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. This book is currently available from through Amazon.

© 2001, 2012, 2022, Dr. Jane Bluestein

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

Related links:

Conditions with ADHD “Look-Alike” Symptoms
Some Kids (Really Do) Study Better When…

Book: Creating Emotionally Safe Schools
Book: The Win-Win Classroom

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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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22 thoughts on “The Animal School

  1. 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?

  2. 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

  3. 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.

    1. 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.

  4. “The Fable” is a great communicative tool, use of story, to demonstrate the need for perspective change. While it is easier to teach to the middle “to make it easier to administer the curriculum”, we all complain about the consequences: students are simple-minded, apathetic, resort to cheating, and retain little. My nature too is to first complain as I already put pressure on myself to achieve results, and “another” “new” approach equals more work. Yet, I eventually pull myself together and put on my big girl pants. If I want success for my students, I cannot change them, I must start with changing myself. Likewise, students may balk, especially the ones who have perfected “the system” with success. They will thank us later because in recent history, those same students are finding “the system” does not translate into success in college, career, or even relationships for that matter. We cannot keep ignoring the research-what we already know to be true: some of our most innovative minds are becoming discipline problems “disciplined severely…for using his own way”, our most industrious students off campus are giving up on higher education “had a nervous breakdown”, and our strong and steady are settling on the plan set before them “average was acceptable”, rather than defining their own dreams. Why is the American educational system is no longer an example of the best. It has become an example of what can happen when we do not keep up with the times. Our business, so to speak, has become bankrupt and irrelevant; regardless of our good intentions: [They must do something heroic to meet the problems of a “new world” so they organized a school.]
    Yes, “The Fable” has a moral, which is that a one-size fits all mentality for educating, does not produce authentic outcomes that last. Fair is not always equal (as in the same) or best.

    1. I completely agree. (Preachin’ to the choir, as they say.) Even veteran teachers in some settings are being written up for attempts to accommodate different students. Follow the money and I think you’ll find why we’re still set up to teach for a 1950 economy. Very sad.

      1. जानावरों की पाठशाला हमे बेहद अच्छा लगा और उससे हमे ग्या मिली की सभी बच्चो मे कुछ न कुछ करने की क्षमता होती है जीसे हमे परखने की जरुरत है।

        1. बिल्कुल सही. (Google Translate)

  5. Nice concept,,,,,,it is adaptable by specializing on areas of strength,,,,

  6. Very good lesson for students and also for students

  7. Perhaps we are missing the basic idea –
    A duck is born a duck and always will be a duck! – please don’t compare apples and oranges – a human mind is very special, with the capacity to create great things, and do great work. Education is a building block and it should be viewed/treated as such. We learn the alphabet before we learn how to read, we learn the numbers before we learn how to add or subtract, and this process continues throughout life. A child is born with a clean slate. He/she learns from the environment and from who is around. The child absorbs in everything, and from trial and error, he/she becomes better if encouragement is given, otherwise, failure can set in. the initial learning is somewhat of an assembly line maybe there is some truth to that – we all need to learn the alphabet, the numbers, the shapes, learn how to be respectful, courteous, morally upright individuals, etc. We cannot pigeonhole the children by saying “oh he is a visual learner, let’s put him in front of the TV” there goes any chance for this child to become active or learn any supports! or be active in life. we have lost and are losing many great skills, one that comes to mind is penmanship, people used to work hard on getting the penmanship right, and took pride in it, now that is gone, soon typing will be gone, as speech-to-text becomes more prevalent.
    The question we need to ask, what pigeonholes are we creating for our generations to come.

    1. I don’t think there is anything in this story (or on this site) that suggests limiting children in any way. I agree with the “building” concept you mentioned. My concern has always been about assessing my ability to be a “duck” or any other being. Thank you for your thoughts.

  8. Very fine

  9. बहुत अच्छी कहानी है और बिल्कुल प्रसांगिक है।जो बच्चा जिस क्षेत्र में आगे है,उस बच्चे को उसी क्षेत्र में आगे बढ़ाने का प्रयास किया जाना चाहिए।

  10. बहुत अच्छी कहानी है और बिल्कुल प्रासंगिक है। जो बच्चा जिस क्षेत्र में आगे है उस बच्चे को उसी क्षेत्र में आगे बढ़ाने का प्रयास किया जाना चाहिए। बच्चे की रुचि और उससे संबंधित अधिगम क्षेत्र में उसके दक्षता को प्रोत्साहित किया जाना चाहिए।

    1. Based on the translations I have found, I agree wholeheartedly with your comments. Thank you very much.

  11. बहुत अच्छी प्रेरणादायक कहानी है। विद्यालय में पढ़ने वाले छात्र छात्राएं कुछ विधवाे मैं अच्छी दक्षता रखते हैं, हमें उन बच्चों को उन क्षेत्रों में तो आगे बढ़ाना ही चाहिए साथ साथ अन्य समुचित विधाओं की ओर भी ध्यान देना चाहिए। यह ध्यान रखना आवश्यक है कि बच्चा जिस क्षेत्र में अधिक दक्ष है, वह प्रभावित ना हो।

  12. बहुत अच्छी प्रेरणादायक कहानी है। विद्यालय के संदर्भ में यह बहुत प्रासंगिक है, विद्यालय में पढ़ने वाले बच्चे कुछ विधाओं में अधिक दक्ष होते हैं। बच्चे जिस क्षेत्र में अधिक दक्ष होते हैं उसे उस दिशा में आगे बढ़ने का पूरा अवसर दिया जाना चाहिए, साथ ही साथ अन्य समुचित विधाओं की ओर भी ध्यान दिया जाना चाहिए। यह ध्यान देना आवश्यक है कि बच्चा जिस क्षेत्र में अधिक दक्ष है ,वह प्रभावित ना हो।

    1. Thank you. So nice to see comments in other languages! It’s been the goal of this site, since I started it in 1997, to reach as wide an audience as possible. I am so glad you found us! PS. Have you seen this resource? Please check it out and let me know what you think. https://janebluestein.com/2012/hindi-pads-on-the-back-template/

  13. Very good concept.it is a lesson for us how to teach students with their abilities.

    1. It’s really common sense, isn’t it? Start with the student and build on strengths. We’re not all the same in our interests or abilities. Demanding the same performance and achievement has never made sense to me. Thank you very much.

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