The Animal School

by George Reavis on November 26, 2012

A Fable

The Animal School by George Reavisby George Reavis

Once upon a time the animals decided they must do something heroic to meet the problems of a “new world” so they organized a school. They had adopted an activity curriculum consisting of running, climbing, swimming, and flying. To make it easier to administer the curriculum, all the animals took all the subjects.

The duck was excellent in swimming. In fact, better than his instructor. But he made only passing grades in flying and was very poor in running. Since he was slow in running, he had to stay after school and also drop swimming in order to practice running. This was kept up until his webbed feet were badly worn and he was only average in swimming. But average was acceptable in school so nobody worried about that, except the duck.

The rabbit started at the top of the class in running but had a nervous breakdown because of so much makeup work in swimming.

The squirrel was excellent in climbing until he developed frustration in the flying class where his teacher made him start from the ground up instead of the treetop down. He also developed a “charlie horse” from overexertion and then got a C in climbing and D in running.

The eagle was a problem child and was disciplined severely. In the climbing class, he beat all the others to the top of the tree but insisted on using his own way to get there.

At the end of the year, an abnormal eel that could swim exceeding well and also run, climb, and fly a little had the highest average and was valedictorian.

The prairie dogs stayed out of school and fought the tax levy because the administration would not add digging and burrowing to the curriculum. They apprenticed their children to a badger and later joined the groundhogs and gophers to start a successful private school.

Does this fable have a moral?

Note: This story was written when George Reavis was the Assistant Superintendent of the Cincinnati Public Schools back in the 1940s! This content is in the public domain and free to copy, duplicate, and distribute. If you would prefer a full-color, illustrated book, one is currently available from Crystal Springs Books (1-800-321-0401 or 603-924-9621) or from Amazon.

Click here for a song based on The Animal School by Mark Meritt and the Offhand Band.

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Book: Creating Emotionally Safe Schools
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Audio: Practical Strategies for Working Successfully with Difficult Students

Podcast: The Fragile Learner: Reaching and Teaching Struggling Students with Hanoch McCarty
Podcast: The Inclusive Teacher: Success with ADD and ADHD Students with Margit Crane

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

David May 4, 2013 at 1:34 pm

Interesting concept, but how does this fit “compulsary learning” model we are going through in ILD classes in Texas? I like the idea of teaching kids in all areas and focus on their individual skills but since we have high-stakes testing, kids and teachers are also rated on commended as well as passing scores. I’d like to know more about assessment based on Gardner’s Intel but that seems to be in the distant future and some view it as too selective and like the Chinese model of predetermining what a child should become someday. Is there an answer for everything?

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Dr. Jane Bluestein May 4, 2013 at 5:50 pm

David, hi. Excellent questions. I don’t know the current Texas mandates, though I understand that they have not adopted the Common Core State Standards (which I’m still pretty wary of but which, I’m told, in the right hands could answer some of these questions. I’m still exploring this new venture.) I also like offering kids opportunities to grow in a variety of areas and yes, pushing them beyond their comfort zone.

I think the whole point of this piece was to question the “assembly line” approach to education that tries to shape every child into the same mold. (That this was originally written some 70+ years ago and is still so relevant today is probably the piece that fascinates me the most.) I’m also concerned about building educational goals around high stakes test results, as this is such an incredibly limited way of assessing kids, teachers, and learning. And I’m not much of a fan of predetermining a child’s future based on anything, as interests and skills develop over the course of a lifetime.

I do know teachers who were willing to start with the child, teaching and coaching, pushing and encouraging growth from the skills and interests that child brings to the table, and opening doors for exploration and expression in new and different areas. This takes a fairly remarkable amount of skill, maybe a bit of “teacher intuition,” and the willingness to look beyond “getting through what’s on page 52.” And I doubt that this kind of teaching can happen in an environment that prescribes and predetermines the lesson-for-the-day, regardless of who is in the classroom and what those individual children need or how they learn. We have a good way to go to move beyond where we are right now and I can only hope that schools one day become a place where these learning goals can be met.

I so appreciate your writing. Trust that many of us have been struggling with these issues throughout our entire career. —Jane

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Madhu Dwivedi February 19, 2014 at 5:13 pm

I like the way the animals were challenged in different directions and were successful in mastering them and not doing the things we already know, over and over again. What is still bothering me like that little duck is that we should not reach a point where we lose our existing skills on mastering new ones.

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Dr. Jane Bluestein February 20, 2014 at 10:04 am

I certainly agree with challenging students to go beyond their current mastery and try new things. And I think the example of the duck illustrates (in a sad way) a possible outcome of having the same exact expectations for every student. Thank you for writing.

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