By Jacqueline Domac
Yakima County, Washington, prosecutors filed felony charges against five youth accused in the killing and maiming of 35 pigs at White Swan High School recently. Reports indicate that the pigs were repeatedly axed, beaten, sodomized and then left to die in the school barn. The five students involved, all aged 12 or 13, were reportedly seen laughing in the back of the police car as they were driven away.
The graphic nature of this crime captured national attention, but what the media missed was the string of similar events occurring across the nation-all stemming from Future Farmers of America (FFA) programs, which facilitate the raising of animals on public school grounds for slaughter. The FFA program fosters a young person's natural sense of empathy and compassion for animals, then forces the children to sell the animals they have nurtured for slaughter at the county fair. Because such lessons have no rightful place in our school system, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is calling on the Department of Education to discontinue immediately the use of animals in all FFA programs.
The Future Farmers of America program was established in 1928 to draw students into agriculture. Inherently discriminatory from its inception, the national program did not allow African-Americans to participate for almost 40 years and refused entry to women until 1969. Funded by large agricultural and beef companies, including Monsanto and ConAgra, FFA has become a major component of rural education, operating within the public school system but far enough removed that accountability is impossible or difficult.
As a teacher and member of the National Education Association, I applaud any program that helps students understand the importance of raising plants for food and commerce. But in today's violent society, facilitating desensitization is the last thing that our schools should encourage. Sociological studies show time and time again that people who commit acts of violence against people first "practiced" their crimes on animals in their youth. With no funds for proper security or veterinary care, FFA programs serve up an opportunity for violence on a silver platter.
Occurrences over the past few weeks reveal a glimpse of a program gone awry:
- Miss Piggy, an animal in the William Turner Tech High School FFA program in Florida, was spared slaughter after the young student who raised her pleaded for her life at the auction. But when the pig was returned to the school to await transportation to a sanctuary, she was repeatedly stabbed with a knife, and her pig companion was shot to death.
- A Hillsborough County, Florida, FFA teacher reportedly begged students to assist her in chopping off the heads of young rabbits. Ruling that this was a "common practice" on the farm, the school board took no action against the teacher when she killed the animals herself.
- Another FFA pig was left without food or water in a Donna, Texas, school. A concerned parent contacted the media after learning that the pig had apparently been dead for more than three days.
In an effort to make the killing easier, students are advised not to give the animals names. Slaughter is referred to as "harvesting" or "processing." But like many students, 13-year-old Ally from Woodland, California, wasn't fooled by the FFA's attempt to sanitize reality:
"The bond I have made with Max is no different than what some people would have with a dog or cat," she said. "Max just happens to be a calf-a member of a species that a lot of people have decided doesn't have the right to live out their lives. That arbitrary determination just didn't make sense to me anymore."
As a society, it is our duty to protect both children and animals. The FFA program does neither. It leaves animals vulnerable to abuse and shatters a compassionate relationship between children and the animals they come to know and often to love. Raising animals for slaughter has no place in our publicly funded schools.
Jacqueline Domac taught high school in Los Angeles for five years and received the 2002 National Healthy School Hero Award. She is now the education manager at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals(PETA).
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