Luiz Mello

Cairo American College

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The discussion of human death in school curricula, particularly Science.

In Science, the topic of recycling of nutrients (like the carbon cycle) seems to be a disguise for the the biological nature of death - one that very seldom includes humans in the picture. Is it too touchy a subject for schools? Is there a neutral, non-judgmental way of discussing biological death (including of humans) in natural curriculum links rather than in counselling when dealing with death only when it happens (which are limited to the counselor's office)?

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    Nov 3 2011: I'm always looking at media, artistic and literary representations of what it means to be a person in this world; what it is to live and die, what is valued and how people do or don't fit in with a community. Some of the deepest, most straightforward and gentle explanaitions of death in popular culture come from an unlikely source: Disney's the Lion King. Seriously, it is a major theme of a film that is seen by millions of young people. If you go back and watch the film it is one of the most beautiful and natural portrayels of life, death and regeneration that you could find. I know there is a great deal of intellectual snobbery about these things but I think any person young or old appreciates the way in which life and death are woven into the story in many different ways.
  • Oct 26 2011: A few days ago I was asked to give a speech to those living with cancer and or those who have lost someone due to cancer, to help raise money for cancer research. I asked the gentleman if he was nuts, due to the fact that I am very out spoken? He assured me that maybe that is what folks need. So I agreed to do it.
    Please bear in mind that I do have cancer that is untreatable & I have to live with the effects of what it does to me on a daily basis and there in lies the main part of my speech. Instead of coming right out & asking folks for money that they may not be able to give due to the economy, I am going to inform them of how it is to live with it.
    No! I have NOT laid down & given up & that too will be in my speech. Also included will be how those with cancer need their friends & loved ones near & not pussy foot around-just be themselves. Even those with cancer still love to enjoy life.
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    Oct 26 2011: I agree that including death on the school curricula is important. Death is one of life's great levellers - every single person on this planet will die - there is nothing more certain. There is no point sheltering children from this truth - I believe that sheltering children from thing spoils them and denies them an opportunity to learn. There are many sensitive ways in which this topic can be approached - the biology should b studied, the rituals can be discussed, There is something incredibly life-affirming about the topic of death - it makes you cut through the nonsense and encourages you not to waste the gift of life.

    This question relates to the broader issue of how schooling currently neglects to deal with the main things that young people need to be prepared to deal with this world. Issues such as major life decisions about jobs, relationships and human interaction, money, health and community are all virtually absent from the syllabus. These are all areas that we know a great deal about and could be approached in a school syllabus. It's hit and miss whether or not a person's family will teach them about these things - more often miss in my experience -so why don't we educate the next generation in how to approach all of these areas. Imagine a generation fully prepared to make informed decisions and take action regarding jobs and work, who understood how to interact with each other well and understood how to form all kinds of human connection, who understood the role of money in this world and were empowered to believing they could generate wealth themselves, who understood the human body and how to preserve the greatest and most fragile gift of all - health, a generation who understood the need and value of community. Many, probably the majority of adults, myself included, have vague and incomplete understanding of some these areas but there is a huge amount of knowledge out there. Why not teach children this in schools along with other classes.
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    Oct 23 2011: I think we do the kids a great disservice when we aren't upfront with them. What good comes from sheltering them, all of the lies, santa, the tooth fairy, the boogie man. It really bugs me that we can't create an age appropriate dialogue about this subject.
  • Oct 18 2011: As someone who has an illness that is incurable, I have had to face the fact that my days are numbered. With that in mind, I am NOT afraid of death nor what may transpire afterwards. If I am going top be worm fodder -so be it. If I will go on to a higher plane-so be it. Just don't want to be a jack rabbit in AZ.
    Death does need to get off the taboo shelf & folks need to be enlightened.
    I hear Christians talk about how great Heaven is but they fear death for themselves & those loved ones dying.
    Other religions have simular beliefs & fears about it.
    I love life but death is just another step in the process.
    The book of death should be opened & learned from. Will that help folks get over the pain of losing someone? No! But it might make it a bit easier.
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    Oct 18 2011: Great question. However death is explained _(intellectually) that won't matter much when it actually happens..
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    • Oct 19 2011: And my deaf parents to hear. Love Keller.

      I suspect that human death is going to be discussed more academically as the baby boomers age and geriatrics and their care become more and more common, both in the U.S. and around the world. Hospice care is gaining traction as people today come to terms with the current limits of medical science (and medical insurance). So this question is pertinent and imminent.

      I would suggest the possibility of visiting a morgue or funeral home, or having a mortician give a presentation in biology. Assuming that the "human death suit" is economically viable, it may well be a prop for introducing the mycological part of biology courses.

      As others point out, this extends beyond the biology classroom, however. Language arts, ethics, civics all could engage in discussing the human condition, including death and what to do with our dead.
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    Oct 16 2011: Excellent question indeed. But not just in Schools and Science but in family, friends, religion and our share of resources considering future generations.

    I've often wondered if our fear of dying limits our soaring spirits when looking at our society seeing some people with passion, vision and creativity and others just passing time. What does living mean individually and collectively?

    How can we shift our understanding of death from a linear end to a cyclical beginning?
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    Oct 16 2011: Actually I did include death in my science curriculum and let the students express their views. We found that everyone had good ideas of their own and we were tolerant of those ideas. I tried to tie it to the fact that we are basically energy at our core of existence and that energy is neither lost nor created but it does change form. I gave no definitive answers but let the students talk about it and think it through for themselves.
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      Oct 16 2011: James, that's exactly what I did, too. I'm curious, though. Is there a formal state/national standard where this is found? Or is it a persona/class interest that motivated this topic? Because it is formally absent from the DP Biology curriculum which I teach.
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        Oct 16 2011: I am unaware of any state or national standard in the U.S. that covers this subject in any class. I teach about 60 different subjects due to being and independent studies teacher from 6th to 12th grades in a larger district. I have yet to see it as a standard at either the California level or the U.S. Standards level but they are always in flux so who knows? I have no information on international standards but I would be interested in seeing the standards you are required to teach if they are available on line and in English as I assume you are not a US teacher? Please forgive me if my assumption is incorrect.
        James Turner
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    Da Es

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    Oct 23 2011: research on death and dying, and first sketches on the watermorphosis burial method: www.damianvalles.com/watermorphosis.pdf
  • Oct 18 2011: I do believe there are more subtle ways to announce the true nature of biological death that won't have angry parents coming in and inveighing about what their child has learned and how it affected him, lol. Maybe also teach the possiblities of an afterlife that exist along with teaching the inevitability of death? There exists numerous ways to do this.
  • Oct 17 2011: Isn't it amazing with so many dying every single day, every few minutes, that this isn't
    a more formal curriculum? It would seem that it is so necessary particularly if the death
    rate increases. And of course, with many worrying about their economies, the value of
    their money, more dying helps an economy become healthier.

    I would think a danger exists. Just like those whose money situations are real good
    while their best friend is falling further behind, there is a disconnect from the original
    emotional connection they first had. The one who is okay, becomes a bit more callous
    to the friend's dilemma and pain and may just think, "well that's the way it goes or you made
    a mistake, you're responsible. Too bad. Better fix it."
    So, if health gets worse, the same disconnect happens and maybe, well, there are too many
    people so it would be better if you die. Certainly better for me, 'cause I'm doing all right."
    Or, "what did you do wrong?"

    But to know about it, that it comes, that fear of it means that it means something, it isn't just,
    "ho hum", and how to go through it consciously, would be good. There is going to be one
    helluva lot more dying going on in the next 10-20 years that is for sure. Amounts that make
    what just happened while I wrote this, pale in comparison.