This image of a wolf was drawn by Troy, a student of Marc Bekoff at the Boulder, Colo., county jail.
Topics we actively discuss include general aspects of animal behavior, the evolution of social behavior, evolution and creationism, biology and religion, sustainability, extinction, animal protection and environmental ethics, eugenics, environmental enrichment, balance in nature, complex webs of nature, cultural views of animals, and people. We are in the grand scheme of things - anthropocentric influences on animals and the environment. Our exchanges rival those that I've had at university classes.
Many of the students see the class as a way to build community with animals and with people. My students yearn to build healthy relationships. I use examples of the social behavior of group-living animals such as wolves as a model for developing and maintaining long-term friendships among individuals who must work together not only for their own good, but also for the good of the group.
From time to time I ask the inmates what they get from the class. Here are some responses:
The course is healing.
- I've learned a lot about understanding and appreciating animals as individuals
- The class balances scientific rigor with social consciousness
- The class gives us a sense of connection to webs of life
- What I do counts. I now have a vision for the future
- The class models healthy, pro-social ways of living and working in the world
- The class makes me feel better about myself
Science opens the door to understanding, trust, cooperation, community and hope. There's a large untapped population of individuals to whom science means a lot, but they haven't had the exposure needed to further their education.
I continue to get as much out of the class as the students, and it's made me a better teacher. For the students, science and humane education have helped them connect with values that they otherwise wouldn't have.
I've been told that because of the class, some of the students' kids are more likely to go into science. I know some students have gone back to school while others have made contributions in time and money to conservation organizations. Some have gone on to work for humane societies. One student went on to receive a master's degree in nature writing. It's clear that science inspires my students, and gives them hope.