OSLO, Norway (NYTIMES) - On Tuesday (Jan 10), a group of five-year-olds from a village in Norway went on a trip to a reindeer slaughterhouse as part of a program to teach them about the ways of the Sami, an indigenous people in Scandinavia who herd the animals.
But when school officials posted photographs from the trip on Facebook, it left many people, in Norway and elsewhere, aghast.
The photographs showed the 15 children watching as reindeer carcasses hung from the ceiling of the slaughterhouse. Outside, bloodstained reindeer furs were stacked up in the snow. One image showed a box containing reindeer hearts.
"Glad my kids do not attend such a kindergarten," Janne Iselin Dybdahl-Ihlen, a cook from Fredrikstad, wrote on Facebook.
"I have taught my kids to respect and love animals. Animals are not for our pleasure. Kids usually have a very empathic view on animals, something you are trying to break down."
A German woman, Sandra Zumbrock, wrote, "This is just sick."
Another Norwegian, Linn Emilia Olsen, described the images as the "normalisation of inhuman behaviour."
Others, like Jonas Gulstad Opsal, an actor from Steinkjer, said there was nothing to fuss over.
"It is food, Mrs Dybdahl-Ihlen," he wrote on Facebook. "Many of the kids in that kindergarten will become food producers, so this is something they have to learn to relate, too."
The Granstubben school, in the village of Henning in central Norway, found itself deluged by calls after the local newspaper reported on the photographs and the story went viral.
"We are overwhelmed by the attention," Dag Olav Stolan, director of the school, which educates children ages two to six, said by phone Friday evening. "We are just a small kindergarten in a small countryside village in Norway."
By the middle of the week, Stolan felt obligated to post English and German translations of the school's post on Facebook, and Stolan found himself fielding calls from journalists around the world.
Parents came to the school's defense.
Anette Knutsen said her daughter came home from the excursion beaming. "So much to tell about," Knutsen said. "Great idea, from a great kindergarten."
Another parent, Kristin Dahlo, said she was glad her daughter attended the school. Too many people do not know the origins of the food they are eating, she said.
Stolan said that deleting the post was out of the question. "This is what we stand for," he said.
"Bringing the kids to see how meat is produced is part of the upbringing," he said. "Too many people think food is produced at the shop window. I'd say this is pretty ingrained in Norwegian culture, since the old days. Kids on the farm were always brought to see the slaughter from their early years off, and still today, many go with their parents to see how animals are slaughtered after the hunt."
Reindeer herds graze in the mountains around Henning, and many of the animals are slaughtered every year when they come down from the mountain.
This week was not the first time students had been brought to observe the slaughter, Stolan said.
"None of the kids actually get to see the moment the animal is killed, and we asked all the parents for their consent before we went," Stolan said. One parent asked that her child not visit the slaughterhouse, he said.