I read about this and thought it was horrible and only done once, but it seems it is a movement of cruelty.
Here is Jon Carroll's column today from the SF Chronicle.
Oh, here's a good idea. The school administrators in Oceanside, near San Diego, pulled it off, although apparently they are not the first.
One day last month, representative of the California Highway Patrol visited classrooms to deliver some bad news: Some classmates of theirs had been killed in traffic accidents. Alcohol apparently was involved. The students, as might be expected, were stunned. Many wept. Some screamed. School stopped as people comforted each other.
Then, a few hours later, the administrators announced that it was all a joke. Well, not a joke - it was an educational experience. The administrators had set up the stunt to make the students understand how very sad death is, and how drinking booze and driving is a bad thing. It was something the students will never forget, the administrators said, and oh how true that is.
The takeaway is: Don't trust anyone. Grown-ups will lie to you and try to make you feel bad. The world sucks even worse than you thought it did. Guidance counselor Lori Tauber defended the exercise: "They were traumatized, but we wanted them to be traumatized. That's how they get the message."
These are professional educators, and they are comfortable with the following pedagogic theory: Trauma is good for kids. It's an effective teaching tool. Why not teach American literature the same way? Harpoon a real whale and watch it die - "Moby-Dick" brought to life! They'll remember that.
Maybe they'll want to join Greenpeace too. Two lessons for the price of one dead whale! And then the "dead" whale could wake up and make a moving speech at assembly.
Are we that alienated from the adolescents in our midst? Do we think that their feelings don't matter, that almost anything is justified in pursuit of making sure they get a Life Lesson? Are we that cruel? Apparently we are - a majority of the parents in Oceanside thought there was nothing wrong with this little experiment. Shake those kids up a little.
Have we really forgotten our own teenage years? Grief and death and desperate unhappiness were not strangers to us then. Those dark feelings were fueled in part by a sense of powerlessness. So maybe the children of Oceanside thought they were getting a handle on things - bam, the teachers play a joke. Although, as school Superintendent Larry Perondi said, "We did this in earnest. This was not done to be a prankster."
Oh, like that makes a difference.
So I have an idea. You know that some parents are not as attentive as they should be? Sometimes they drink too much, or they don't have time to help with the homework, or they can't be bothered with making a real dinner. They don't attend parent-teacher conferences, either. Well, how about if an officer from the California Highway Patrol visited them at home and told them that their child has committed suicide.
Teen suicide is a serious social problem, and it's true that parents should be alert for the warning signs. Maybe a teacher could come along with the officer and say, "Gosh, if you'd come to the parent-teacher conference, I would have told you about your child's last essay, 'Why Dead Is Better.' But I guess you were too busy."
And the parents would be given time to grieve, and told that after a few hours they'd be asked to come to the morgue to identify the body. But instead of the body, it would be little Jimmy or Jill saying, "I hope you learned your lesson now. We wanted to traumatize you, and that's just what we did."
That's never going to happen, is it? Because parents have power. You don't mess with people who vote on school bonds. But the kids are still minors, so we can screw with them if we feel like it.
I blame pop psychology. So many books are written that have a push-button approach to human interactions and parent-child relations. If you push X button, then you will get Y result. It's all a great big machine, and we can explain it for you. Here are the 10 secrets, the 20 rules, the 32 questions.
This little teenage-death drama was inspired by a group called Every 15 Minutes, which promotes a less harsh version of this schoolwide pageant. (Every 15 Minutes is named for a popular statistic about how often someone dies in an alcohol-related accident. The real statistic, according to the Associated Press, is One Every 39 Minutes, but who's counting?)
Life is harder than that. If it weren't, then everyone who read a self-help book would be helped, and everyone who went to a 12-step program would be sober, and everyone who prayed for wealth would be rich. But life is complicated, and frazzled humans will apparently do anything to avoid complication - including subjecting their children to cruel pranks.
I'm sorry to announce to you today that I am dead. No, wait, I'm not. I hope you all learned a thing or two.