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New book explores what animals can teach humans

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

LAWRENCE — Many a parent has brought home a pet on the pretext it would help teach their child responsibility or read aloud a book in which animal characters teach kids all sorts of lessons. A new book examines not only what animals can teach people, but what they can teach people about each other, about animals and how the interactions of humans and animals throughout history can shape our own moral and ethical actions.

“The Educational Significance of Human and Non-Human Animal Interactions: Blurring the Species Line” examines anthrozoology, or the study of human-animal interactions. Edited by Suzanne Rice, professor of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Kansas, and A.G. Rud, distinguished professor of education at Washington State University, the book contains chapters from scholars from across the country and an array of disciplines to examine the intersection of humans and animals. The topic is on the rise in education.

“We tend to talk about humans and animals as if they’re completely different. But really we’re not. We all have much in common,” Rice said. “This is a growing movement. In education, particularly, anthrozoology is really picking up speed.”

The book contains three sections exploring human animal interactions from various perspectives:

  • The first focuses on anthropocentrism, or views that humans are superior to animals. The chapters provide both a critique to this viewpoint and an educational alternative.
  • The second section examines several educational practices in K-12 and higher education in which animals play a role and contains chapters that show how animals serve as teachers to humans and how animals have characteristics formerly thought to be only the domain of humans.
  • The final section examines moral aspects of human and animal interactions.

Chapters in the first section take on topics such as re-framing the idea of anthropocentrism in schools in the classroom in places such as school lunches as well as the educational implications of monsters, animals and machines.

In the second section chapters specifically look at practices such as veterinary education and how contrary to being a profession ideal for those who love animals, the preparation can desensitize students to animal welfare, specifically through practices such as cat declawing. Rice authored a chapter in which she shows how a program matching rescue greyhounds with prison inmates can provide an educative, transformative experience for both. Mike Bannen, a KU doctoral student, contributed a chapter exploring how animal interactions have been a part of alcoholism recovery in three eras: Ancient Greece, the temperance movement and the modern 12-step era, arguing that only recently have animals been allowed a role in helping people achieve and retain sobriety.

“For most of history, the association of the alcoholic has been with animalism or a sense of ‘otherness,’ in that the alcoholic was given to his base or animal urges,” Bannen said. “But now animals are elevated and viewed as capable of bringing alcoholics back to a human, interpersonal state.”

Arlene Barry, associate professor of curriculum and teaching at KU, penned a chapter exploring lessons from animals, real and imaginary, in the work of Dr. Seuss. Theodor Geisel was inspired by real animals to create the imaginary creatures that populate his books and have taught countless children lessons on everything from learning to read to being sensitive to moral issues such as justice, environmental welfare and hospitality.

Chapters in the final section cover topics including literature’s role in a multispecies world, the moral-educational value in befriending animals, “rewilding” and others.

“I am thrilled to support this book because we must bring education scholars into the fold of anthrozoology, and the essays in this book do just that. I believe this book will get people to think outside the box and realize that education can and does take place in many contexts and in many different ways and also to realize just how much we can learn about ourselves as we learn about the fascinating lives of other animals,” wrote Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado.

Rice said the book would appeal not only to academics in education, but to those in veterinary medicine, teachers, education generalists and ethicists as well.

“We too often think only about what we as humans can learn from animals. This book tries to explain also what we owe animals,” Rice said. “We try to highlight how, in learning about animals, we can expand our moral universe.”

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