A school assignment given to students at one New York school is making some parents cringe. A private school in New York called for teens to write a suicide note in English class.
At first brush, the assignment seems like a dangerous gamble to play with teens. But the nuances of the assignment at York Preparatory School in Manhattan may make some parents reconsider their initial judgment.
The assignment, given last month, called for students to write a suicide note for a character in the book "The Secret Life of Bees." The character, May Boatwright, is too empathetic to handle the harsh realities of the rural South in the 1960s. When she hears of an injustice she fears will escalate, she drowns herself. The teacher asked the students to write the note in the dialect of the times.
"I'm tired of carrying around the weight of the world. I'm just going to lay it down now. It's my time to die, and it's your time to live. Don't mess it up," May's note reads in part.
"We were pretty stunned at the scope of the assignment," one father told the New York Post. "We thought this was such an outrageous assignment for a 14-year-old to get,” he said. “We pay a lot of money to send our kids to the school.”
When faced with criticism about the assignment, York Prep Headmaster Ronald Stewart told HLN the school is standing by the teacher.
“If you avoid these issues, you couldn’t read ‘Catcher in the Rye.’ After all, Holden Caulfield [the book’s young protagonist] discusses suicide. ‘Hamlet’ discusses suicide. Do you want to discuss a real book that has suicide issues? Or should we just give pabulum? In which case, we can limit the number of books and we’ll avoid issues.”
In no way did the assignment, the teacher or the school intend to minimize the gravity of teen suicide, Stewart said. And if any of the letters would have raised concern, teachers at the school are trained to alert the school psychologists and counselors, he added.
But many of the parents who wrote to HLN about the assignment say they fear the exercise could drive a child to actually commit suicide.
However, HLN talk show host and board-certified internist Dr. Drew Pinsky said that’s simply not the case. “The implication here is that by writing a suicide note we are increasing the risk of suicide and that’s scientifically false,” he said.
Is that enough to reassure the parents of children who were asked to write such a note? So far Stewart said he has not received a single complaint from any of the parents.