The Animal School

The animals got together in the forest one day and decided to start a school. There was a rabbit, a bird, a squirrel, a fish and an eel, and they formed a Board of Education. The rabbit insisted that running be in the curriculum. The bird insisted that flying be in the curriculum. The fish insisted that swimming be in the curriculum, and the squirrel insisted that perpendicular tree climbing be in the curriculum. They put all of these things together and then wrote a Curriculum Guide. Then they insisted that all the animals take all of the subjects. Although the rabbit was getting an A in running, perpendicular tree climbing was a real problem for him; he kept falling over backwards. Pretty soon he got to be sort of brain damaged, and he couldn’t run anymore. He found that instead of making an A in running, he was making a C and, of course, he had always made an F in perpendicular climbing. The bird was really beautiful at flying, but when it came to burrowing in the ground, he couldn’t do so well. He kept breaking his beak and wings. Pretty soon he was making a C in flying as well as an F in burrowing, and he had a helluva time with perpendicular tree climbing. The moral of the story is that the person who was valedictorian of the class was a mentally retarded eel who did everything in a half-way fashion. But the educators were all happy because everybody was taking all of the subjects, and it was called a broad-based education…. we are really trying to make everybody the same as everybody else.

Leo Buscaglia, Love (Charles B. Slack, 1972)

I remember what an impression “The Animal School” parable made when my parents first showed it to me back when I was in junior or senior high. At that time I walked to the principal’s office every quarter to have my name removed from the honor roll, to ensure that I wasn’t uncritically buying into values more appropriate to some other kind of animal. The story has lost none of its meaning now. No one benefits from cookie-cutter thinking, which is demoralizing and ultimately dehumanizing. This is one of the reasons we homeschool, and one of the motivations that I suspect led to Hannah’s graduation earlier this month in Multi-Disciplinary Studies. Indeed, one of the unexpected pleasant surprises of attending her convocation was seeing for myself the very large number of students who were graduating this year in OU’s MDS program. Life sure is a lot more interesting when people aren’t preoccupied with conforming to others’ expectations. Rabbits running, squirrels climbing, birds flying – as we unleash each other to live creatively and true to their own callings, there’s no foretelling what wonderful changes might be afoot! Education is really about life, and life is about loving.

Leo Buscaglia, Love (1972)

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