When considering if it is humane to use live animals in classrooms such as with hatching chicks, it is important to first look at what the word “humane” means. The Oxford dictionary definition of humane is “having or showing compassion or benevolence”.
In this article we will discuss the key arguments for there being no humane way to use animals for educational purposes, especially if there are alternatives. As the objective of this article is to address chick hatching, we will focus primarily on the elementary school-age setting as the most common demographic for this kind of program.
It would be rare to find anyone involved in young children’s education who would dispute the importance of teaching compassion and empathy. As Aristotle said, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all”.
While we may not immediately realize it, when we bring animals into classrooms with chick hatching programs, we are not teaching compassion but continuing a culture that teaches children to objectify others’ lives. No different than a fun, shiny new toy during the holidays or birthdays, that will be played with, possibly have an educational component to it, but then discarded and forgotten a week or two later. In a culture already struggling with consumerism, self-interest and instant gratification, we should be encouraging students to respect and value others’ lives, not to treat them as disposable commodities.
HIDING THE TRUTH
As an organization we work with farm animal sanctuaries through rescues and have had many discussions with teachers regarding the practice of chick hatching in classrooms. We consistently hear variations of the story that “the chicks are going back to their home at the farm where they will go meet their mom and dad and live a happy life”.
This statement actually gives us hope. Even though it is a lie, it shows individuals really do care, consider that the animals do deserve a full and happy life, and generally are not willing to face the truth for themselves. The majority of chicks come from hatcheries or large scale operations that produce and kill animals for food (1)(2). The majority of chicks hatched from classroom chick hatching programs are killed right after being picked up from the classroom and considered “waste product”. The majority of farms will not take the chicks back afterwards as they are considered a “biohazard”; the chicks have been “contaminated” and cannot be sold for human consumption. The chicks are frequently killed and rendered for cheap dog food as an example.
There are accounts of teachers being told to just kill the chicks themselves by snapping their necks or throwing them in the garbage. As males don’t lay eggs and are viewed as a waste product, it is legal and standard industry practice in the egg industry to grind them up alive, place them in large plastic bags that suffocate them to death, or gas them to death at a few days old. This is usually done at hatcheries, which is where farmers buy the chicks they grow in their barns or use for laying eggs (3). No going back to their mom and dad. No happy life.
There is one exception that we do need to point out. On very rare occasions, the teachers themselves have their own backyard chickens. In this exceptionally rare care there is a possibility of the chicks going back to their families. Sanctuaries can get bombarded by phone calls of parents or teachers trying to find homes for chicks from hatching programs during the spring, as that is usually when these programs run. This is why we wanted to bring awareness that there simply aren’t enough farm animal sanctuaries to take in all of the chicks continually hatched at schools.
The elephant in the room is that no one wants to talk to the children about the truth of what happens to these chicks, even when they ask. If you are not willing to have these conversations with students, that is telling in itself. Please do not perpetuate this “humane lie”, especially if there’s educational alternatives.
The idea for a realistic, interactive, educational app that shows a chick hatching, as well as the anatomy of a chicken, came from learning what other organizations are doing in trying to get dissection of animals out of classrooms. With apps like Froggipedia, Canadian charities like Animal In Science Policy Institute (AiSPI) are working on this humane alternative and promoting it to teachers (4).
The main feedback from teachers on why they do chick hatching in classrooms is that it is educational. Another is “the cute factor”. Although we found there are very realistic YouTube videos that show the processes of chick hatching (5), we understand that the tangible teaching tools available right now are not nearly up to par (6). So we are in the process of developing a mobile app that leads students interactively through the chick life cycle. This app will present the educational, realistic, and interactive solution teachers and parents are looking for, along with “the cute factor”
If we want to teach children empathy and to appreciate animals and the world we live in, we need to educate and promote compassion towards all aspects of it in these early stages of development. Modern technology has come a long way, and can play a key role in alleviating the suffering of others. It is vitally important for children to connect with nature and animals, but in a setting where their freedom and right to live their lives is celebrated through nature walks and visiting sanctuaries and other places that promote the true meaning of humane: compassion.
LINKS & VIDEOS
(2) Poultry Farms
(3) Chick Culling
(5) YouTube Videos: