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When an Issue Hits Close to Home

When HEART educator Chris Parrucci learned that Ringling Brothers Circus was coming to town, he thought it would be a great opportunity to teach a lesson on captive elephants.
For many children, seeing an elephant up close and doing tricks sounds like a dream come true, but upon further investigation, they discover that an elephant in a traveling circus doesn’t have the kind of life one would hope for. Between often cruel training techniques and limited space to move around, a circus is just about the furthest thing from an elephant’s natural habitat one can imagine. With that new knowledge, suddenly a circus that uses exotic captive wildlife doesn’t seem like such an amazing spectacle.
A lesson on the subject would have worked whether the circus was in town or not, but the fact that these elephants were entering the same city in which in the kids reside made the issue just a little more real.
As humane educators, we’re often talking about issues that are out of sight, and, many times, across the world. Maybe the topic is endangered species or deforestation of the rainforest. Perhaps it’s sweatshops in China. Of course, we can talk about how rainforest wood ends up all around us or how the clothes we buy might have been made in a sweatshop if we’re not careful, and kids make that connection. But if an educator notices a news story that shows a sweatshop was discovered in his or her city or a local pet store is selling puppy mill dogs, it’s worth considering taking that topic into the classroom. The fact that it’s not just an issue taking place in some far away land, but right here at home, will change the discussion and make the topic more personal.
Chris Parrucci said about his classroom experience, “Recently I found out that Ringling Bros. Circus was coming to New York City. As New Yorkers and their families geared up to take in some ‘family entertainment,’ I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to pull back the curtain to the Big Top and expose my students to some of the hidden harms and misery faced by circus elephants, which over the next several days would be happening essentially in their backyards.  Though another lesson was scheduled, as a class we instead compared and contrasted the lives of elephants living in their natural environment with those living in captivity. After learning about elephant intelligence and their complex social and emotional lives, students were heartbroken to find out about the types of conditions elephants have to endure while living in captivity. The students came away from the lesson with not only a new appreciation for elephants, but also a determination to educate others about the unnecessary cruelty inherent in forcing wild animals, such as elephants, to perform in traveling circuses.”

1 thought on “When an Issue Hits Close to Home”

  1. How very smart of that educator to teach a child from the actuality of cruelty to animals by witnessing it vs reading about it and doubting whether it is true. We need more educators like that.

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