Be prepared: That’s the Boy Scouts’ motto. Not to be undone in equipping her students for all ups and (especially) downs, a teacher at a pricey Upper West Side private school on Thursday instructed students as young as 14 to write a first-person suicide note.
The New York Post reports that the homework assignment, by fledgling English teacher Jessica Barrish, drew its inspiration from “The Secret Life of Bees,” a best-selling book that her classes at York Prep had read. The specific assignment was to pen their own farewell missives from the perspective of a character in the book who does indeed take her own life.
The task, the Post notes, included justifying why they had committed suicide, a grim prospect that rattled a few nerves. The unnamed father of one ninth-grade student at the school is quoted as saying:
We were pretty stunned at the scope of the assignment. We thought this was such an outrageous assignment for a 14-year-old to get. We pay a lot of money to send our kids to the school.
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Tuition at the school, which covers grades 6 through 12, is slated to be $41,200 in the coming school year.
Barrish, who previously taught for three years in the public schools, is not the first teacher to make waves by using suicide notes as a vehicle for the teaching of creative writing. Nor were all opinions of the assignment negative. Simon Critchley, who teaches philosophy at The New School, told the Post:
I don’t see why this is inappropriate at all. If it is, then suicide is a taboo, and I simply think we have to think rationally about our taboos. I think it might even help students acquire a more mature and reflective approach to a hugely important topic.
Critchley knows a thing or two about assigning suicide notes, having recently taught a suicide note-writing workshop for adults.
As for the view that suicide note assignments are painless, someone should try telling that the mother of a student in England who was given a similar writing assignment last June. When the woman, unaware of the project, stumbled upon the note, she received the scare of her life.
Barrish, for better or worse, filed a $2 million lawsuit against a college pal who tortured and killed her beloved cat — and allegedly trashed her Upper East Side apartment.
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