April 8, 1999

David Mosena, President
Museum of Science & Industry
57th Street and Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60637-2093

Dear Mr. Mosena:

I remember being in the fourth grade when we got to the science chapter on biology. We had just finished a section on meteorology that I had really liked. (And, if you knew how science and mathphobic I became during high school, you would appreciate the enthusiasm of that fourth grader.)

My teacher explained that we were going to “raise” baby chicks to learn about how life grows. She brought an incubator into the classroom and filled it with brown-flecked eggs and explained how they’d been fertilized by a rooster. Each day the kids in her classes would run in to check on the eggs (though they didn’t really change much) and periodically, she’d crack one open to show us what was going on inside.

I remember at one stage it was just a regular old egg with a big reddish-black dot in the middle--not too exciting to our anticipatory minds. I also remember that some time later she cracked open an egg and a nearly fully developed baby chick came sliding out. I didn’t like that day much. Sure, I got excited when we started to see beaks breaking threw the shells and the chicks began peeping wildly. But, that excitement waned when I learned that “raised” didn’t mean what I thought it did--we weren’t going to take them home with us. It meant that our baby chicks--our little peeping puffs of yellow fuzz--were being shipped off to a farm where they would eventually be slaughtered.

But, why am I writing you about something that happened many years ago to someone you’ve never met? I am writing to you because I understand that your museum operates a hatchery similar to the temporary one my science teacher set up in her classroom years ago. Further, I understand that your museum has this program based on a belief that “people learn best from things that are real and memorable.” So, I’m sharing what was real and memorable to me.

I remember all the noise and commotion those baby chicks made in the too-small cardboard box that would transport them to the farm. I remember that one little one grabbed the string of my windbreaker hood when I leaned over the box to say goodbye, and he held on for dear life. I remember crying when they took them away. And, I remember learning that grown-ups don’t say what they mean. But, the hatchery itself didn’t teach me anything about the nature of the birds--how a mother hen would hatch them, how they would grow, what they would eat, how they would play, mate or nest. The science teacher and books taught us all of that.

With today’s improved technology there is no reason to continue such an antiquated method of “teaching.” Why not stop teaching the lesson that animal lives are disposable instead? Why not take advantage of all the alternative teaching methods available and save the museum the expense of eggs, equipment and care? Please...twenty years later and my memories of that science class are not the awe and wonderful of discovery and learning, but the sadness of watching those fluffy little chicks being carted off. There’s no good lesson in that.

Sincerely,

Leigh-Anne Dennison