A high school principal in Australia has ordered a ninth-grade teacher to withdraw an assignment in which students were supposed to detail the life, crimes and potential desires of a serial killer.
The assignment handed out by a teacher at Northern Bay College's Goldsworthy campus in Corio, which also operates as a high school, raised eyebrows among parents and resulted in a media firestorm.
"Killer assignment: Students given bizarre homework," the Geelong Advertiser reported, while the Great Lakes Advocate ran with, "Students asked to design a serial killer's house, plan a murder."
A copy of the assignment, given to students in a forensic psychology elective, was posted online this week; students were required to complete 10 out of a possible 20 serial killer activities.
The students, according to the instructions, had two weeks to complete the assignment.
The choices the students had included: Draw a cartoon about how a serial killer murdered someone; produce "detailed artwork" about the serial killer; compose a poem or rap about a serial killer; make a children's book which "teaches them about serial killers;" draw a floor plan of a serial killer's dream house; and create a serial killer board game "with full instructions."
As news of the assignment spread, one concerned parent told the Advocate that no child should be faced with such a gruesome assignment. "You don't want to put those sorts of images in their heads," the unidentified parent said.
The school principal, Ken Massari, agreed.
"Upon review, I made the decision to withdraw the assignment immediately and permanently, and our trained support staff contacted each family concerned to determine if any support was required," Massari said in the school newsletter. "This assignment will not be assessed, and this will not impact on the academic progress of any of the ... students."
Scott A. Bonn, a serial killer expert and assistant professor of sociology at Drew University in New Jersey, said the assignment was gratuitous and inappropriate.
"At the same time, however, as a criminologist who studies serial killers, as well as the public's fascination with them, this incident demonstrates just how deeply serial killers have penetrated the public consciousness and popular culture," Bonn told The Huffington Post.
"Since at least the 1970s serial killers have been frequent and chilling actors on center stage in the news and entertainment media," Bonn added.
The professor cited several examples of highly stylized news coverage of real life and fictional serial killers.
"David Berkowitz, the "Son of Sam," and Jeffrey Dahmer [were transformed] into ghoulish celebrities," Bonn said. "Similarly, fictional serial killers such as Hannibal 'The Cannibal' Lecter in the blockbuster 1991 film 'Silence of the Lambs' have also become popular culture icons. More recently, the tremendous financial successes of the Showtime television series 'Dexter' and the book and film franchise based on 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' demonstrate how eager the public is to be frightened by serial killers."READ THE ASSIGNMENT: (Story Continues Below) Serial Killer Investigation Assignment
The serial killer assignment is not the first time a teacher in Australia has captured news headlines for handing out questionable homework.
In 2010, the principle at Kalgoorlie-Boulder Community High School in Adelaide withdrew an assignment a teacher had given her tenth-grade class. The students were instructed to plan a terrorist attack that would kill as many people as possible.
According to the Associated Press, the students in that case were instructed to pretend they were terrorists who were releasing a chemical or biological agent on "an unsuspecting Australian community."
"Your goal is to kill the MOST innocent civilians in order to get your message across," the assignment read.
"The teacher, with every best intention, was attempting to have the students think through someone else's eyes about conflict," Sharyn O'Neill, director-general of the state's Department of Education, told reporters at the time. "I think there are better ways to do that ... This is not what we expect of professional educators."
In regard to this most recent scandalous assignment involving serial killers, Bonn said he's not shocked that serial killers were chosen as the topic.
"Like it or not, serial killers are now imbedded in the popular culture and are likely there to stay," he said. "The book I am currently writing, 'Monster Dearest: Our Fascination with Serial Killers' addresses this important issue."