Oh dear, AQA have go themselves into a right pickle over the teaching of suicide in A-level sociology. Are some subjects too sensitive to teach? Suicide has long been the epitome of the sociological imagination, it is the core study which demonstrates the history of our social science as well as worked examples of each methodological approach. An outstanding student can weave this example into a wide range of answers. It is the one of the few generic studies that I demand students have ready to use in every situation, during the exam season it lurks deep in their back pockets waiting to pounce on to the page and an easy A02 mark. It represents the sociological equivalent of ‘Mornington Crescent’ in a theory and methods paper. Therefore, I find the decision to scrap it as a topic at best puzzling but on a deeper level much more worrying. The rationale offered by the exam board is that some students may well find the topic too distressing. This may well be true but if we use this as a guide to curriculum design we would no longer teach any of the humanities and most of Shakespeare would be on the banned list. I personally find the work we do on the dark side of the family and domestic violence much more harrowing but there is no agenda to remove these from the curriculum as they are too disturbing. This argument is further flawed by the fact that AQA go on to advise that centres may still use suicide as an example of theory and method but there will no longer be an explicit question on it. Well we would not want a coherent position here would we. I suggest that it is neither because it is too sensitive nor that they were overly worried about how teachers were delivering it, merely that in the new specification something had to go and as they have beefed up the globalisation aspects of the course, this was the next small concise topic to go without doing to much damage. However, I disagree. This is the small example which makes the course coherent, it is the essential bit of learning that enables students to see how theories are linked to method. I am not the only one distressed by this removal of a vital part of the specification. Suicide is a sensitive sociology subject that needs to be taught in schools.
However, there are some important discussions to be had about suicide, mental health and social support.
The gender, age and regional differences alone require some deep discussion and reflection and that is before we consider the validity of such figures and whether they may be a social construction. I also feel there may be something genuinely healthy or even reparative about exploring the darker aspects of human nature.