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5th Graders Give Animals Their Day in Court

On May 1st students at P.S. 36 became champions for chimpanzees, elephants and dolphins. In front of a guest judge (our own Chris Parrucci), the 5th graders presented their case on why nonhuman animals deserve to have rights.
Inspired by The NonHuman Rights Project, an organization that has made international headlines recently for its work to obtain legal rights for chimpanzees, the students used their role playing skills to take on the persona of one of the three species to convince the visiting judge that animals deserve a better quality of life than many are currently given.
For weeks the students researched their chosen species and looked at emotions, behaviors, habitats, familial bonds, how they are treated and what people are doing to try to help them. They looked into issues like poaching, animals in captivity, and habitat destruction and came up with arguments on why animals deserve better. They also designed masks so that when they made their presentation, they could show that they were a dolphin, chimpanzee or elephant.
Some arguments included:

  • The strong emotional lives of animals. Students pointed out that they feel the same emotions that humans feel.
  • They deserve to have lives without pain brought on by humans.
  • Wild animals do not want to live in captivity.
  • They need a place to live, and should therefore have their habitats protected.

One child said, “A lot of people think animals are really different. There are more things that people share with animals than people imagine. It’s silly that we get rights and they don’t.”
Judge for the day, and humane educator, Chris Parrucci, used his law background to carefully listen to the cases being made. He said about the students’ work, “I was impressed with how much research they did, how thoughtful they were and when I asked them questions they were very prepared to answer those questions. It was obvious they were doing a lot of critical thinking as well as showing empathy which is an amazing combination.” He continued, “It was very heartening to see just how the kids were really on board. There was no question that these animals deserved rights. The question was when they were going to get rights.”
HEART educator Jeannie Russell worked with the students for weeks to prepare for their day in imaginary court. The exercise enabled kids to really think about the ways in which we treat animals, and how we could do things differently. One student, who had taken on the character of a dolphin, said, “If dolphins did to humans what humans do to dolphins, then humans would be very upset.” When considering the ethics of any given situation, allowing yourself to walk in someone else’s shoes, even if it’s only pretend, can make all the difference in the world. These students did a fantastic job. We hope the real judges who hear the cases made by the real NonHuman Rights Project will be as compassionate as Chris.
Photo Credits: John K, Marv Gillibrand, Tambako the Jaguar (Flickr)

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