The fourth grade teachers gathered their three classes together to announce an exciting new experiment. Over the past days we had been learning about the importance of vitamins in our diet and how they can help our health.
Specifically, we focused on scurvy, and how the lack of vitamin C can prove deadly. They taught us about how sailors would carry citrus on their journeys to keep from getting sick and dying. Without vitamin C they would lose their hair, bleed and get infections that could kill them. Nasty stuff.
The teachers brought out a cage and announced:
“This is Walter the Guinea Pig, and he is going to help us learn more about scurvy.” My ears perked up.
They explained how we were going to conduct a scientific experiment to show how scurvy can happen. The plan was to feed Walter as much food as he wanted, but to make sure we didn’t feed him any vitamin C. In theory, Walter would eventually exhibit the symptoms of scurvy so we could see, first hand, what could happen and better understand nutrition.
Next to the cage was a poster that had a graph to track Walter’s weight, and a sign-up sheet for kids to take turns feeding him. They weighed Walter for his beginning weight. From there, they would conduct a weekly weigh-in to see his “progress,” and mark it on the graph.
I was immediately bothered by the whole thing. Why would Miss Hobbs, the tender teacher who couldn’t even sob her way through reading us the last chapter of Where the Red Fern Grows be involved in something like this – something so…cruel?
The kids were excited, and it was the talk of recess that day. However, not all of us were thrilled. I was talking with my friend Jordan and said, “I think this is mean. I don’t want to kill a guinea pig.”
“Me neither,” he replied.
At that moment, the Guinea Pig Conspiracy was born. We huddled during recess and made our plan.
When we came back inside, we immediately went to the sign up sheet to take our turns feeding and watering Walter. But we were too late – the sign-ups were already full.
Not to be dissuaded, we adjusted our plan.
Jordan took some vitamin C tablets from home, smashed them up, and put them in a plastic baggie. I found a small bottle with an eyedropper that I secretly filled with orange juice from my breakfast.
That next morning, we both came to school early and prepared.
There was no one around to see us, and this was long before the days of cameras watching our every move. Jordan took a pinch of the vitamin powder and sprinkled it in Walter’s food. Mine was a little more complicated: I removed the water bottle from the cage, took the stopper off, and put a few drops of orange juice in the bottle. I was careful to not put too much in, as we didn’t want anyone to notice anything out of the ordinary. I put the stopper back on the feeder bottle, and returned it to where it hung inside the cage.
We put our contraband in our pockets, and then hurried outside to play some foursquare before class started. From then on, I would bring fresh juice and hid the bottle in the back of my rat-nest desk. (I was famous for having a terribly messy desk.)
The food and water was changed out every few days, so we always made sure to add our special nutrient each time. We would take turns coming to school early to keep things under wraps. Our goal was to make sure that Walter had a steady diet of vitamin C every day of the experiment.
I vividly remember Walter’s first weigh-in after the first week. The teachers looked surprised as they weighed Walter several times: He had gained weight. I don’t remember how they explained it, but I do remember feeling some satisfaction as they marked his weight on the graph and the line sloped up.
The weeks turned to months. The line on the graph continued to go up. There was no hair loss, no bleeding. We had the fattest, healthiest guinea pig you’ve ever seen. Jordan and I were happy. The teachers were not.
It was inexplicable why such a simple experiment was going down in flames. Well, at least it was to them. I sat back and smugly watched it crash and burn.
But alas, all good things must come to an end…
One day I was involved in a book during reading time and I got the feeling that someone was watching me. I looked around and the entire 4th Grade teaching team and the Vice Principal were standing behind my desk. Nobody said anything, but Mr. Barnett, the VP, set my bottle on my desk.
I was busted.
I reacted the way a typical 4th grade conspirator would react: I burst into tears. The teachers took me out to the hall to have a “talk.” On the way, I glanced at Jordan who immediately looked away. I didn’t rat him out.
They gave me a minute to compose myself, then explained that they started becoming suspicious, and noticed that I had been at school early quite often. So they started paying attention. It didn’t take them long to spot me in action.
They then began to explain that I had ruined the experiment – not just for them and me, bit for all my classmates. They made it clear that they were “disappointed in me,” and unhappy.
But I was unhappy, too. After they were done guilting me, I asked a painfully simple question: “Why do you have to make Walter suffer and die to show us something that we already believe? (Had I known the word “stipulate” back in 4th grade, I would have used it.)
The teachers were taken aback, but had no answer for me. Looking back, as an adult, I realize what a tough spot I had put them in.
After that, the teachers softened, and were much more compassionate and gentle. They sent me back to my classroom where all questioning eyes were on me.
There would be no punishment. They didn’t even call my parents. After that, they explained to the classes that the Walter experiment didn’t work like they were expecting, and they were going to shut it down. Some of the kids were disappointed, others relieved.
We kept Walter as a class pet for the rest of the school year, and fed him a balanced diet. Some lucky winner got to take him home, which made me happy.
And that is story of the Guinea Pig Conspiracy.
How does it apply? Walter was at risk if he did not get his daily supply of important nutrients. Miss a few day, a few symptoms show up. Miss a few weeks, the decline becomes more apparent. Miss a few months, and you have death.
Just last month, President Russel M. Nelson said this about scripture reading:
“Daily immersion in the word of God is crucial for spiritual survival, especially in these days of increasing upheaval. As we feast on the words of Christ daily, the words of Christ will tell us how to respond to difficulties we never thought we would face.” (link)
You’ll note that he didn’t say it is crucial for knowledge, or happiness – he said it is crucial for spiritual survival.
And it wasn’t the first time President Nelson has addressed the importance of daily study:
“My dear brothers and sisters, I promise that as you prayerfully study the Book of Mormon every day, you will make better decisions—every day. I promise that as you ponder what you study, the windows of heaven will open, and you will receive answers to your own questions and direction for your own life. I promise that as you daily immerse yourself in the Book of Mormon, you can be immunized against the evils of the day, even the gripping plague of pornography and other mind-numbing addictions.” (link)
This concept is frequently taught by the Lord’s servants. Last month, a great talk by Benjamin Ming Zhe Tai really dug into the importance of daily scripture study. I recommend it.
I found it odd that if you do a search for “Spiritual Scurvy” there are no references on the church website, as it seems like such an obvious topic. I’ll just leave it like this:
I have had stretches in my life where I have studied the Book of Mormon every day, and stretches where I have not. The difference is noticeable and significant. I’m sure many of you can offer the same testimony.
President Nelson knows what he’s talking about and we should give heed – no need risk being a spiritually malnourished guinea pig.