It’s wonderful how much inspiration we get from nature again and again.
Finding nature all around us…
Post-Thanksgiving, we took a nice short walk at Point Pinole, a small local park with gorgeous views. I’ve grown up in the area for over 25 years but had never been here previously. What a nice find!
The story of the tiger mauling at the SF Zoo continues to become more complex and to bring up deep issues of environmental and informal education. Much of the discussion still centers around safety standards (the height of the moat wall for example) and the ethics of keeping wild animals in cages (see summary of reader comments and letters to the editor on sfgate).
However, with the recent information regarding the victims and potential taunting of the tiger, it seems to me that some attention should be paid to how we portray animals in the media, edutainment, and informal science institutions. It has long been known that abuse of animals is a potential warning sign for emotional and mental disturbance and groups like the SPCA have contributed to increased awareness for treating animals kindly.
But one wonders whether the branding of dangerous animals and “extreme killers” may in fact contribute to a different mindset for wild animals. There are a number of reasons that we might feature the dangerous nature of these animals–for marketing, as a hook for learning, and as a common denominator to engage diverse audiences.
I have no answers and I don’t want to make this a melodramatic analysis of science education but a story as big as this should make one think.
The news of the visitor death at the hands of a zoo tiger has brought to the fore the debate about animals in captivity and their educational value. While the SF Zoo will undoubtedly face some trepidation from visitors even after they reopen the doors, the good news is that the Oakland Zoo experienced good attendance today (see sfgate story here). I’m sure some of it was some dark fascination but maybe it inspired some curiosity and awe for these incredible animals.
But the debate about the balance of animal freedom versus the benefit of public education will never end.
On the one hand, Big Foot and cryptozoology are clearly topics in the realm of pseudo-science. The likelikhood that a large animal much less a human-like animal could still be in Michigan is so very very small that it cannot be considered seriously.
But on the other hand, the hope of discovering new life forms is much alive among true scientists. In fact, new species are being described by systematic biologists every single day. The study of what these organisms are, what they are related to, and what they tell us about the tree of life does continue. New species may provide clues to our evolutionary history, or provide medicinal value, or just keep reminding us that there is still much about the natural world left for us to discover.
there is not just one way to teach kids whether they are boys OR girls! We need to employ different ways to engage kids and by diversifying our teaching styles, we can appeal to individuals irregardless of gender, culture, ethnicity, class, language, and age. In a science museum, the visitor experience is the focus and we can meet the challenge of science education unconstrained by classroom logistics and school standards–this poses a different set of constraints of course, but together with formal education venues, we can engage the next generation using a diversity of tools in our arsenal.
Just to demonstrate that other fans (who aren’t paleontologists I’m assuming) also liked the dinosaurs at the concert!
(Unrelated to science or education, I thought The Police sounded great but some of the reworked songs paled in comparison to the originals. I do respect their desire to refresh their classics and challenge their musical talents. The encores were the best part of the show!)
Originally uploaded on Flickr by penmachine
I attended The Police concert in Oakland, California, June 13, 2007. But even here, there were reminders of science learning because lo and behold, during their song “Walking in your footsteps,” animated dinosaurs were on the giant video screens!
(So now you know that the title of this blog is not referring to Sting, Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers nor is it referring to the age of the audience!)
Originally uploaded on Flickr by CouzinHub