Thursday, January 27, 2005

How much fun can we take out of school?

The Madison School Board will vote on Monday whether to allow or ban classroom pets.

In 1992, when our eldest was a fifth grader at Glendale, one of the teachers, Mr. Licht, brought his hobby farm into the classroom. Many of the students were refugees from Chicago, Milwaukee, and Detroit who had never seen live rabbits and ducks. Mr. Licht also had a 40 gallon pond life aquarium and a corn snake. The corn snake had an adventure; it escaped. #2 daughter, then a first grader, found the snake in her classroom and she and her sister returned the snake to its proper place. Glendale sits on the edge of a small forest preserve, and the teachers took kids out for nature hikes at every opportunity. They found "pill clams" in May in the pond; went birdwatching, studied the Indian mounds on the drumlin.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Licht won a stack of science teaching awards. He made a strong impression on city kids who needed to see nature up close. Our eldest became fascinated with the rabbits in Mr. Licht's class, earned a rabbit, and brought "Carrot Muncher" home. Carrot Muncher won Reserve Champion Pet Rabbit at the Dane Co. Fair of 1996.

Madison School Board is looking at the pet ban because of allergies and children who are afraid of animals. We know about allergies; #2 daughter developed an allergy to rabbit feed and we had to keep our rabbits outside. Our daughter now keeps two reptiles, which we received from owners who didn't know how to care for them: Fluffy the cantankerous corn snake and Leon the turtle. Quite hypoallergenic they are, and so long as we keep them clean and well doctored, and wash our hands, we should have no health problems from them.

People who are afraid of animals benefit from finding a way to accept one animal. A letter in today's paper describes a little girl who, though terrified of dogs, was willing to meet and accept a service dog in her classroom and benefitted from the experience. Something similar happened in our family. #2 son is mortally terrified of dogs,having witnessed an attack on one of the family rabbits by a stray; but even he was willing to accept a particular dog, a big black Lab with Walla Walla tags who dropped a stick at our son's feet on the shores of Whitefish Lake. Our cousin told our son to throw the stick in the lake. 90 minutes later, a very wet dog reluctantly went home with his stick when we left for lunch; and our son had at least one good experience with a dog. Why "protect" kids from something that can make them grow?

What this ban appears to say is, "How can we make the learning environment so perfectly safe that nobody needs to grow and learn?" I am reminded of an old commercial for allergy medicine, in which a boy is sitting dejected on his porch, tossing a ball into a baseball mitt he can't use, because he has allergies and isn't supposed to be out playing. A grating voice yodels from offstage, "Harold, I hope you're not doing anything!" Every attempt to sterilize and sanitize our schools makes the learning experience so much more drudgery.--mrs. james

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