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3 8 In 1874, Cornelia Clapp wanted to purchase an incubator to use in the zoology course she was teaching at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, but the administration did not grant her the funds. Determined to teach the embryological development of the chick to her students, Clapp rented a broody hen from a local farmer. (People who buy their eggs in supermarkets may not know that a hen is called “broody” when she has laid a clutch of eggs and cannot be dissuaded from sitting on them until they hatch.) Every day for twenty-one days, Clapp placed a freshly laid egg underneath the hen. At the end of the third week, she opened each egg and set it in a saucer. This embryology exhibit showed each stage of chick embryo, from “a day’s growth to one that walked and peeped.” It was so popular that the embryos “were arranged on a table and an admission was charged for seeing them, thereby paying for the hire of the hen” (A.H. Morgan 1935:1). Clapp’s peep show was a time-honored crowd pleaser; Aristotle described a similar demonstration more than two thousand years earlier (Van Speybroeck, De Waele, and Van de Vijver 2002:9). It was not long before the administration capitulated and bought Clapp an incubator (Clapp 1916:361). Fast-forward more than a century. The year is 1997; my seven-year-old daughter has come home from first grade reciting a textbook definition of embryo. Like many American schoolchildren, her elementary school introduction to the topic of reproduction has taken the form of a lesson in chick Two Embryo Visions UC-Morgan-ToPress.indd 38 UC-Morgan-ToPress.indd 38 6/8/2009 1:49:02 PM 6/8/2009 1:49:02 PM 3 9 E m b r y o V i s i o n s hatching. She is already an expert in the matter, having incubated her first eggs in preschool. This time, though, she is expected to use greater scientific precision, including structured observations, measurements, and a logbook. She will eventually learn valuable lessons about the scientific method, the circulatory system, and—when a chick is pecked to death by its peers—the fine line between beauty and brutality. In addition, she has learned another important lesson about American culture—namely, that reproduction properly belongs to the realm of science. Many of us are so well socialized that we might scarcely notice the cultural lessons buried in an elementary school unit on chick hatching. But schooling is clearly a kind of socialization, and chick-hatching lessons became common in the American elementary school curriculum after 1950 for several reasons. As more children were raised in cities and suburbs, chick hatching reflected a nostalgia for rural knowledge and farm traditions. In addition, scientists had generated a wealth of accessible information about chick hatching. They even figured out how to remove a bit of shell to photograph the developing embryo. Window into an Egg was the title of a popular illustrated book describing the results of this technique for young readers (Flanagan 1969). Chick hatching continues to be popular in classrooms because it is inexpensive , easy, and because chicks develop conveniently “outside of mom” (as a biologist friend phrased it)—the stages of development are readily visible even to first graders. At a more subtle level, chick-hatching lessons teach children how to organize and categorize their knowledge about reproduction. Chick hatching teaches them to place knowledge about reproduction under the heading of biology. They learn that biologists are the authorized cultural experts on the subject; so that, to become a cultural expert on reproduction, a person might want to study biology. By directing children’s attention to the morphological details of development, hatching projects teach them to frame their observations about reproduction in the language of biology rather than that of religion, by stressing that embryological development is a secular rather than a divine miracle. That the same children might learn something entirely different in Sunday school is an implicit lesson in separating science (which will be taught in public school) from religion (which will not). Children are taught to appreciate that the biologist’s way of knowing about chick hatching is respected enough to be taught in school, while the religious view is “considered invalid [at least in the school setting] and unworthy of public esteem” (Giroux 1994:329). Chick hatching conveys another important cultural message, which is UC-Morgan-ToPress...


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