that it may be ourselves or children who would be killed ornmutilated as well as’ an amorphous ‘enemy.'” The modernnshibboleths of “pluralism” and “tolerance” will likewise findntheir way into the work of the socially-motivated deathneducator who helps students understand that “death meansndifferent things to different people” and that “style of dyingnis individualistic.” In the death-ed pastiche of medical fact,npop psychology, and modernist cant, the final cliche isn”different strokes for different folks.”nSo completely does the cult of individualism govern deathned that instructors are to “assist the individual in developingna personal eschatology by specifying the relationship betweennlife and death.” Except for the medical and financialnfacts, death ed offers no “right answers” — certainly not innfuneral ritual or “personal eschatology.” Death educatorsnare to help students “catalyze and synthesize attitudes andnthoughts concerning death in a more positive manner,” butnthey cannot say which positive mental attitude is to benpreferred while waiting for the undertaker. Just recite a fewnslogans borrowed from Dale Carnegie next time you passnthe cemetery.nShort on specifiable content, death ed joins the list ofnclasses (“Media,” “Creative Writing,” “Personal Relations”)noffering refuge to students fleeing the rigors ofnmathematics, Latin, or chemistry. Trouble is, though, thatndespite all the tax money devoted to it, despite the impressivencredentials of its proponents, despite the slick packagingnof its curricula, despite its popularity with progressiveneducators, death ed doesn’t work very well, not even by itsnown standards. Reported surveys have shown that whilendeath education may reduce anxiety about death amongnsome, it actually exacerbates fear of death among others.nSimilarly, surveys show that death ed does not reduce thennumber of students prone to suicide. For death educators,nsuch problems simply signal a need for “more research.”nBut let the entire federal budget be devoted to research innthanatology, and the grave will still refuse to yield upnher secrets to the clean, well-lighted classroom. So long as itnremains in thrall to scientific rationalism and modernnsenhmentality, death education will remain a noxious lienmeant to flatter the Imperial Self According to this lie,ndeath poses no overwhelming threat to the individual ego,nbut instead becomes simply one more event to be managednand planned according to personal preferences and scienhficnmeasurement. Students are encouraged to think of death asnone more subject, mastered by study and calculation, not asna humbling mystery that exposes the vanity of humannambitions. Seeking to explain human mortality, deathneducators end up explaining it away.nThen again, perhaps it is too much to expect any teachernin the public schools to resist rather than accede to thenprevailing cultural attitudes toward death. In contemporarynAmerica and Europe, that prevailing attitude is denial.n”Everything goes on,” writes French historian PhilippenAries, “as if neither I nor those who are dear to me are anynlonger mortal. Technically, we might admit that we mightndie. . . . But really, at heart we feel we are non-mortals.”nAries puts it emphatically: “In our day, in approximately anthird of a century, we have witnessed a brutal revolution inntraditional ideas and feelings, a revolution so brutal thatnsocial observers have not failed to be struck with it. It is reallynan absolutely unheard of phenomenon. Death, so omnipresentnin the past that it was familiar, would be effaced,nwould disappear. It would become shameful and forbidden.”n”Death,” Aries writes elsewhere, “has become antaboo, an unnameable thing . . . [I]n the 20th century,ndeath has replaced sex as the principal prohibition.”nNeither Hollywood murder movies nor death educationninvalidate Aries’ observation. Indeed, by turning death into anhistrionic spectacle on the one hand and an academicnexercise on the other, moviemakers and pedagogues alikenisolate death from everyday life. In the popular imagination,ndeath has ceased to define the universal human conditionnand instead has become the professional specialty of actors,nmorticians, doctors, and now teachers.nDeath has disappeared from the fabric of everyday life innpart because it occurs less frequently now than in the past.nAlthough life expectancy figures from earlier centuries cannbe misleading if the statistical effects of high infant mortalitynare forgotten, the numbers can still provide suggestivencomparisons. Life expectancy in 1850 in Massachusettsnstood at only 38 years for males and 41 for females. Even inn1900, national life expectancy stood at only 46 for malesnand 48 for females. Our grandparents’ generation experiencedndeath as a frequent intruder. At a time when manynwomen died in childbirth, colonial and 19th-century Americansnunderstood well the precarious balance between lifenand death. When epidemics and malnutrition were common,ninfants and children also lived in the constant shadownof death.nIn this century, however, the American death rate hasndeclined sharply. A white male born in 1983 is nownexpected to live 72 years, a white female 79 years. Thenannual mortality rate for the American population stood atnonly 9 deaths per 1,000 people compared to 21 per 1,000 innMassachusetts in 1865. The decline has been especiallynstriking among women and children. As late as 1935, 6nmothers died in labor for every 1,000 births in New YorknCity. In contrast, in 1983 only 8 American mothers died innchildbirth for every 100,000 births. Among infants, thenmortality rate has fallen from 141 per 1,000 in 1900-04 innMassachusetts to a nationwide figure of just 11 per 1,000 inn1983.nEven when grave illness does strike, modern medicinenfosters persistent hope for a cure. “With the advancementsnin therapeutics and surgery,” Aries notes, “it has becomenincreasingly more difficult to be certain that a serious illnessnis fatal; the chances of recovering from it have increased sonmuch. . . . [Ejveryone acts as though medicine is thenanswer to everything. . . . Caesar must die one day, [but]nthere is absolutely no reason for oneself to die.”nGrowing reliance upon the life-prolonging powers ofnmedicine has also changed the setting where death finallyndoes occur. Until this century, Americans typically died atnhome, generally with family members (children included)ngathered around the deathbed, often joined by a priest ornclergyman. Family members washed and prepared the bodynfor burial, kept vigil over the dead body, carried the coffin tonthe church, and quite often dug the grave. Now all of thesentasks are performed, more efficiently, by professionals. Thenbody is typically taken directly from the hospital to thennnAPRIL 1989/25n