When I went to pick Beau up from his tutoring yesterday he told me how upset he was. He said when he walked into his GATE (an advanced class for children identified as being intellectually gifted) class after school he was frightened and "totally grossed out" because there were whole fish on trays with metal instruments. He said, "Mom they were going to make me cut out it's eyes and stick a knife in it's butt, and take out it's guts and brains. Solomon got sick and ran out of the classroom, and something happened to Jared because his dad was really mad and started yelling at the teacher. I didn't do it because they said I didn't have to, if you said it was okay. Most of the kids didn't want to, but they were afraid their parents would get mad at them, and they didn't know what to do so they stayed. Then I couldn't eat my snack because I kept thinking about eyes and guts and thought I might be eating them"
This is the letter I wrote to the coordinator of the gate program. I sent copies to his teacher, his principal and the PTA. Grrrrrrrrrr.
XXXXX XXXXXXX Street
Los Angeles, CA XXXXX
GATE Program Coordinator
Kenter Canyon Elementary School
November 9, 2000
Dear Mr. Osay
I am writing to express my outrage and disappointment regarding the inclusion of dissection in the GATE curriculum! I am horrified that after my discussions with both of you regarding my strong feelings against the use of dissection, particularly for children of such a young age, that you thought to proceed with a dissection so shortly after the fourth graders began their portion of the GATE program. That you couldn't find the time to forewarn us in any way makes me feel that I cannot trust you to be sensitive to this matter at all. I feel shocked and dismayed that despite my best efforts and planning, I was unable to prevent my son from being exposed to this while still in grammar school.
Beau told me that it was awful for him, that many of the students were upset and repulsed. He told me that many of the kids wanted to leave, but were afraid they would get in trouble, or that their leaving would adversely affect their standing in this class. He couldn't eat his dinner last night, he kept thinking about that dead fish eye staring up at him. While I do appreciate your allowing my son to leave, he nevertheless learned a hard lesson at your hands. I do not see the value in allowing children to cut into a completely intact fish through it's anus, removing it's eye and guts. Can you explain to me how this level of participation enriched these children's lives in any way? Do you believe this taught them any kind of respect for the value of life? Or was this just an exercise in shock value, something most kids don't have to deal with until high school, that you can point to as proof that our children are working at a higher level? I'm floored that the very people I entrust my son's care and education on a daily basis to, could have so little concern for the emotional impact something like this could have on nine and ten year olds. Can we expect the dissection of baby pigs next, something that was performed last year, and featured in the center of our school year book, complete with horrified looks on the children's faces? To say that I feel broadsided would be an understatement!
It surprises me that in this day and age, with the wealth of instructional materials available, and the knowledge that some families abhor dissection for philosophical as well as religious reasons, that you would proceed with such an outmoded form of instruction. I insist that you reassure me that nothing of this nature will occur again without formal written notice given to the parents in advance. This includes the upcoming Marine Science Laboratory field trip. In addition I want your written reassurance that my son's absenting himself from any procedures of this nature in future will in no way affect his standing in this class.
Cc. Ms Koretz, Mr. Kaminsky, The PTA