In 1986 I found an old version of "Animal School" by Dr G Reavis, (Director of Cincinnati Schools 1939-48) I just had to update it. My first update was in 1987, my next was in 2002 – I thought it was due another ....
Once upon a time, the new political animals decided they must do something heroic about the state of the younger animals who were unoccupied, showing signs of discontent, hindering the productive lives of their parents and generally hanging around in field corners. They were just not progressing! Furthermore, some of the far-seeing animal politicians saw a new world fast approaching. So they organised an Academy.
First, they had to design a curriculum so they took advice from the brightest and best by forming a committee. This comprised a cheetah, a monkey, a shark and a swallow, all experts at what they were expert at. This curriculum committee booked a hotel, worked very hard, drank some wine and finally made its recommendations. The politicians accepted the committee's arguments, so ably put with the use of presentations, slide displays and models of real animals. The cheetah argued for running, after all it had made him what he was, the monkey championed climbing because she was good at it, the shark swimming - he couldn’t get out of the water and do anything else and the swallow flying, ‘what else?’ I hear you say. Soon the national, animal, activity curriculum was adopted. This consisting of four subjects: running, climbing, swimming and flying. To make it easier to administer, all animals were expected to take all four subjects in the academy – called the Baccalaureate. This was also the cheapest option.
The swan was excellent at swimming, in fact better than the instructor (an overweight carp) he was good at flying, hit and miss at climbing but very poor at running. Because the swan was so slow at running, he was withdrawn from swimming and given extra running, often receiving large amounts of running homework. This was kept up for several weeks until the swan’s feet were badly worn, rendering him only average at swimming. Whilst average had once meant satisfactory it was now labelled "requires improvement" and so the swan felt a keen sense of failure.
The deer started at the top of the class in running but struggled with swimming and so regularly played truant from swimming lessons, preferring to climb high in the hills. She would stare, fascinated at the clouds, for hours and dream of flying. She never flew.
The squirrel was outstanding at climbing, good at swimming, satisfactory at running but developed great frustration in the flying class where his teacher made him start from the ground up instead of from the tree top down. He was assessed as weak but working towards flying. The squirrel took this as a challenge, developed a hernia from over-exertion and, as a consequence, dropped marks in climbing, running and swimming.
The eagle was a problem child, with significant emotional and behavioural difficulties and received severe disciplinary sanctions including exclusion. He always beat the others to the top of the tree in climbing class, but insisted on using his own methods. He made too many splashes in swimming with his friend the osprey, refused to run and soared out of reach in the flying class. Incidentally, flying was taught by a large, enthusiastic ostrich who had a double first in the theory of flying and entertained her pupils by describing the wonderful flights she had made, in the olden days. She had been appointed because she was a strong disciplinarian, could substitute for the tired teachers of running and had an ability to play the piano.
At the end of the first year, a large frog received the best overall assessment results. She could swim exceedingly well, run, climb and fly (some argued it was actually a long leap but she did "move through the air with purpose"). She was top of the class.
The first animal academy with this new curriculum became famous. The head animal received a medal and many copied its approaches and the curriculum. But the system was not a complete success. The moles kept their children out of school and refused to pay the educational taxes because the governors would not add digging and burrowing to the curriculum. They were strong believers in a holistic education and so apprenticed their children to a badger, who ran a mining business. Later they joined up with the rabbits and lemmings to start a successful fee paying private gold mine.
Eventually, each of the animal academies became so similar that many animals refused to go. Then another group of politicians struck a public-private partnership deal with humans to finance some Star Animal Academies. There could only be a few of these very special schools, but ‘what to call them?’ They could not be called academies – that was not special, or different enough any more. Eventually they decided to call them “Zoos”, some sort of acronym. This name was so different it created lots of interest. Visitors, from all over the world went to view the animals in the new Zoos. They arrived so excited at the prospect of seeing the new products of the newest of education systems but when they looked, they became silent. What they were seeing didn’t seem quite right….there was something wrong…. the animals just paced up and down and never made a noise…..there was something almost unnatural about the way they behaved……
On seeing this one of the most enlightened of the new politicians looked for inspiration in one of the few libraries left. There he found a dusty old book which described an educational organisation called a State School, run by a Local Education Authority. He could remember what authority meant and so he read on, slowly realising he had discovered a new and exciting idea for another educational system. So, he stuffed the old book deep into his pocket, found the biggest soap box he could find, jumped on it and called out, "Hey, listen, gather round I have this great new idea for education!" He was almost, but not quite, silenced by the rumbling sound of an approaching band wagon..