Wednesday, May 23, 2007

On Rabbits & Frogs

A few weeks ago I made reference to the fact that asking my students to suspend belief for the unbelievably interminable period of 15 minutes and actually use their imaginations in an 'outside the Moroccan/Muslim box' (yes, I know that the expression is both loathsome and passé) activity was a lesson in futility and frustration of Biblical proportions. Equally annoying is preparing a lesson with full knowledge that it'll go nowhere fast, that it's guaranteed to fail, that it's going to bomb. Most times I don't go ahead with these lessons and scrap them. But in those rare moments of boundless optimism, when I hold out hope that there will be one student who can see beyond the borders of his/her country and religion - not to agree necessarily but just to acknowledge that other points of view exist and are valid - I go ahead with them.

Last week it was animal rights.

I asked my adult students to list what rights people should have. I filled a white board with their responses - although eerily, no one raised the issue of children's rights. Then I asked them what rights animals should have. They wrote down nothing. Teacher, why should animals have rights?

Undaunted, I had them consider a short passage on animal testing. Now for the most part, I could've scripted the entire class before I walked through the door; in fact, I did. Nor was I disappointed. Except I was actually. I was disappointed not in the predictability of their responses (it says in the Qu'ran that animals serve mankind) but in the fact that there wasn't one voice of dissension. Well, that's not entirely true: one student said that the Chinese shouldn't eat dogs (our discussion had meandered slightly) because she has two shitzus at home. I told her that China is increasing its testing on non-human primates because it's cheap and because regulations governing the welfare of
animals are non-existent are lax there. This is now attracting Western companies who are tired of squirming under the pressure exerted by animal-rights groups. Nonplussed, my student responded that primates should definitely be used for animal testing. How high up the evolutionary chain? Old World or New World? All of them. Gorillas too. How long should they be subjected to the drugs injected into them? Until they are dead.

Undaunted, I passed around a photo of a line of rabbits restrained in a holding device as a technician dropped their daily - or hourly, who knows - dosage of poison into their eyes. Fifty percent of these rabbits will break their necks in an effort to escape their pain, I tell them - somewhat skewing the results of the tests. What do you see when you look at this photo? I asked. My most hip and urbane student shook his head and said, Nothing. I feel nothing.

Undaunted, I asked, what if I told you that some of the testing can be replicated with computers, and that in some cases old science can be used for new science? That many test animals are far from accurate models of the human body? I mention the green light given to Thalidomide. If given the opportunity to buy 2 comparable products at the same price, knowing that one was tested on animals and one wasn't, would you buy the animal-friendly one? Would you take the time to read the label? The answer was unanimous: the product tested on animals is better because it's safer. How can you trust a shampoo that hasn't blinded a vertebrate?

At this point in the discussion, a glimmer of hope, a ray of sunshine penetrated the bunny-bloodlust of the class. Teacher, said one student, I couldn't dissect my frog in biology class. Finally! The class sniggered at her cowardice. My ape-hating dog-lover thumped her desk with her hand and announced, I won the prize that year! What prize? I asked - not too certain that I wanted to know t
he answer. I brought in 2 frogs! The class murmurred and nodded in acknowledgement of her accomplishment. What do you mean you brought in 2 frogs? My class went on to tell me that high school students were obliged to bring in their own frogs for dissection and that a prize was given to the student who brought in the most frogs or the best specimen. I tried to envision hoards of students descending to Rabat's rivers and ponds, empty Nutella jars in hand.

My student, now in her mid-30's beamed with pride as I was further enlightened on the process. So they were alive when you peeled back their skin, poked and prodd
ed? They looked at me with complete disdain, as if my idea of science was conversing with my husband using two tin cans and a length of string. How else can you test its nervous system? Alright, so you use anaesthetic? Yes teacher (more disdain). So how do they die? We cut their spinal nerves.

Wanting to leave the frogs where they were (primarily in
Rabat's rivers and ponds), I wrote on the board a little scribbling attributed to the Prophet Mohammed (the PM), If you must kill, kill without torture. I added that the PM also forbade his followers from caging animals, branding, beating and mistreating them, capturing baby birds, and burning ant hills. Teacher, my students tried to reason with me (in a tone that clearly indicated that they thought I was a retard), they're just animals! How I love selective religiosity.


Blogger knarf said...

I'll say one thing about China: At least they're consistent, as there are pretty much no human rights there, either...


4:10 p.m.  
Anonymous Liosliath said...

I have to give you props for trying, at least. I think I would have descended into a fit of gibbering rage.

4:23 p.m.  
Blogger knarf said...

BTW, C in R, I must confess to being just a bit miffed that you couldn't find a WB cartoon reference to Frogs and Rabbits...

"Hello my sugar, hello my baby..."

4:33 p.m.  
Blogger taamarbuuta said...


I almost died laughing, I know exactly what you're talking about. I have a non-Moroccan adult student, actually, who is in a class of teenagers (just how the scheduling worked out). Some of the younger students were gushing about kitties or rabbits, and he says "I like rabbit. I like it in the refrigerator." It was kind of shocking for this little nerdy class.

Better yet, my wonderful husband is trying to get people in Morocco to wear blue on May 27th to defend the whales. I can't imagine how that's going to go.

7:48 p.m.  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

Knarf: that wasn't so much an oversight as an inability to find a graphic of Bugs and the Singing Frog together.

Liosliath: that's why I drink.

Tar: May 27th? Is it International Whale Day?

9:04 p.m.  

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