Where Do Values About Animals Lie for Fourth Graders?

Where Do Values About Animals Lie for Fourth Graders?

By: Staff  Date: 02/14/1997 Category: | Animal Legislation | Animals in Education & Entertainment | Research Reports |

From the beginning, NAIA has been about values.

NAIA supporters value human life, human health, and the development of uplifting human potential. And while they recognize the predominant role of humans in the natural world, they value the well-being of animals, the preservation of animal species, and the active protection of animals from inhumane treatment.

NAIA supporters value the rule of law and the active resistance against all who attempt to destroy others through illegal and unethical means.

Against this backdrop of values, I'd like to share with you my experience in challenging fourth and fifth grade students to explore their own values about people and animals. The experiences were eye-opening and point to a great deal of work that must be done to shape the values of the rising generation.

During the 1980s, I served as community information director for Multnomah County Animal Control in Oregon. Frequently I was invited to speak to students in school classrooms. I found that by the time most students were into fourth grade, they were intellectually mature enough to sort out some fairly abstract concepts from purely emotional responses. I used the excellent values chart present in an issue of Community Animal Control as a discussion format.

The chart is a continuum line. At the far left, statements that reflect values that place humans as absolute masters over all animal species with no responsibility toward any animal and the right to subject animals to any degree of suffering and wanton killing depending on the human's pleasure and will.

At the far right, statements reflect values that place animals on a par with humans. That is, any animal has rights equal to any human's life. Any animal life is as valuable and worthwhile as human life. Humans have no right to exploit animals in any way. Pet ownership, animal husbandry, hunting, fishing, etc. are all immoral. All humans must be vegans.

All other values fall somewhere along the continuum between these opposing absolute points.

After making sure the students understood the concept of a continuum. I would describe a variety of human-animal relationships and then ask students to indicate where their values lie on each relationship.

First, I described the Draize testing of rabbits for cosmetic purposes. I then asked whether a person's vanity justified subjecting rabbits to the testing protocol. Almost without exception, the students saw no justification when vanity squared off against an animal's suffering.

Next I described the testing of various substances on laboratory animals that eventually led to the virtual elimination of formerly widespread crippling and fatal diseases. For most students, the benefits to humans - especially children- from such testing seemed to justify laboratory animals' suffering, but the students felt uncomfortable about the need for animal testing to achieve those benefits.

Clearly we had moved from something that was pretty black-and-white to the students to something that was at least light gray.

To refine where their values on animal testing were, I personalized the testing on laboratory animals.

"What if your mother (or father or a sibling) became very ill and would die in six months unless a surgeon mastered a new delicate technique on dogs so he could save her life, and some of the dogs would suffer and die in the process?"

Well, under this scenario, their values shifted to strongly favoring animal testing.

It was then time to help the students more precisely pinpoint where their values fell on the continuum. I next asked, "Do you know what AIDS is?" They assured me that they did.

"What if a new medicine held great promise for a cure of AIDS but it needed to be tested on laboratory animals and some of the animals would most likely suffer and die. Would testing to cure people of AIDS be justified?"

I wasn't prepared for the overwhelming response of these fourth and fifth graders.

"No," they said. "People with AIDS brought it on themselves, so let them suffer."

I pursued their response. "Are you saying that testing animals for the effectiveness of a new drug to cure the AIDS of, let's say, a drug addict who borrowed a used needle contaminated with the AIDS virus is not justified?"

There was an emphatic "Yes!"

"Did the drug addict do a stupid thing?"

Again, "Yes!"

"So he should suffer and die because of doing a stupid thing?"

Still, "Yes!"

"Hmmm. Let's see. Everyone who has never done a stupid thing, please raise your hand."

No hands went up.

"So each of you should always suffer for the stupid things you do, no matter how severe the suffering might be - even if it ends in death?"


They were struggling to sort out the relationship between "black and white" and "stupid things." Slowly they verbalized their thinking, which went something like, "Well, no one gets really hurt much by the stupid things we do, but the addicts know they're doing something dangerous."

"But," I countered, "no matter the degree of danger it causes, stupid is stupid. When you do something stupid, wouldn't you like a second chance to change things"

They agreed they would.

"What about drug addicts? Should they get a second chance?"

Mixed response. One popular view that emerged was that animal testing should not be used in this case and maybe drug addicts would volunteer to be tested.

One bright student observed that "Drug addicts don't really change. They'll go back to drugs and eventually kill themselves. So why cause animals to suffer for them?"

The classroom sessions lasted two consecutive periods. Room parents and teachers were enthusiastic about the experiences the students had just gone through. They had never seen children in a group struggle within themselves and with each other over values.

We never resolved the values issue about drug addicts, but that wasn't the purpose. The purpose was to get students to look at their own values critically.

Each student was given a handout sheet to take home. The sheet covered the main issues the students had considered in the classroom and then encouraged family members to explore their own values regarding animals and our relationship to them.

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All Authors Of This Article: | Phil Clifford |
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