One Bold Student Said No! She Stole Her Chicken "Chicklett" to Safety
On October 11, 2010, students at Concordia High School in Concordia,
Kansas slaughtered forty 6-week old chickens they had raised, driven by
their teacher, Nate Hamilton. One student – Whitney Hillman – refused to
comply with Hamilton’s brutal demands and machismo. She absconded with her
chicken, Chicklett, on the day assigned for his death. Her mother, Kristina
Frost, totally supported her daughter’s decisions.
UPC President Karen Davis’s Letter to school administrators is followed by Whitney Hillman’s brave and impassioned letter to her teacher and principal, explaining her refusal to slaughter Chicklett and instead to rescue him from the “blood, gore and violence” of the slaughter. Her story has been covered by the Concordia Blade Empire (www.bladeempire.com/news/chs-student-cries-fowl-over-project) and the Salina Journal (www.salina.com/news/story/chicklett).
UPC’s Open Letter to Concordia High School Administrators:
Gregg Errebo, Principal
Corey Isbell, Assistant Principal
Unified School District 333
Concordia Junior/Senior High School
436 W. 10th Street
Concordia, KS 66901
Via Email: email@example.com,
Bev Mortimer, School Superintendent
Unified School District 333 Board of Education
217 W. 7th Street
Concordia, KS 66901
Via Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Mr. Errebo, Mr. Isbell, and Ms. Mortimer:
My letter concerns the chicken project that was conducted at Concordia High School in September-October, 2010.
Our office first learned of this project on October 17th when we received an email from Kristina Frost, the mother of the sixteen-year-old student, Whitney Hillman, who refused to slaughter her chicken, Chicklett, choosing instead to save him from being killed in Nate Hamilton’s Animal Science and Food Production Class on October 11, 2010.
Having reviewed the material provided to United Poultry Concerns, including Whitney Hillman’s letter of October 11, in which she set forth her experience of the project that concluded in the killing of approximately forty “broiler” chickens on school property, I will summarize as follows:
The chickens were starved from Thursday afternoon until the Monday slaughter. The teacher indicated that this is needed and normal. [Clarification: Noit isn’t. Standard industry feed withdrawal is approximately 8 hours before slaughter, according to Commercial Chicken Meat and Egg Production, 5th edition, 2002, pp. 860-861.] According to several students who attended the slaughtering, the chickens’ legs were wired together. The chickens were held over buckets. The students were handed knives, given a brief instruction on what to do, and told to do it quickly. The chickens were cut on or around the neck and hung over the buckets to bleed out. One student said that the chickens flapped their wings and struggled, and so the cutting was hesitant. Another student described how their chicken suffered and bled for over three minutes before finally dying. Students went back to other classes with blood on their clothes and some had blood on their foreheads and faces. Some students were distressed by a male student playing with a dead chicken’s head.
to the information, a group of high school students – mostly juniors, some
sophomores and some seniors – were handed knives and told to cut the throats
of the chickens who, in common with other avian species, have been shown to
have the same neurophysiological responses to pain and suffering, including
panic and fear, as mammals, including humans. There is no indication that
these students had been educated about the neurophysiology of chickens or
that they possessed the ability to locate precisely, or at all, the carotid
arteries which carry oxygenated blood to the brain and thus retain
consciousness during the slaughter process.
Instead of showing compassion, knowledge or care, Mr. Hamilton and School Superintendent Bev Mortimer have sought to justify the slaughter as a way of making the origin of food “real” for students, all the while using a glib, conventionalized terminology designed to disguise the reality of killing and of being killed: “processing,” “dispatching,” etc. In fact, Mr. Hamilton does not come across as a mature, sensitive adult but as a macho, pitiless and bullying person toward both the birds and the students. He talked like a silly teenager about his “neat project,” his “cool project.” He seemed poorly informed, as when he said the chickens “grow faster than their muscles develop” whereas it’s the other way around: their muscles have been genetically manipulated to grow faster than they do.
As for the events leading up to the slaughter on October 11, Whitney Hillman says in her letter that although the students were told at the beginning of the semester that they would be raising and slaughtering chickens, funding for the project was considered unlikely and therefore she wasn’t very concerned; but then all of a sudden, the chickens were there, and the students were told to pick a chick to raise and to color the feathers of their chicken with permanent markers, and when Wendy said no, she could recognize her own chicken without coloring him, “Mr. Hamilton made me color mine anyway.”
According to Whitney and her mother, whereas parental permission slips are required for field trips and violent movies, when it came to having students kill animals with knives and watch them suffer and die, “we were never asked to fill out a permission slip.”
