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Teaching a new mindset about death & dying in our schools by redesigning old views of the process.

All students would learn about death & dying in school. The process can be "re-imaged" as a beautiful part of life instead of scary or sad.

Photo of heather kelly
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Who is your idea designed for and how does it reimagine the end-of-life experience?

My idea is designed for all students going through our public education system. This shift in mindset could change how everyone perceives death. Through education we can better prepare all people for this truly beautiful part of life. We were not meant to be here forever. We were meant to come in to this world, find our "why" & use that to enhance the lives of others. I watched my grandmother embrace death & the process was beautiful & inspiring. We need to empower everyone the way she did me.

My idea would be to include a Death & Dying class in all schools. Education can make any situation that is daunting or scary much less frightening. I was lucky enough to have a wonderful woman in my life named Annamae Kelly. She was my grandmother. She taught me some amazing life lessons, but the best was how to embrace death as a natural part of life. She embraced her death & the process included everyone in our family as we gathered at home to witness the best life lesson one could ever teach. She had a blood clot that could have been medically treated but chose instead to embrace the natural process of death & invited our entire family to be with her as she faced what most fear. I was also lucky enough to have attended a high school that taught Death & Dying in the curriculum. I learned about death & grief. When you understand something it is no longer scary. We need to start educating everyone to embrace death as a natural part of life & to use our mortality as something positive to change lives forever.

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

Perhaps design a unit on death & dying to be included at the High School where I teach & after survey the students involved on the perceived benefits of the program. I have been in education for 20 years & we are forgetting to teach the "whole" being. Recently we lost a student to suicide & I have watched as an entire school of 2,000 struggled to understand, recover & grieve. We need to redesign education now & include programs like these with the same rigor we give our standardized testing prep

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

Getting input from the community on how to make this idea a reality would be helpful. The community could also be very valuable on helping design what the program could look like. The communities stories and experiences could help shape the content of the program. All members of the OpenIDEO community attended school at some point in their lives, therefore everyone would have impact on how to make this a reality.

Tell us about your work experience:

I have worked in education for 20 years. I have an MFA in new media. Currently I teach Photoshop & Innovation at the High School level. I have designed a number of new programs for my school. I'm interested in this particular challenge because of my unique end of life experiences & perspective.

This idea emerged from

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Photo of Bill

Hi Heather,

I would suggest another name for the course such as "Life Completion" rather than death and dying due to the baggage and negativity attached to those terms. When addressing high school students, I refer to the "body finally shutting down and consciousness detaching from the body" rather than the person dying. It is very clear from mountains of research that consciousness detaches from the brain and persists beyond brain death (check out the 800 pg book, "The Irreducible Mind" by Crabtree, Gould, and Kelly--esp chapter 3). The course should be part of a larger series on life which could focus on the essential issues of finding purpose and meaning in life; the primacy of forming, nurturing, protecting and maintaining relationships; and how real happiness can only be achieved by bringing it to others. To me this sounds better than teaching kids that they are just meat robots, formed by accident in a meaningless universe, programmed to seek pleasure and avoid pain, and to finally break down and cease to exist. The course would be life and love affirming, improving the lives of the child, their future partner, their family, their community, our society and our world.

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