A school project had Concordia High School student Whitney Hillman crying fowl earlier this week.
The project, in the high school's Animal Science and Food Production class, was dubbed "the broiler project" by instructor Nate Hamilton. The purpose being, he said, to teach students where their food comes from by raising chickens and then processing them.
Students in Hamilton's class each chose a chick, and were responsible for feeding and caring for it for the following six weeks. Hamilton said students were required to track how much food each chicken ate, how much weight it gained, and how much it cost to care for it. At the end of the project, students were required to make a presentation on the project, outlining what they've learned throughout the semester.
Rather than process her chicken at the end of the class, Hillman put the chicken in her purse and ran away from school. Her chicken rescue landed her in in-school suspension for two days.
Two aspects of the project Hillman didn’t agree with were the fact that students were required to participate in the project without permission from parents, and the dispatchment–or slaughtering–of the animals.
"Permission slips are widely used within school systems," Hillman said. "History classes are big on this because we watch R-rated movies (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."
Hillman said parents should have been informed of the project, because they may have not wanted their children to participate.
"Some parents might object to this altogether. 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," she said. "Whatever the reason, like it or not, parents do have a say."
Hamilton said the project did not require permission slips, but that regular biology labs did not require permission slips, either.
"I don't see how this is any different," he said.
Hillman said that at the beginning of the semester, the students were told they might be participating in the broiler project, depending upon whether funding could be obtained. According to Hillman, when the baby chicks arrived in class, it was too late to transfer out of the class.
But, Hamilton said he told students about the project at the beginning of the class, and everyone knew what it would entail.
"It wasn't sprung on anybody," he said. "All anyone had to do was say they didn't want to participate. I thought it'd be a neat project.
"I had a majority of the students and even parents say this was a cool project, and they want to know if I'm doing another."
USD 333 Superintendent of Schools Bev Mortimer said she knew about the class project, and thought Hamilton was trying to give his students a hands-on experience.
"He was trying to make it real," Mortimer said. "This is agriculture, not just something you read about in a book."
Mortimer did say that perhaps the project and what it entailed should be added to the class course description.
"It never hurts. Anything a teacher thinks is going to be controversial, the parents should be informed," she said. "I encourage all of my teachers in any class to let parents know if they think something might be offensive or controversial.
"But knowing the class and the intentions behind it, I don't think I'd ask him to do anything different."
Hamilton said his goal was to educate his students with a "real life" situation – to show them where the chicken on their dinner plates came from.
"This is a real world thing," he said. "This is livestock and poultry production, and that's kind of the way I'm teaching it."
Once the chickens were of an appropriate age, students went through the process of dressing each of them. Hamilton said students were each given jobs – from dispatchment to packaging and freezing the meat, and every step in-between.
"I never forced anyone to cut throats," Hamilton said. "We raised those chickens to process them, not to make them pets."
Hillman said she did, in fact, get attached to her chicken, which she named "Chicklett."
"My chicken has become a loved one, no matter how stupid that sounds, he has," she said. "I have, in fact, become attached to Chicklett, and could not participate in his death."
While Hillman may have wanted to save her chicken from death, Hamilton said that type of chicken is not meant to live more than six months.
"Broilers are genetically modified - they grow faster than their muscles develop," he said.
Because she viewed her chicken as a pet, Hillman said she could not allow him to be killed and eaten. She went into Hamilton's classroom Monday, and rescued her chicken from its cage, put it in her purse and left schoolgrounds.
"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," Hillman said. "I have raised my chicken. I will not kill him."
Hillman said she would have rather had an alternative to the chicken slaughtering process. Dissection is a part of science classes, she said, but there is a choice to do an online version or watch, if a student wishes to not participate.
She said each student was told they must participate in some aspect of the process. Her job was to pluck the feathers from the chickens after they'd been killed and dipped in boiling water.
"Yes, it's just a chicken, but to me, it's a living being and has just as much right to live as we do," Hillman said. "There is a choice in dissection, why not in the slaughtering of an animal you raised?"
Hamilton said that if Hillman had approached him at any point during the class with her concerns, he would have made allowances for her.
"She never approached me to do an alternative project," he said. "I think she had plenty of time to opt out. If she had had that much of a problem with it, we could have worked something out."
Hillman said if given the same situation, she would do the same thing. While she didn't think Hamilton should stop the project, she suggested that the class description clearly point out that chickens would be slaughtered.
"I'll gladly accept any punishment you give me, but I will not apologize for what I have done," she said. "I will not regret it, and I would definitely do it again if I had to.
"I did take the chicken, but please, all I ask, is that you understand why, not that you agree, but understand and respect my decision."