The Thomas Tallis School in Kidbrooke, southeast London, England, is under fire after a teacher tasked 60 teenage students to write suicide notes from the perspective of Lady Macbeth as part of their study of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The work was assigned after students read Act 5 of the play, in which Lady Macbeth takes her own life out of guilt.
The assignment, according to the Times of India, instructed students to write a final note as Lady Macbeth.
When parents learned of the assignment, they were outraged, as many of the children had been close to someone who had committed suicide. Others, they noted, might be suffering from depression themselves. One mother, speaking to a local paper, the News Shopper (as reported by the Independent,) said that her daughter had lost three friends to suicide and was “very distressed” by the assignment.
“On what universe was it ever a good idea to ask a group of teenagers to write suicide notes?”
The girl’s mother noted that at least two classes had been required to complete the assignment and that there may have been many more students who might not have spoken up about it. Other parents labeled the assignment “absolutely disgusting” and “insensitive,” considering it extremely misguided given the age of the students involved.
Another parent expressed that while it was fine for students to learn Shakespeare, it is in no way acceptable to require them to write suicide notes. They said that the teacher who gave the assignment needed to “go back to teacher training college.” Yet another parent pointed out that in this day and age, teenage depression and anxiety are at an all-time high.
Headteacher Carolyn Roberts responded to parents’ concerns, indicating that “action had been taken” and giving her assurances that such assignments would not happen again. She met with one of the concerned parents and issued an apology on behalf of the school. According to Roberts, both the subject matter and the approach were discussed with teachers.
The headteacher’s statement reads as follows.
“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. The parent accepted the apology in a meeting that was friendly and cordial.
“We care deeply about the emotional wellbeing of our students and of course wish no distress to be caused to any of our students – all we can do is hold discussions and debates on topics such as these in a supportive and sensitive way. Had we been aware of any students who would have found the exercise upsetting then we would of course have taken a different approach. We have listened to the concerns raised by this debate and will not run the exercise again.
“I apologise again, for any distress that this may have caused to the family.”
According to the Express, the Office for National Statistics reported that teenage suicide rates in the U.K. hit a 14-year high in 2015, with 231 deaths that year — more than four teenage suicides per week. Statistics showed that many of the victims had been bullied and/or abused; other factors attributed were exam stress and the increased prevalence of social media.
[Featured Image by A. and I. Kruk/Shutterstock]