Brexit alone is going to take years off of lifespans that might have been longer in a jollier milieu. Better to take the hit while there is still the hope of youth.

Great point!

I remember hiding my suicidality because of stigma. It was incredibly liberating to admit it to close friends. Stigma is silencing, as is the fear of being hospitalized for psychiatric problems. Silencing a suicidal person is incredibly dangerous as it makes seeking help less likely.

On the other hand. I wonder if the assignment is necessarily stigmatizing. It does make the students put themselves in the persona of a suicidal child. It could lead to a discussion that removes stigma if done well.

Still, this story is deeply disturbing.




As a huge believer in “never assume malice where ignorance will do”, I object to your use of the term “casual cruety”.

It suggests a deliberate malice which in almost all likelihood was absent, and in doing so changes a “teachable moment” into a direct attack. And since direct attacks are notoriously ineffective at changing minds, it makes needed social adaption to minority needs harder.



High school apologizes

Just gonna wear my pedant pendant for a few secs but in Oxford and elsewhere in UK we tend not to have “high school” but secondary schools.

In the UK there are five stages of education: early years, primary, secondary, further education (FE) and higher education (HE).


Unfortunately just about anything can be a trigger to someone. Give an assignment to write about a dystopia, and he’ll be convinced that the world is going to hell so why not kill yourself? Write about a happy couple and he’ll feel how miserable his real life is in comparison to how he imagines it could be.

But fortunately people who have studied suicidal behaviour can actually give us advice about what is risky and what is not. Anything might trigger someone, just like maybe hitting on 20 will turn up an ace. We don’t just throw up our hands and saying, “Oh well, nothing we can do to reduce the incidence of suicide!”


They have High schools in Scotland, not that Oxford is anywhere near there (sadly).


I was reading Slaughter House Five and Hiroshima in high school on my own. My friend got into non-fiction holocaust literature.

I’d like to live in a world where you can have this assignment AND have support or triggering sensitivity.

Sounding off woke and snarky and comparing this to the story where an Afro-Amer. was singled out to play the part of a slave seems just as bad.

Yes there should be space to deal with triggered reactions. Yes there should be space for a writing assignment like this.


“never assume malice where ignorance will do” is often an excuse for actual malice. One should never assume malice is absent. Sometimes ignorance, and/or its companion incompetence, are also present with malice. The presence of one of these three components does not mean one or both of the others does not play a role.


Not to mention that malicious stupidity has become awfully popular these days.


I agree there are many more useful exercises. Beyond your satirical examples, there are useful skills in reading and writing applicable to living in the real world. But in USA, so many programs in the schools are oriented around literature (art) with little emphasis on the practical. All those English lit majors in college, and very many of them end up as teachers, and they teach what they studied and not what most students need to know. The best writing course I ever took was in a factory.

A fair point, when independently made. But that’s not actually what the quoted advice says.

That’s a terribly bleak view. Never? Really? With the contrary proposition being ‘it’s ok to assume malice is present’ - if that’s the correct interpretation, I think I’d have a hard job sending kids to school if that were the case.

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One may conclude malice is likely not present based on evidence, but to assume that to begin with is foolhardy in many situations.

Oh, I remember a student in an AP class that I taught whose mother objected to her reading The Awakening by Kate Chopin. Let’s say she didn’t appreciate the choices made by Edna Pontellier, nor did she understand the message the author was conveying.

But yeah, a suicide note for the more vulnerable age group seems ill-conceived.


Upon reflection, I thought that perhaps a better exercise would be “You are on your death bed, hours from your departure from this world. You take up your pen and write your final letter. Who will you write it to? What will you say?” No word limit, just make it matter.

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I suppose it all boils down to is something like ‘do you think this [substitute any bad school situation] is more likely due to ignorance or malice’. If I were in the ‘malice’ camp then I’d not be sending kids to school at all. Indeed it would be verging on malicious so to do.