To date, the person at Concordia High School who comes across honorably in this episode is Whitney Hillman. By articulating her position skillfully and compassionately, by taking responsibility for her actions and acting in a way that she knew would bring punishment, Ms. Hillman exemplifies the best spirit of the school. As a professional educator and former classroom teacher and juvenile probation officer, I know that sensitive students can be bullied into compliance by teachers, parents and other adult figures holding power and threats over them.
Some students refused to photograph the slaughter as they were told to do, or to watch. Several girls verbally objected to the act of slaughtering. They said “I’m not doing this!” He [Nate Hamilton] got after them with verbal warnings to get busy and do something. One girl told me [Kristina Frost] that she chose to do the bagging because it was the least disturbing of their choices. Several girls were seen sadly petting their chickens prior to having to kill them. Mr. Hamilton himself told me on the phone that he saw that occur and, in his words, “but she knew what she had to do so it was ok.”
No, it was not okay. It was wrong. The cruelty to the chickens, including
meanly tying their poor helpless legs together with WIRE, was replicated in
Hamilton’s intimidation of his students and in his attitude that making his
students turn against the birds who had trusted them didn’t matter.
We understand that the chicken killing project was a pilot program and that Hamilton is considering a fish or pig killing exercise next year. This plan should be rejected. If he wishes to show his students what animals go through to become food, he can avail himself of the Internet, including the videos and other documents at www.upc-online.org/slaughter/. In addition, he can encourage his students to learn more about vegetarianism, and he can direct his students to books and articles that discuss how intelligent, sensitive, and emotional chickens, turkeys, pigs, fish and other animals are increasingly known to be.
In conclusion I wish to observe that not all teaching requires or allows a “hands-on” approach to learning. For example, teachers cannot do a project based on the idea that the only “real” way for students to learn about drugs is to conduct experimental “hands on” student drug-abuse classes. Nor can a teacher conduct a real-life miniature war zone claiming that only in this way can students “really” learn the truth about war. Nor could geography or history be taught if it were believed that the only way for students to learn about the earth and the past is to personally visit every part of the earth and every moment of the past. The idea that students need to kill animals in order to learn where their food comes from is false and can only be asserted uncritically in a social climate that denies other species the respect and protection they deserve.
Nate Hamilton’s behavior, including his language, represents an educational nadir, just as Whitney Hillman’s behavior, including her language, is a high point. She said, “My chicken has become a loved one.” And: “I will not apologize for what I have done. I will not regret it, and I would definitely do it again if I had to.” A society that recognizes the greatness of Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and other fearless moral leaders of the past must cherish Whitney Hillman. It is easy to venerate pioneers of the past. Whitney Hillman is in the present, and she is definitely the hope of the future.
Thank you for your attention. I look forward to your response.
Karen Davis, PhD, President
United Poultry Concerns
12325 Seaside Road, PO Box 150
Machipongo, VA 23405
United Poultry Concerns is a nonprofit organization that addresses the treatment of domestic fowl in food production, science, education,entertainment, and human companionship situations, and promotes the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl. www.upc-online.org
Whitney Hillman’s Letter to Concordia High School Administrators, October 11, 2010:
I saw your group online and I am writing to request your help in addressing what went on at my daughter's school regarding the slaughtering of over 40 chickens:
My daughter rescued her chicken from her high school classroom and ran away from school with him on 10/11/2010. The chicken was one of over 40 chickens scheduled to have their throats cut that day by high schoolers as part of a classroom pilot program to "teach" kids where their food comes from. NO preparation for the teens or families, no permission slips and no warnings at class sign-up were given; it was too late to transfer classes by the time the chicks arrived in the class. My daughter refused to be a part of the slaughter and could not leave her chicken behind, so she chicken-napped him and ran away from the school leaving a letter behind. I am including the detailed article that ran in our local paper 10/15/2010 and my daughter's original essay to her teacher and the principal.
My daughter's letter:
At the beginning of the semester we were told we were going to be buying baby chicks, raising them for 5-7 weeks, and then slaughtering them. When we were told this is was too late to transfer classes. Assuming we didn’t have enough funding for the project I wasn’t too concerned. Then all of a sudden we have boxes filled with baby chickens, and we were told to pick our own chicken. Obviously, I think this is wrong in many ways, and my intent in this letter is to explain why I did what I did. I believe this is wrong because we were never asked to fill out a permission slip, we were told to raise our own chickens, and I believe there should have been a choice.
