Education Matters: What, exactly, is inside an egg?

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"We have left an egg in vinegar for three days now, in my science class at school," my daughter informs me. "The whole shell is gone, you know."

I didn't know. I have never left an egg in vinegar for three days, I realize. I am instantly curious and want more details. "So the egg is floating, like you cracked it?"

"No," she sighs, clearly frustrated that I wouldn't understand immediately what would happen in this situation. "It's still together."

"You mean that it is still in the membrane?" I ask.

"I don't know what a `membrane' is, Mom." She glares at me for asking so many questions and interrupting her story. "It's all there, but there is no shell."

"Must be the membrane," I mutter. Then, louder, I ask her, "But what are you going to do with this?"

She proceeds to tell me about how they are going to now put it in coffee, and see if it soaks up the color. "And then we'll cut it see what it looks like inside," she finishes.

I am fascinated by this science experiment. How cool, I think, how clear this will be. I am off dreaming about how I'd like to know what would happen, if they are putting other eggs into other materials, if the egg had to be left for three days, or if two days would have worked. I return back to her recounting when I hear this: "But we have to be careful, because our teacher says that there are things inside an egg that can kill you."

"What?" I ask her. "What do you mean, something inside an egg that can kill you? Like what? Did you mean that if you don't cook it, and you eat it, it can make you sick?"

Again I get the evil eye from the nearly 12-year-old child. "Mom, I don't know! It's just what he said. It is inside an egg, that's all, and if you are not careful, it can kill you."

Completely perplexed, I figure I will not torment my daughter for more details about her day; we have clearly reached the quota of information to be doled out about this particular event. Instead, I dash off a quick email to the teacher, with the header, "What's inside an egg that can kill you?"

Within hours, even on an evening when I didn't expect him to check email, I get back a gracious apology (although I was only mystified, not at all worried) and full explanation.

"I am very sorry for this misunderstanding. We are doing experiments with raw eggs in vinegar to show osmosis in cells. What I said was if you are going to handle the eggs, please make sure you wash your hands very well afterward-especially before we have snack. I talked briefly about the dangers of salmonella and how the fact that we are handling raw eggs. I also spoke to the kids that it is nothing to be fearful of as long as we use caution.

"In regards to the comment that eggs can kill you," he further explained, "I said that the salmonella could be deadly. However, right after I said that a student in the class asked me, 'So eating eggs can kill you?' My immediate response was NO. Uncooked eggs laying around for a long period of time could make you sick, but eating cooked eggs or even poached eggs are fine."

He assured me that he would return to the topic and make sure it was understood.

I laughed, and recalled a similar experience with one of our sons, back in second grade. He had a page from a workbook, used for drug awareness. Now, personally, I recall that I was a bit shocked that we needed to talk with second graders about this, but the teacher pointed out that she'd had students with drugs in the household, and they were already dealing with these issues.

On the sheet, there was a drawing of alcohol, a cigarette, cocaine/some powder, and then a coca cola bottle. On the bottom half of the page, there was a glass of milk, an apple, and a couple of other healthy food choices.

I remember calling my son over, and asking him to explain it to me. He said something along the lines of some things are "very bad for you". But that all of the items on the type part of the page were drugs.

I was a bit shocked that second graders were being asked to equate coke the soft drink with cocaine, the drug. Still, I continued. "What is this part with the milk?

"Well," he said, very confidently, "if you do anything on the top half of the page, and then you drink milk, you don't have to worry about it."

Although I nearly choked at that point, I managed to hold it together, and calmly explained that while milk is, indeed, a wonderful food, it does not negate the effects of drugs. (As someone who comes from and works in the dairy industry, I like the idea of this wonder milk, however.)

I mentioned this whole exchange to his teacher, who was — of course — horrified that anyone would have gotten this impression from the lesson. She returned to it the very next day.

It all made me think of what a wise preschool teacher told me when the kids first started attending school: "If you believe half of what your child tells you about what happens here at school, I'll believe half of what they tell me happens at your house."

Truer words were likely never spoken.



Jill Stahl Tyler is a parent to three children involved in the local schools, at the high school and elementary school levels. She firmly believes in all education, and currently sits on the board for the Brattleboro School Endowment and the Brattleboro Town School Board. Contact her at jill@globalcow.com. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.


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