February 19, 2017

"I propose that we teach death ed in all of our high schools. I see this curriculum as a civic responsibility."

"I understand that might sound radical, but bear with me. Why should death be considered more taboo than sex? Both are a natural part of life. We may think death is too scary for kids to talk about, but I believe the consequences of a bad death are far scarier. A death ed program would aim to normalize this passage of life and encourage students to prepare for it, whenever it might come — for them, or for their families."

From an op-ed (in the NYT) by Jessica Nutik Zitter, who practices critical care and palliative medicine.

IN THE COMMENTS: Jay Elink said:
Batshit crazy.

All that would do is scare a bunch of kids into thinking, "OMG, Grandpa's gonna croak, any minute now".

Themselves, they will continue to act and think as if they were indestructible. No high schooler walks around thinking about what's going to happen to him, someday in the distant future.

The only advice I would offer to kids on Death is the one John Cardinal Newman gave (paraphrasing):

"Don't be afraid that your life will end, be afraid that it will have no beginning."

Catholic teaching and iconography have a lot of references to death, beginning with Jesus dying on the Cross. So Catholics don't need no steenkin secular teachers to come along and tell them what Death's all about.

In fact, secular types would do their damndest to dispel the ideas of Heaven and Hell , instead pushing "you're really stupid to believe that religious nonsense". But hey, that's what secular types see as their mission, i.e., undermining religion.

(sez I, a lapsed Catholic and agnostic)

39 comments:

MadisonMan said...

Why wouldn't this (already) be part of a biology class?

I'm guessing because they don't ask about death on standardized tests.

David said...

For most high schoolers, sex is a far more immediate concern than death. We could have special death ed for the exceptions, without messing up the curriculum for everyone.

In we are to each about death, I suggest a searching study of the Second World War, which I think would astonish the average high school student by its death count. With at least a passing reference to the need for military strength as a means to avoid a repetition.

dda6ga dda6ga said...

Give me lots and lots of grant money says Jessica...

Eric said...

I can think of lots of subjects that aren't taught in high school that might get priority over "suicide is painless."

exiledonmainstreet said...

MadisonMan said...
Why wouldn't this (already) be part of a biology class?"

You would think.

I'm glad American students are doing so well with math, science, history and reading compared to their peers in other countries that we can afford to expand the curriculum like this.

You can talk about death to kids until you are blue in the face - they will still believe, as all young people do, that they will not get old and die. Even reaching age 30 or 40 seems unimaginably distant. There were kids in my high school class who died in car accidents. It was a shock. I still didn't think it could happen to me, not really.

If young people were capable of understanding that they could die tomorrow on an emotional as well as on an intellectual level, fewer people would join the military.

Jay Elink said...

Batshit crazy.

All that would do is scare a bunch of kids into thinking, "OMG, Grandpa's gonna croak, any minute now".

Themselves, they will continue to act and think as if they were indestructible. No high schooler walks around thinking about what's going to happen to him, someday in the distant future.

The only advice I would offer to kids on Death is the one John Cardinal Newman gave (paraphrasing):

"Don't be afraid that your life will end, be afraid that it will have no beginning."

Catholic teaching and iconography have a lot of references to death, beginning with Jesus dying on the Cross. So Catholics don't need no steenkin secular teachers to come along and tell them what Death's all about.

In fact, secular types would do their damndest to dispel the ideas of Heaven and Hell , instead pushing "you're really stupid to believe that religious nonsense". But hey, that's what secular types see as their mission, i.e., undermining religion.

(sez I, a lapsed Catholic and agnostic)

exiledonmainstreet said...

David said:
"If we are to teach about death, I suggest a searching study of the Second World War, which I think would astonish the average high school student by its death count."

I remember paging through my mom's hs year book (class of '42) with her. She'd point to various smiling young boys and say "Oh, that Ed! He was so funny. He was killed in Italy...Pete, there, he died at Okinawa ...so did Bob, who was such a good baseball player..."

EDH said...
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Ambrose said...

Ugh. Now I know that NYT op eds like this one are really nothing more than thinly disguised book promos and should be read accordingly, but - Students' time is a scarce resource. Schools should be using that time to teach the fundamentals. Every hour spent on Death Ed (and it may not be completely without value) is an hour away from math, English, history, foreign languages etc

EDH said...

Some people are always chomping at the bit to indoctrinate children.

The remote relevance of death planning to the lives of most children in this example points out that urgency is usually on the part of the indoctrinator, because they want access those most susceptible to their influence and least able to call-out their bullshit.

wild chicken said...

Kids esp boys can go morbid pretty easily. What was gothic and death metal all about? And skull tats etc. They know they're gonna die. But they're scared they'll never get launched and live first.

And Jay, no fair grabbing doctrine if you don't come back to us pronto.

Sydney said...

If you are a hammer, everything's a nail.

The Vault Dweller said...

I think Jay Elink has the right of it. It is not as if kids don't understand the concept of death. They all know eventually everyone dies. But if you focus a course on death, it will eventually bring up questions like, "What happens after death?", "What is the purpose of life?". Unless we want to bring up a generation of apathetic nihilists, it is better if we keep public schools out of this arena. Well, unless we want to bring about civilizational collapse.

Fernandinande said...

