School For Rodents

by  —  February 5, 2008

“Innocence” is often merely a euphemism for gullibility, and it’s this quality that typically endears children to adults. Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and Jesus all entered our tender, nascent minds without troublesome critical inquiries, so often the demon enemy of adult happiness. Liquor is often needed to bring the “magic” back, and in retrospect, I think my First Grade teacher was a drunkard. Or worse. Her moods were erratic. She oscillated from sedate, glassy-eyed trances to wild-eyed hysterics. She wasn’t taken in by our “innocence”. She knew full well what savage little beasts we were, and that without the proper subordination we’d break off into primal tribes, murdering the fat kids in ad hoc rituals. With the proper organization and physical strength, we’d have had her on a rotisserie before Nap Time.

Her behaviour indicated that she understood this.

One day, She spontaneously broke into tears and tore up a female classmate’s art project: a construction paper jack-o-lantern with tears coming from its eyes.

“You always draw everything with tears in its eyes,” she wailed, collapsing – ironically – in sobs.

The class was a regimented prison camp. Unauthorized communication was forbidden. We were issued ID numbers for head-count, and desks which we were charged with keeping immaculate. When She spoke, we listened – nothing more. Everybody tried to remain anonymous. I often had questions, but this was no environment for my petty hair-splitting. Just the same, when She collected us together at story time to tell us about the Send a Mouse to College programme, I was intensely curious. This programme, we were told, allowed us to sponsor a mouse… in College!

I knew how the educational system broke down back then; Kindergarten was for babies. Elementary School was for growing tots like me. Middle School was for big kids, almost adults… complex concepts would be introduced. High School? The intellectual battlefield that separated the weak from the strong, deciding who would – and who would not – make it to College. College was strictly for dedicated academics… brains, geniuses.

In the first grade, we couldn’t be expected to understand a damned thing in the College curriculum, and yet here we were being told that there mice that had achieved this level of scholarly discipline.

The pamphlet, which we were required to bring home to our parents, bore an artistic rendering of the idealized mouse scholar, all smiles, proudly gripping his rolled parchment.

Could this be?

I had to ask: “Do we get to meet the mice that we sponsor?”

She was exasperated by my ignorance and impudence. “Just give the pamphlet to your parents.”

Later that night, I begged my parents to donate to the programme. They weren’t persuaded.

My older brother disabused me of this particular “innocence”. “The mice aren’t students,” he informed me, “they are test subjects. They are dissected and killed.”

I called him an idiot. Who would want to send a mouse to College for that?


Nonetheless, I followed up with my mother. A little hesitantly, she agreed with my brother. These were lab rats.

I felt betrayed. I’d been had. But I got over it soon enough. My attention didn’t hold to anything too terribly long at that age.

Years later, I would recall the Send a Mouse to College programme in disbelief. “Can you believe they pulled that stunt on us?” I asked friends of mine. They were perplexed. None of them remembered any such programme. Was I sure? Not really, the more I thought about it. So I searched for information. There wasn’t much, but I imagined there had to have been some outcry about this at some point. I found that the programme had been contrived by the American Cancer Society (ACS), so I called them to ask about it. I told them that I was thinking about writing an article about the programme, so they put me in touch with one of their PR flacks in Massachusetts.

Her name was Karen Rouse, and despite her annoying tendency to continually mention the ACS’s financial contributions to the University I am in attendance of, I found her to be amiable and helpful. Of course, that’s her job, but I’ll take it at face value.”It does seem a bit weird by today’s standards,” Rouse admitted, “It’s antiquated. But, at the time, we were trying to educate children. We wanted to get them thinking about cancer and about research.”

Rouse, who has been with the ACS for 34 years, and remembered Send a Mouse to College from personal experience, acknowledged that the campaign upset a few children and parents who found the usage of pamphlets and literature depicting the happy mouse, holding a diploma, deceptive. “We did start to get letters; very heart-felt letters. I remember one in particular from a boy, probably about 12 years old, in the mid-seventies. He said that he wanted to help in the fight against cancer, but he wanted to know if there was something else he could do that didn’t entail sending a rodent to its death.” According to her, the quantity of negative letters was significant, but not copious. “I wouldn’t say that there was a ground-swell of these letters, but it did run its course.”

Turns out, no organized objection to the campaign – which ran, according to Rouse’s recollection, from the mid-sixties to the early eighties – ever surfaced.

She explained that during the eighties, the ACS began to focus more on teaching children about cancer prevention, focusing primarily on tobacco and the usage of sunscreen. “We [the ACS] moved away from programmes like Send a Mouse to College, because it had run its course.”

“Today,” says Rouse, “childhood cancer is considered 99% Treatable.” Also, the ACS today is able to raise $425 million annually in nationwide research funding. She credits this in part to awareness campaigns like Send a Mouse to College. As for the efficacy of the Send a Mouse to College campaign itself: “I have no idea how extensive the campaign was. I know it was nationwide, but I have no record of how many schools were involved or how much money was ultimately raised.”

Clearly, Rouse’s answers were contrived and scripted – which is merely to say that she was cautious, not dishonest. At points, I felt as though she were actually reading to me. She seemed to sense trouble from a journalist exploring such territory. She tried to get a feel for my angle. Where was I coming from? What did I want? Was I outraged?

No, not really. I was, but not anymore. I still think it was stupid campaign, but nothing worth exacting bitter revenge over.

Ultimately, I never wrote the intended article for publication.

People are just too touchy about these kinds of things…

Marked as: Introspection  —  2 comments   (RSS)

2 Comments so far
  1. FatalTwilight February 8, 2008 11:43 pm

    Thank you for the info…I can use that to make some shocking fliers.

    “Why did this teacher lie to children about vivisection?”

    *Picture of a sad child*

    URL to site with supportive infos. I just cant put up with BS like that.

  2. FatalTwilight February 12, 2008 7:25 pm

    Just wondering if there will be a count down/percentage meter as to when the archives will be up and running?

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