Respect at the School Zoo: Educational Implications of Students' Encounters with Confined Animals

Tsovel, Ariel. "Respect at the School Zoo: Educational Implications of Students' Encounters with Confined Animals." Dvarim 12 (October 2019): 247-265. (Hebrew full article)

Educational enterprises frequently initiate encounters with confined animals: at school zoos, as classroom pets, during public zoo visits, and in animal experiments and dissections. This paper presents a critical review of the sources presenting such activities. According to this review, proponents of such activities claim that they teach emotional and cognitive skills, including respect. In this context, "respect" means a willful obligation to promote the existence, welfare, or autonomy of various objects.

Despite the claims made by proponents of educational encounters with captive animals, students are often allowed to behave disrespectfully towards actual animals. As long as an educational project is based on impairing the autonomy and welfare of specific animals, and sometimes also jeopardize their very existence, the confined animals whom the students meet are excluded from the objects of respect. According to this paper, the manifest legitimization of disrespect is rationalized by promising to enhance respect towards distant and unspecific objects, such as animals in general, nature, life and man. Empirical studies held in schools and in zoos claim that this promise is fulfilled. Nevertheless, this paper argues that such studies are deeply biased: they focus on educational benefits without considering educational damage, and without presenting any plausible criteria for success and failure of the educational operation.

In conclusion, enhancing respect towards distant and unspecific objects remains a questionable hypothesis. However, a highly probable result of encountering confined animals is nurturing disrespect towards them.