Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Human Embryos in Fifth Grade?

I have always had a fascination with human anatomy, biology and human development. So when I was at the Boston Museum of Science over the summer I was excited to see the Beyond the Xray Exhibit and then across the hall, How Your Life Began exhibit. The girls and I spent a lot of time in the Beyond the Xray, but when I ventured to the other exhibit, I wasn't quite sure if they were ready to see what was on display.

There were actual zygotes, embryos and fetuses in various stages of development encased in the black glass display cases. The lighting in the room was dark and subdued, the voices quiet whispers in strong contrast to the loud raucous room we just left. Kylie - my 6 year old ran around from display to display, not having any idea what she was looking at and I didn't pull her over and explain it to her.

But Melanie I guided through the displays. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: See how the cells divide and by the end of the first month the baby starts to take shape?

Melanie: Is that a real baby?

Me: Yes. These are all unborn babies that didn't survive and the parents decided it would be ok to have other people learn from them. And look by the end of the second month it. . .

Melanie: Can we go now?

Ok, so maybe she wasn't ready for this. Too young. We went through the rest of the display, quickly. . .me intrigued and wanting to read everything, but I didn't for the sake of the girls. I left and we went on with our day.

Two months later, the next time we were at the same museum as soon as we walked through the front doors Melanie said, "Don't make me go into that room with the dead babies." But we did spend an hour watching chicks hatch from an egg. . .couldn't pull her away from that display. THAT was where she was developmentally.

Now we learn that a fifth grade teacher at my daughter's school has brought a guest speaker in to talk about cell development and along with various slides of organ tissue to look at under the microscope, had some jars of human embryos with her as well. The age of these embryos is unclear. But the statement from the superintendent states that they were several different ages so organ development could be assessed. Sounds bigger than a few cells to me. Sounds like they could easily be identified as human babies.

The science lesson is a good one.. .for young adults. Little kids are going to focus on the fact that they are holding a jar with a dead baby inside and not on the lesson at hand. 10 year olds don't have the maturity to see past the floating baby. (I would have a hard time with that. . .encased in a glass case behind a wall is one thing. . . holding it in my hands in a jar of formaldehyde is another).

And seeing it in the museum with your mom or even on a parent approved field trip is acceptable. Glass jar, classroom, kids with varying levels of maturity another. When did it become ok to treat human life so casually?

Seventh grade was a big year for us. That's when we got to start dissecting things as a part of life science. I can't remember how many things we dissected. Frogs, sharks, I think even cats. I learned so much about the body and organs from the hands on approach.

High school advanced biology SENIOR year- we took a field trip to the University of Kansas cadaver lab (of course with parent approval). We saw an embryo on that trip and the professor showed it to us with reverence. We had been given instructions prior to the field trip to have respect for the human bodies and the dissections that we would encounter. But at 17 years old did we heed those orders? We goofed off, we took photos and posed next to the bodies for our yearbook layout, we cracked jokes about what we were seeing and we were mostly the top 10% of our senior class. But the experience did help to shape what I would study in college.

Again I found myself in cadaver lab as an undergrad for my anatomy class and AGAIN in OT school a year later. This time I was the one doing the dissecting and I think we were finally at a maturity level to handle the importance of what we were doing. Someone gave their body to us to learn from. Someone who had a life and lost it from either illness, injury or old age. We learned to respect our work and treat the bodies with kindness, respect and solemnity (most of us anyway).

Fifth grade is too young for human babies in a glass jar. There are so many things wrong with the scenario. Parents should have been notified of the project and given the choice of keeping their kids out. Most would probably have said it was ok. . .and discussed it with them at home. But they should have been given the choice.

Fifth grade is appropriate for a pig, shark, frog. . . any of which could have been learned from. Maybe they were studying human cells, but even a word or two from the teacher or presenter that we learn from animals first and then as we get more into the sciences we begin to learn from actual human samples. . .

And in the words of my husband, previous middle school science teacher, "They are in 5th grade.....maybe high school might be ok or even 7th grade when they are studying life science. Even then there are several ways to teach cell development besides having them look at HUMAN embryos in 5th grade - especially without notifying the parents first IMHO. Remember I am a former middle school science teacher. I'm all for ... more hands on especially at that age but geez....Also they are using latex gloves to handle jars of formaldehyde - A - the school is suppose to be latex free B - You are having 5th graders handle breakable glass jars containing hazards waste - a known hazardous chemical in a classroom without proper ventilation."

One news source said it must be a slow news day if Fox News is covering a story about a teacher just doing her job.

So, hazardous wastes, latex gloves, toxic chemicals in glass jars in the hands of 10 year olds, human embryos. . . sounds like MORE people should be standing up and paying attention.

I usually refrain from putting my opinion out there, but actually can't help but saying, Come on, seriously? Who can think this is ok?

No one should think it's ok to treat human life so casually at the age of 10.

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