Permission slips are widely used within school systems, mainly for field trips and movies. History classes are big on this because we watch rated R movies. These movies are not rated R because of their sexual content, nudity, or language, but rather, because of their blood, gore, and violence. What is involved in chicken slaughtering? Blood, gore, and violence. So I think that’s a pretty good reason for a permission slip. Also, some parents might object to this all together! Maybe they don’t want their children to have to experience this, or perhaps they are a vegetarian family, and don’t believe in the slaughtering of animals for food. Whatever the reason, like it or not, parents do have a say!
When the word raise is brought to mind, what do you think of? When I hear the word “raise,” I think of taking care of something or someone because they cannot do it on their own. This involves animals; they cannot raise themselves, especially not in a cage. So, we chose our chickens, gave our chickens names, and found ways to remember which chicken belonged to each person. While everyone else was covering their chickens in permanent marker, I was looking at my chicken’s color. My chicken had an orange head instead of yellow, which is what all the other chickens had in my group. So I could distinctly tell the difference, but Mr. Hamilton made me color mine anyway. I didn’t want to color my chicken with a permanent marker because it felt wrong; if coloring the chicken made me feel bad, how do you imagine killing it would make me feel? So, instead of coloring my chicken, I put a purple dot on his foot; it still felt wrong, but it was a lot better than covering his feathers in purple marker. So, I had chosen my chicken, given him a name (Chicklett), and now it was time to raise my chicken. Helping the group feed and water the chickens every day, and sweeping the messes off the floor, weighing my chicken every week to make sure he is properly gaining weight.
I took pictures of my chicken as he grew, and still without marker, I can tell him from the rest. My chicken has become a loved one; no matter how stupid that sounds, he has. I am an animal lover, I have a dog and he’s like my son, I go to the zoo and it makes me cry because the animals look so depressed and lonely. So, yes I have, in fact, become attached to Chicklett, and could not participate in his death. If you cannot understand my perspective, let me put it in perspective for you. If you have a pet at home that you love dearly, or if you have ever had a pet that you loved then look at it like this, someone throws your pet in a cage with 4 or 5 others, and says in 5 weeks you are to cut off its head, pull off its fur, clean out all the guts, bag and freeze the meat, and take it home for your family to enjoy, what would you do? Would you not do everything in your power to keep a loved one safe? Are pets not loved ones? So, please do not judge what I did on the grounds of stupidity and bad behavior, but on the grounds of love and empathy for another living being. I have raised my chicken. I will not kill him, but skipping the killing wasn’t enough, I had to save him.
Dissection is a major part of science, but there is almost always a choice of doing an online version, or watching. We are told that we must do some part of the slaughtering. My job is not cutting the chicken’s head off or boiling it in hot water to make the feathers easier to pull out nor do I have to gut the chicken. My job is to pluck each feather from my chicken, and other chickens’ dead bodies. Close your eyes and imagine having someone cut off your head, and then stripping you naked, not a fun image right? Yes, it is just a chicken to you, but to me it’s a living being and has just as much right to live as we do. There is a choice in dissection, why not in the slaughtering of an animal you raised?
So I will gladly accept any punishment you give me, but I will not apologize for what I have done, I will not regret it, and I would definitely do it again if I had to. I will not say that Mr. Hamilton shouldn’t do this for future classes, but ask that it say that on the registration sheet. I also ask that he would make permission slips. If they write on the registration sheet “chicken slaughtering involved” then there is no need to create an online option or worry about future students doing what I have done, because your option then is to sign up for a different class.
I will not be telling where my chicken is, but that he is safe. I will gladly pay any cost that is asked of me, because I did take the chicken, but please, all I ask, is that you understand why.
Whitney Hillman, October 11, 2010
WHAT CAN I DO?
You can write to the school administrators, whose names and contact information are provided above, to demand that the school permanently eliminate the slaughtering of animals from the curriculum. There is no justification for this kind of project. There is no justification for putting knives into the hands of students, who have no idea what they are doing, but are anxiously and fearfully submitting to a teacher’s violent demands and feeling overpowered by his lack of empathy and desensitizing attitude toward helpless animals and vulnerable young students worried about their grades and about pleasing their teacher and protecting their compassionate feelings from his ridicule.
You can also write letters to the editor of the Concordia Blade Empire and the Salina Journal. Please write thoughtfully and sensitively, in the mature manner of Whitney Hillman to her teacher and principal. Thank you for being a voice for the chickens and for the students, many of whom will be secretly traumatized for life as a result of their participation in the torture and death of the chickens who trusted them, and whom they had come to love and felt forced to betray by the misguided adults they looked up to.
Please send comments and submittals to the Editor: Linda Beane
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