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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Animals are better than books about animals

Children should have as much exposure as possible to animals. In all animals, including domestic, farm, and wild, are entire curricula. There is biology, sociology, genetics, economics, history, cultures, sweeping story arcs, morality, even nutrition, just to name a few. They are the perfect microcosms. They are life.

But it doesn’t count if the animals are just images or characters in a book. A poster of a kitten clinging to a branch with the words “Hang in there!” doesn’t count either. There is no greater example of the “flattening of content” that classes can represent than a “unit study” that studies, even purports to love, animals, but does not actually engage any on a regular basis.

Worse, the more removed a culture is from animals, the more stylized and inaccurately the animals are inevitably represented. Tribes in Africa portray hippos as the deadly, fierce creatures they are. By the time most school children see them in the U.S., they have morphed into “Mr. Hippo gets in his car to drive to work,” complete with bright pink skin and tube teeth.

Dogs and cats, chickens and cows, songbirds and frogs are all there, waiting to be engaged. They have so much to teach that any attempt to segregate environments of learning from them should never be accepted.

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