As part of this month’s topic, animals in the classroom, Kathryn Sussman and Zoocheck founder Rob Laidlaw discuss the multiple uses of animals in the academic curriculum of most children. Dissection is still going strong among classroom activities despite decades of parents and kids opposing it, and various studies proving its ineffectiveness in teaching; but also live animals are kept as pets in the classroom, and school outings to nearby animal facilities and local zoos remain a favourite.

Explaining how these classroom practices, and dissection in particular, are promoting a culture of use, exploitation and dominance over animals, Kathryn and Rob delve into the ethics of dissection alternatives. They question whether they are really a necessity, especially for elementary and high school students, the majority of whom will not go into a field that requires such experience. Rob underlines that there are even veterinary students who are not exposed to dissections in class, and rather get their hands-on training in a clinical setting where they are mentored by experienced vets.

In the podcast, Rob and Kathryn recognize the desire of and need for children to be exposed to animals, but question another very popular practice among schools: bringing kids to see animals in zoos or bringing animals into the classroom. They discuss how in some cases, children are unknowingly brought into potentially dangerous situations at smaller, inadequately regulated roadside zoos, which are furthermore examples of poor care and living environments for the animals themselves. They discuss the larger ethical question of normalizing captivity for our children in this way, teaching them that animals are to be used for human entertainment or even education. This same outcome is unintentionally taught by well-meaning teachers who bring wild animals or exotic pets into the classroom, as the quality of life of the animals can be compromised by doing so. Instead, Kathryn and Rob suggest to let kids explore the outdoors and its ecosystems, and learn about animals from encounters in their natural habitats, be it the school’s courtyard, a city park, a natural reserve or a sanctuary.

“There really is nature everywhere. It’s all around us. We don’t need to bring an animal in a box into a classroom. We don’t need to go down to see confined animals in a local zoo, to experience nature. All we need to do is change our perspective.” – Rob Laidlaw.

Listen as Kathryn and Rob give suggestions for endless opportunities for kids to engage with animals and nature, without eradicating animal programs in schools, but by replacing them with ethical, more educational alternatives.

Now you know!

Be part of the change!

  • As a first resource, schools should opt to use computer models of dissected animals which are widely available and easy to implement options.
  • Start a dialogue with your child’s teachers, school administrators, and school boards, asking them to look into digital alternatives to dissection such as the ones listed in Animals in Science Policy Institute’s database.
  • As a parent, explain to your child that in Canada you do not have to perform classroom dissections, and encourage them to express it openly.
  • Ask your elected officials for a legislative resolution against dissections in classrooms, a practice ingrained in the education system that has been proven ineffective.
  • Speak out against the use of animals in the education system – ask for policies about animal use in schools. Speaking out is a fantastic lesson in itself!
  • If a teacher brings in an exotic pet at your child’s school, do research about the animal and its needs, and inform the teacher about the ramifications of its life in a classroom.
  • Encourage your school to notice and enjoy natural wildlife on its premises, and to create good living conditions in its courtyard for animals, allowing kids to interact with them in a natural setting.
  • Require that your local government dictate the criteria that need to be satisfied by zoological facilities for visitors’ safety and by schools that want to bring kids on an outing to such sites.
  • Express your preference about kids visiting sanctuaries or natural reserves where animals congregate naturally and can be observed in their native habitat.
  • Request alternative education for your children, that explains why zoos aren’t good examples for learning about animals.
  • Appreciate the smaller species in addition to the large charismatic and exotic species in zoos – most animals on earth are small, infinitely fascinating and we depend on them for our survival.
  • Spend time outdoors, take walks in the park, and discover the ecosystems around you and their inhabitants – engaging with them is easy and it’s fascinating.
  • Let kids interact with real wildlife and teach them that this is how animals should be – in a courtyard or in the woods, instead of in a box in a classroom.
  • Challenge the way people look at nature, and ask them to look all around them, even in the city.
  • Learn more about animals online – the internet is an endless source of information.
  • Help us spread the word by sharing this podcast in your network.

What’s next?

Learn more about the animal issues that will have an impact on your child’s education, many of them are making headlines:

If you’ve enjoyed listening to our podcast, we’ve a favour to ask. A lot of volunteering goes into making Now You Know, but it still takes money to run. If you’d like to help us make future Now You Know podcasts, please consider donating. Thank you!

Kathryn, Gen and the Now You Know team.

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