Why don't we roast the cat?

16th February 1996 at 00:00
EARTHKIND. By David Selby. Trentham Books Pounds 15.95. AFTER THE ARK. By Martin Palmer and Elizabeth Breuilly Forbes Publications Pounds 7.95

Terence Copley on animals as a focus for RE and collective worship

Green, earth-conscious, environmentally-aware education has been with us for some time, but animal awareness as a theme in RE or collective worship is more recent. They don't always clearly relate and it is possible to find oneself plaiting the fog when exploring spiritual development in any aspect.

Animal rights and awareness raise issues about ourselves as well as animals: why do we not take the turkey for a walk and roast the cat? Or could a pig not be contented beside the fire rather than over it? Why do dog owners who clean up their own excrement fail to clear up that of their pets?

Earthkind describes itself as a teachers' handbook on humane education and is produced by the charity Earthkind. The author is professor of education at Toronto University but the development work was done at York University's Centre for Global Education.

Section One, the first 50 or so pages, concerns itself with the aims and objectives of humane education. It includes a wide range of extracts and a globally ranging discussion, masked in jargon.

Section Two, more than half the book, consists of a wide range of structured and timed activities by various authors devised for the primary and secondary classroom. The emphasis is on active learning and much of the material could be used in PSE. A large section on our treatment of animals from pets via hunting to food-breeding and zoos is well presented. Section Three looks at how humane education fits subjects and the national curriculum. Teachers are left to relate this to the Section Two material. Sections Four and Five, together about 40 pages, present profiles for the humane teacher and school for staff development.

The whole is a very valuable resource that will repay thorough study. But Earthkind is rather earth bound and although it is acknowledged that animals have a place in the world religions, that they in turn have perspectives on animals, and that green spirituality or cosmologies exist, very little of this filters through into the classroom material and spirituality is omitted from the major areas.

Martin Palmer and Elizabeth Breuilly sub-title their book Religious Understandings of Ourselves and Other Animals. They raise issues of humanity and animality using materials from different cultural traditions and religions and from literature. It is a concise and accessible resource which might be used by the teacher for appropriate work in key stage 4 religious studies or PSE or in collective worship.

Detailed activities follow each reading or extract. These have the simultaneous advantage and disadvantage of not being key stage specific. Issues are not avoided: transit and slaughter conditions, veal calves, battery eggs, sow stalls etc. The extracts are better than the development material, and the section specifically on collective worship (still referred to as assemblies) is disappointing.

These books raise issues that will not go away and that children already want to discuss. They will be seen by some parents as controversial and rocking the boat. But then education used to have a prophetic role.

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