Jay Elink said...
"you're really stupid to believe that religious nonsense".


I agree, but the article wasn't about ghosts and such, or their absence; it was more like "make a will", good advice in any case.

Paul Zrimsek said...

"Explain the concept of death very carefully to your child. This will make threatening him with it much more effective." -- P.J. O'Rourke, Modern Manners

Richard Dillman said...

The course could be called memento mori.

Richard Dillman said...

The study of death could be combined with the study of finite and infinite numbers.

n.n said...

Abortion rites. It's ironic that evolutionary creationists are less likely to accept chaos (e.g. evolution).

harryo said...
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Jane the Actuary said...

I've been watching This Is Life while I exercises in the mornings. There's the progression: a Christmas episode in which the young Kevin stumbles his way around the Christmas story, with dad saying, "we've really got to get you back to church", followed by a present-day Kevin who, when asked by his niece, "what happens when we die," initially doesn't have any answer at all, then ends up with a feel-good, "we're all connected so life continues" answer.

Kate said...

I guess they don't teach Driver's Ed anymore. One week of behind-the-wheel driving, 16 weeks of brutal car accident films.

Michael K said...

"You can talk about death to kids until you are blue in the face "

When I was a kid we went to funerals. Families were larger then, especially the older members. I remember a dozen funerals a year,

Now there are small families and they are spread all over.

Kids don't see dead people. Teaching about it in school is a waste.

rhhardin said...

Nobody's named Mort anymore.

Bob Boyd said...

"Kids don't see dead people. Teaching about it in school is a waste."

Bring back Show and Tell?

Humperdink said...

Just show them the movie "What About Bob?" Death therapy was covered.

Goldenpause said...

Great. Public schools can't teach kids how to read, write or do basic arithmetic. So now we should add death to the list of subjects that they can't adequately teach? And it will be a left wing "secular humanism" version of death education. What could go wrong?

Achilles said...

Some time in high school, I want to say my senior year, a popular student died in an accident. Students generally had family members dying and intervals. It happens.

It doesn't take a fucking class to introduce this subject. Families deal with this and that is who should deal with it - families.

This is just another disgusting prog trying to get my money to pay for their job and interfere in peoples lives in an inappropriate way.

harryo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Yancey Ward said...

Nothing prepares you for death- nothing. Not even the deaths of close friends and family will prepare you for your own death. Trying to educate children and teens about this is about as pointless an endeavor as you can design.

Yancey Ward said...

This does remind one, by the way, of the morgue scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

SukieTawdry said...

Oh, for pity's sake. Watch Bambi with your kids. Or Old Yeller or The Yearling or The Lion King. That's how we Boomers learned about death. We got it and it didn't scar us.

Bob Loblaw said...

Death is something that should be addressed by the parents. Kids have plenty of time to learn about the practical side of dying, and when they don't it's something that can be addressed on a case-by-case basis.

Joan said...

When I'm teaching science, death gets mentioned from time to time. Mass extinction events in Earth's history, the eventual expansion of the Sun into a red giant star, and similar topics get students thinking about death. Sometimes they'll just complain that they're dying (of something or other, usually too much work).

My stock of replies: 1) Yes, we all are [dying], just not at the same rate and 2) Yes, but, with any luck, not today.

The first time they hear me say it, it shocks them. Then they think about it and realize it's true and they laugh uneasily. Eventually they get used to it. When I get push back I remind them that no one gets out of here alive. That one usually gets a (rather dark) laugh, but they all recognize the truth even though they don't want to.

It's good to remind teenagers (I teach 7th and 8th graders) that they're not immortal, but I can't see designing a class around it.

sparrow said...

When I was in High School our honors biology course took a field trip to the local Med. School Gross Anatomy lab. We spent a day closely watching the removal of the ribs and a dissection of a real heart. The head and lower torso was covered by plastic and the whole thing had a unreal quality to it until I impulsively reached out (with gloves on) to grab at the corpse's big toe. Then it was suddenly quite real.

sparrow said...

Joan
Reminds me of that Hank Williams (Sr.) line "No matter how I struggle amd strive, I'll never get out of this world alive."

whitney said...

". A death ed program would aim to normalize this passage of life and encourage students to prepare for it, whenever it might come —"

Passage?? By which philosophy? That's a sticky wicket

Birches said...

Why do progressives believe everyone has inadequate parents?

Peter said...

Well, yes, they could take schoolchildren to visit terminally ill people in hospices and terminal cancer wards. And (in states that allow it) perhaps view physician-assisted suicide.

But to what point? And, do the dying people get to volunteer for this service, or shall they just be volunteered to serve the public good (especially if they're not fully conscious)?

If it's just biology they could watch a mouse succumb to ether, perhaps. Or those old nature videos where the lion eats the wildebeest. If it's supposed to be philosophical or spiritual, even just a meditation on the utter finality of it, I wouldn't expect schools to be able to do this at all well.

Eileen said...

I actually took a class "On Death and Dying" as a senior at my catholic high school in 1984. It was an honors theology class and was taught by a fabulous teacher who was a ex-nun and ex-nurse. We used Elizabeth Kubler Ross' excellent book that discussed the 5 stages of grief. I have been able to apply what I learned in adult life.