Slaughtered at School: German Kids Endure Hare-Raising Experience
It was a lesson designed to help teach children the realities of life: Teachers at a school in Schleswig-Holstein arranged for a rabbit to be slaughtered in front of the kids to give them an insight into how Stone Age people managed to live without a freezer. Ultimately, though, not even a student petition couldn't save the bunny from its grisly fate.
Before the farmer slaughtered the rabbit, the school children were allowed to bid the creature farewell. He was standing in the school's courtyard, the rabbit pinned between his legs, and the children were in a circle around him. They should approach one-at-a-time, the farmer said, so as not to frighten the animal. "Bye bye little rabbit," the children said -- expressing gratitude that they would be able to consume it later.
The farmer from the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein had brought the gray-and-white rabbit to the school in the town of Ratekau as part of a week-long project focusing on the Stone Age, which has for years been part of the fifth-grade curriculum. Among other things, the children were to be taught that in earlier times, people couldn't just grab their food out of the freezer and throw it in the oven.
The farmer, himself the father of a fifth-grader, had only the best intentions. Three years ago, he had carried out a similar demonstration using chickens. "Everything was done according to the slaughtering regulations," he says. And three years ago, nobody seemed to mind much.
'Killing Animals Involves Taking Responsibility'
He assumed that this time would be the same. The idea that ultimately the Education Ministry of Schleswig-Holstein might become involved never crossed his mind.
It was 10 days ago, at the very beginning of the unit, that he proposed the idea of slaughtering a rabbit to fifth-grade teachers at the school. "My point wasn't to show children death," he said. "We wanted to demonstrate the larger context: that killing animals involves taking on responsibility. Only after than can we eat the animal."
The fifth grade teachers at the school weren't sure at first how to react to the proposal. But then they took a vote: six in favor and two against. They failed, however, to inform the parents of the decision. The school's principal, Georg Krauss, says that he too was left in the dark. He says that he personally believes that animal slaughtering has no place in a school. "But the whole thing wasn't the product of sensationalism," he insists. "Children used to know that the meals on their plates had once been alive." The teachers, he says, merely wanted to raise the children's sense of value.
The farmer had three days to prepare the children for the slaughter. The process was important to him -- he studied social pedagogy and wanted to ensure that he properly contextualized what the children were about to see.
Students Launch Effort to Save Doomed Bunny
One day prior to the event, some of the fifth-graders launched an effort to save the rabbit and collected 30 signatures of classmates who were opposed to the killing. The farmer said he knew nothing about the campaign -- and the teachers ignored the petition.
"We rejected this form of protest," one of the teachers was quoted by the Lübecker Nachrichten newspaper as saying. "One can't collect signatures against a math test either."
In total, some 100 children took part in the Stone Age project -- and late last week, 50 of them voluntarily surrounded the farmer and the rabbit in the school courtyard. Before he began, the farmer told the children that what they were about to see wasn't disgusting nor was it monstrous -- and that they would agree once it was over.
Then the farmer hit the rabbit with the hammer. One child fainted, others burst into tears. Next, he slit the animal's throat with a knife, gutted the body, skinned it and hung it up to drain The next day, the rabbit was grilled in the school yard and eaten -- in Stone Age style, naturally, on a hot stone. Some mothers and fathers who had attended the feast had also tried it, the farmer recalled.
Shortly afterwards, outraged parents called the Lübecker Nachrichten and complained about the "barbaric events." "My son came home as pale as a ghost," one parent told the paper. "He has not slept well since then, and ate nothing for a long time." Shortly afterwards, the Schleswig-Holstein Education Ministry became involved in the case. "We consider the incident educationally problematic," ministry spokesman Thomas Schunck said. It will be banned from happening again.
Krauss, the school principal, plans on holding "official discussions" with the relevant staff members. He will also apologize to parents for not informing them in writing beforehand. He insisted he has taken interest in the views of all parents, including those who responded positively to the lesson. "Those who have complained did not speak to me, but straight to the press," Krauss said.
The chairman of the Parents Advisory Council for Community Schools, Stefan Hirt, said it made sense to teach children that food did not only come in frozen form. "But I find using a sledgehammer for that twisted," he said. "For 10 year olds, that is a shock that will stay with them for life. They still keep their stuffed animals in their beds."
But the farmer insisted that was nonsense. It was not the children who had the problem, but the parents. They did not want to admit, he says, that an animal must be killed to make their sausage. In any case, he says, the demonstration seems to have had the desired pedagogical effect of halting a mentality of looking away and avoiding the issue of how we actually turn animals into food. Some parents, however, disagree. "Now I have even more problems explaining to my child where meat comes from," one mother wrote to the school.
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