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On December 12, 2007, high school students slaughtered 22 chickens as an elective classroom exercise in Eric Cosman’s ecology class at Canandaigua Academy in upstate New York. United Poulty Concerns (UPC) member Joel Freedman, chairman of the public education committee of Animal Rights Advocates of Upstate New York, published the following letter describing his effort to stop the killings:
“Wrong lesson for science class,” Daily Messenger, February 8, 2008
By Joel Freedman
A massacre took place in a Canandaigua Academy science classroom Dec. 12, when students were instructed to behead 22 live birds.
Two days prior, I met with the teacher, the principal, and the superintendent of schools.
I was told students cared for the hens for several weeks. The program is designed to acquaint students with “life’s realities,” including the slaughter of food animals. Had the school not purchased these hens, they would have been slaughtered elsewhere.
I countered that the students had already observed the teacher slaughtering two hens the previous week. I had been in touch with Farm Sanctuary. The birds could be transported there for lifelong care, at no expense or inconvenience to the school.
“I am asking you to give the gift of life to these birds. We all want mercy and compassion extended to ourselves, but we should also extend it to other living beings when it is in our power,” I pleaded on the birds’ behalf.
The teacher showed me the henhouse. The hens’ living conditions were satisfactory.
I reminded the educators the planned slaughter could traumatize some students, or produce a callous attitude in other students.
The principal phoned me the following morning to explain the “activity” would be carried out, but with an effort “to spare as many birds as possible.”
On Dec. 12, 22 birds were beheaded. Farm Sanctuary rescued the surviving bird on Dec. 14. Now named Araminta, she is friendly and sweet, coos much of the time, and loves to be petted, to perch on people’s arms and ride on people’s shoulders.
In “Schindler’s List,” one of the Jewish workers told Oskar Schindler that when a person saves another life, that person “saves the world.” Whenever we are involved in endeavors to promote kindness to other species, we also “save the world.”
Just as cruelty to animals by humans can promote cruelty toward other humans, kindness to animals by humans promotes human-to-human kindness.
Henry Drummond wrote: “I shall pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”
This is what should be taught at school.
Joel’s letter prompted an article in the Daily Messenger, “Meat isn’t always wrapped in plastic,” defending the project. An outpouring of letters to the editor followed, including this letter from UPC President Karen Davis:
“Teach kids something useful, like vegan cooking”
By Karen Davis, President of United Poultry Concerns
The article about slaughtering chickens at Canandaigua Academy last fall (“Meat isn’t always wrapped in plastic” by Stephanie Bergeron, Feb. 11) reminded me a little of the mainstream coverage of U.S. soldiers fighting in Iraq. Everything is pretty upbeat. You’d hardly guess the traumas involved. For that, you have to bypass the conventional packaging of events. “Thinking outside the bun” means more than choosing one fast-food restaurant over another.
As a former classroom teacher, civil rights activist, and juvenile probation officer in Maryland, I know that many young people, faced with adult-sanctioned violence packaged as “necessity, “it’s always been this way,” the victim “doesn’t really suffer,” and so on, are intimidated into compliance at odds with their true feelings and moral impulses.
Thus, while some students may express the trauma they endured in watching a fellow creature be intentionally harmed, most silently carry the burden of a horrible memory of the cruelty they experienced at school. Ironically, some of the loudest defenders of this business are those very people.
Regardless of where one stands on the ethics of slaughtering animals in the classroom, the idea that chickens are “stupid” is false. Chickens are intelligent birds, as avian specialist Dr. Lesley Rogers shows in The Development of Brain and Behaviour in the Chicken, and as I know well from having run a sanctuary for chickens since 1987. Even if chickens were stupid, however, that wouldn’t justify betraying their trust and killing them just to make a point.
In January, I attended a teachers conference in New York City which served delicious vegan “chicken” nuggets made of soy, preceded by a cooking demonstration. Mock meats allow people to enjoy the texture and flavor of meat without the slaughter. People are amazed they’re not eating meat. It would be great if in the future, instead of killing chickens, the classroom course would teach students how to prepare a mock-meat vegan meal, and maybe even set up a vegan cooking contest. That would take the educational experience to another level of adventure, while helping to make the world a better place.
On Feb. 19, the Daily Messenger editorialized in “Lesson from a chicken” that slaughtering chickens at school was justified if it taught children that “life is not easy.” UPC President Karen Davis responded with “Hard Truths,” in the Daily Messenger’s online Comments section, Feb. 19, 2008:
Indeed, there are many hard truths for children to learn, but we do not teach children the most violent and brutal of these truths by reproducing them in the classroom. For example, the suffering and death taking place in Iraq is a hard truth, but we do not reproduce literal warfare in the classroom in order to get the point across. Rape, murder, spousal and child abuse are hard truths but we don’t argue that the only way for children to understand these human behaviors is to reproduce them in school. We don’t perform abortions in school and then say that if students understand abortion a little better as a result, there is nothing wrong with that. Schools teach geography and history in the belief that students can learn about the world and the past without literally traveling everywhere, including back in time. Therefore, the justification offered by this editorial is pedagogically weak ... – [Excerpt] Karen Davis
Please urge the Canandaigua City School District Superintendent to eliminate animal slaughter projects from the school district’s curriculum. Politely state your reasons and request a written response:
Mr. Donald Raw, Jr.
Superintendent of Schools
Canandaigua City School District
143 North Pearl Street
Canandaigua, NY 14424
You are encouraged to send a copy of your letter to:
Mrs. Tarry Shipley, President
Board of Education
Canandaigua City School District
143 North Pearl Street
Canandaigua, NY 14424
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