Ted's teaching tips

20th April 2001 at 01:00
Harmless fun, or public humiliation? Views about animals and their relationships with humans have changed over the years, so this picture raises important issues about entertainment involving creatures normally found in the wild.


What is "entertainment" and why do we need it (many forms, makes life more fun, reduces stress)? What forms of entertainment do you like best (film, TV, sport, music, dance etc)? Do you prefer a small or a large group, and why? Do you like to provide the entertainment (active) or watch it (passive)? Have you ever been to a circus? What did you see there and what did you make of it? How old is the circus (goes back to classical times, eg horse and chariot races, gladiatorial combat in ancient Rome; modern circus dates back to the 18th and 19th centuries, with bareback riding, trapeze, clowns and performing animals)?


What is a flea (a wingless insect - a surprise for children who thought every insect had wings)? What does it feed on (us, for a start, other mammals, including cats and dogs, and birds)? How does it feed (it is a parasite, it pierces the skin and sucks out blood)? Why is it in a circus (fleas are very strong, able to jump high and pull loads much greater than their own weight; flea circuses were usually run by small-scale operators travelling around to fairs in towns and villages)? Would you go to see a flea circus?


Do animals have any rights (people can be prosecuted for cruelty, neglect; the RSPCA is one of the best known bodies that looks after animals' welare)? How have people become more aware of animals' rights in recent years (less likely to wear fur coats; less tolerant of experiments on animals; more protective of pets, farm animals; more aware of threats to rare and endangered species, such as the tiger and the panda)? If you have a pet at home, do you think you treat it well? Apart from house pets, what experience do you have of other animals (horse-riding, bird-watching, looking at wildlife)?


(a) You are in a crowd of people, watching a flea circus, when all the fleas escape. What happens? (b) Write a conversation between a flea and yourself about your different lifestyles. (c) Describe a circus run by animals in which human beings have to entertain them. What acts are there, how do spectators respond?

Ted Wragg is professor of education at Exeter University Is it right that animals have to perform in any kind of public circus?


The circus is a long-established form of entertainment, especially popular with children. Not only is it harmless fun, but the animals seem to enjoy performing. In a good circus, animals are well cared for and perform with dignity: powerful lions, tigers, elephants; elegant horses and ponies; and fleas.


Magnificent beasts, such as lions and tigers, should live in their natural habitat. It is artificial and humiliating to pen them in cages, or make them jump through hoops, snarl at their trainer, just to amuse a crowd. Such entertainment was accepted in earlier times, but today we are more aware of animals' rights.

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