Saturday, April 28, 2007

Modern Leonardos with Necrocams

Last week, I’ve spent couple days as a visitor in one of the most crowded and busy emergency room's in New York City. This awakening experience has spurred an array of gloomy thoughts about our existence, dying and death. Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?

Today, many schools offer the Death Education courses, as well as “values clarification, sensitivity training, transcendental meditation, out-of-body experience, magic circles, outcome based education, drug ed, sex ed, suicide ed, and now massacre ed.”

In his article, “Death Education at Columbine High,” Dr. Samuel L. Blumenfeld provides disturbing facts about the Death Education influence on some students.

Tara [one of the high school students at Columbine High] explained that the subject of death was integrated into many of the courses at her high school. She said that death was made to look glamorous, that living was hard, and that reincarnation would solve their problems.

Dr. Blumenfeld quotes an article "Development Opportunities for Teachers of Death Education:"

Minimally trained or untrained teachers have asked first graders to make model coffins out of shoe boxes; other students have been instructed to sit in coffins, measure themselves for caskets, list 10 ways of dying (including violent death), attend an embalming and touch an undraped corpse.

I don’t think that the Death education courses should be taught at school. Unless these courses are introduces by professional Thanatology educators or a highly-trained psychologists, they could provoke or heighten death fears, anxieties, suicidal thoughts or even attempts. In my opinion, this topic should be subtly integrated in literature, science, and arts curriculum.

Mrs. Catharine, a Latin teacher, has traveled to attend the Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico, and I created a website for our students in iWeb. The Day of the Dead provides teachers with a great opportunity in a colorful and non-threatening way--with flowers, sugar candies, sumptuous food, poetry, and music--start a conversation with students about death and dying.

Students are curious about death. When we read Leonardo da Vinci’s biography, it seems natural that a scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, painter, sculptor, architect, musician, and writer wanted to learn more about life and death. He used to dissect cows, birds, monkeys, bears, frogs, and corpses to study and draw the organs and parts of an animal and a human body. Michelangelo Buonarotti, one of the greatest artists of the Renaissance, also used to visit the monastery of San Spirito in secret to dissect the corpses, a practice highly forbidden by the Catholic church in those days, in order to enhance his knowledge of the human body. However, when we watch a movie “Necrocam” about teens installing a webcam inside the coffin and broadcasting the process of their friend’s decomposition live on the web, we are horrified and appalled.

Ine Poppe, the author of Necrocam, came up with this idea for the film based on her son’s request to place a webcam in his coffin when he dies. Ine Poppe states in her interview:

I wanted to show what is important for the kids of our generation, and what is in their minds and why. The kids are not breaking taboos they are just not thinking the same way as the older generations.

In my opinion, our students have the same quest for knowledge as the older generations, but the modern Leonardos and Michelangelos are using different tools like computers, webcams, the internet, cell phones...

Paul Gauguin's painting "Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?"
2. Mrs. Catharine's image from a website
The Day of the Dead
3. Movie "Necrocam"

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