Teaching Students About Historical Serial Killers
As a teacher, one of your responsibilities is to equip your students with knowledge and skills that will help them navigate the world outside the classroom. In this regard, one taboo subject that one can teach in schools is historical serial killers. It’s important to recognize that students are often intrigued by the macabre. Historical serial killers provide an opportunity to explore true crime while still adhering to academic standards. Here are some tips for teaching students about historical serial killers.
Serial killers are infamous for their gruesome atrocities and can be justifiably categorized as one of the darkest sides of human history. However, teaching students about this topic can be incredibly enlightening for them. Teaching students about the minds of serial killers can open up a window to deeper conversations about empathy, social justice, and mental health.
Establish Ground Rules
Before teaching about serial killers, it’s important to establish clear boundaries. Emphasize the importance of respect for the victims and their families. Explain that the purpose of studying historical serial killers is to understand the psychology behind their crimes, not to glorify them. Reinforce that discussing gruesome details is not appropriate and that students need to approach the subject matter in a mature and responsible manner.
Provide Historical Context
Before diving into the history, make sure to define what a serial killer is, and how they differ from other types of killers. Explain the common characteristics such as a pattern of killing, a cooling-off period, etc. Historical serial killers didn’t emerge out of nowhere. They are products of their time, and it’s essential to provide historical context. Discuss the social, economic, and cultural factors that may have contributed to their behavior. Consider that many serial killers have suffered from childhood abuse, neglect, and trauma. Provide resources such as documentaries, articles, and books to give students a comprehensive picture of the time period.
Choose a case study
Look for a historical serial killer whose modus operandi and motivations were unique. Each serial killer has a distinct story and method of operation that can help students understand the complexities behind a killer’s mind.
Examine the Psychology
Serial killers have been studied extensively by clinical psychologists, criminologists, and law enforcement professionals. Teaching students about the psychological aspects of serial killing is a crucial aspect of understanding the phenomenon. Topics to explore include psychopathy, sociopathy, and the different types of serial killers (organized versus disorganized, for example). Students should also learn about criminal profiling and how that has evolved over time.
Teaching about serial killers can provide insight into the criminal justice system, the history of forensic science, and the progression of law enforcement. Finishing off with the culmination of the killer’s story can provide insight into the modern criminal justice system. This can include details about their capture, incarceration, and court proceedings. Analyzing these final events can also lead to discussions about the death penalty, criminal sentencing, and mental health treatment within the U.S. criminal justice system.
Use Age-Appropriate Material
It’s imperative to use age-appropriate historical material when discussing serial killers. It’s vital to avoid graphic images or descriptions of crime scenes or violent crimes. Additionally, it’s essential to make sure the material is suitable for the age group you are teaching. Avoid readings (or videos) that glorify or condone the criminal behavior of serial killers. Instead, use resources that encourage critical thinking, research, and historical analysis.
Focus on mental health awareness
Mental health is an overarching theme when addressing serial killers. Use the case study to open up discussions about mental health, empathy, and how to spot the warning signs of mental illness early on.
Teaching about historical serial killers can be a challenging subject, but when done correctly, it can be a significant lesson in history, criminal psychology, social psychology, and the overall legal justice system. With a well-thought-out approach and careful guidance, students can develop an appreciation of the horrors of historical serial killers, recognize the dangers of their behavior and apply this knowledge to make a safer, healthier, and better world.