Outdoor learning has suddenly got ugly! Yesterday I found this article about Marcus the Lamb whose fate caused uproar in a Kent School. It has resulted in the resignation of an inspirational head teacher.
Last year, the school undertook a practical project that involved rearing three lambs. When the male lamb came of age, the Pupil Council and the school’s Board of Governors were consulted and voted overwhelmingly in favour of Marcus the Lamb being slaughtered. The enterprising plan was to raffle the meat as a fundraiser.
However a minority of parents, children and some animal rights campaigners were seriously offended. A Facebook and publicity campaign ensued. One parent claimed her child needed counselling to help her overcome the trauma of Marcus’s death. Even the celebrity, Paul O’Grady joined the campaign. He purportedly offered to look after Marcus to save him from getting the chop!
What intrigues me is that rearing an animal and getting is slaughtered is not a new venture. Many schools keep animals. One Primary 5 class in a local school bid for a sheep in an auction. They paid a farmer to look after it and got it sold at another auction later on in the year – for meat!
The outdoor centre where I worked in the mid-Nineties had farm animals. The visiting children had to undertake jobs such as feeding and mucking out their stalls as part of their duties. Every Wednesday night, the children ate burgers that came from the cow which had been slaughtered the year before. All the eggs came from the 30 hens. When an audit of the outdoor activities was undertaken to the Ontario curriculum, farming activities covered more learning outcomes than any other activity. I strongly suspect that we would find the same here in Scotland with our Curriculum for Excellence.
Today I had an interesting discussion with a Primary 3 class on this matter. One child lives on a farm and helps his dad with all the livestock. He can recognize every sheep and cow on the farm and has names for all of them. He is perfectly matter-of-fact about the fate of these creatures. He knows and likes them and understands what happens and why.
Many of his classmates were aghast. They did not know that farm animals are raised and killed for food. This is not unusual. According to the Royal Highland Educational Trust, the vast majority of the population don’t realise that the animals in the fields are only there because they are a source of food. Our detachment from our land is strong. We have become a fluffy bunny society with a Disney-esque perception of animals.
Other countries adopt a more pragmatic approach. Outdoor pre-schools regularly go fishing in Norway. In Denmark, chickens are reared by Danish pre-schools and slaughtered in front of the children. There is no counselling organised after such an event and Danish society does not appear to be suffering as a consequence of offering this education experience to its children.
So, what are the implications of Marcus, the silenced lamb, for British schools? My Facebook and Twitter friends did come up with a few suggestions, one being that any school looking after lambs should grow mint too!
Whatever happens I hope that schools and children who wish to rear animals feel they are able to do so without fear of reprisals. Looking after animals, including making responsible decisions about the fate of animals in their care brings home the practical and ethical issues of one aspect of our society and lifestyle choices. Without this, we are in danger of further isolating children from every day reality of their existence.