My completely unscientific research shows that 97 out a 100 kids love animals. There are always two or three for whom animals just aren't their thing. But what if, for these kids we could we bottle this emotional connection most kids have with animals to help create better readers? Reading is the key to education. I am convinced better readers will be essential to creating better people. After all who doesn't want to be a better person?
This raises the question of how can we tap into this powerful, near-obsession with animals to help make a better world? If kids could just read about something they love, perhaps they would love to read. My premise, if it's not obvious yet, is that "something" is animals -- and make that real animals while your at it! The evidence is very clear -- the more words a kid reads the better their academic performance will be. Its that simple It's a slight twist on Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000-hour rule.
We know that the top 10% of students read 1.8 million words a year (5,000 words or roughly 20 pages a day), while the bottom 10% read only 8,000 words a year (less than a page or 250 words a day.) (Cunningham & Stanovich, 2001.)
So getting them to read more might be as simple as serving up stories -- and lots of them -- all shapes, styles and sizes about the animals they love.
We know if you want to teach kids how to sneeze properly (i.e. into their elbow) just enlist Elmo to show them how to do it; they will listen and change their behavior. We trust Elmo. He's credible. Try to name one politician today that is credible who anyone in their right mind would listen to. Putting words into the mouths of others we trust is an age-old technique dating back to the times of the Talmud.
We also know attributing a powerful idea to our favorite Sesame Streeter Elmo will help start a movement.So perhaps there is an opportunity to teach virtues to kids (and adults) with a touch of pop-culture elan that can engage us in a new form of ethical and moral consciousness about animals and about humanity -- putting words and ideas into mouths of animals who we trust or at least have no reason to distrust.
Lest you think this a crazy idea, I will remind you of one of my favorite and most profound thoughts about the meaning of life came from none other of the famous talking horse, Mister Ed the equine star from the hit 1960s TV show. When his haphazard owner, Wilbur Post, tries to understand how it was that Mister Ed had come to speak Mister Ed's response was simply "Don't try. It's bigger than both of us."
So when it comes to our collective and individual obligations to help save the world, or at least not to destroy it, we have to understand that everything on the planet and in the universe is connected. And whether it is four years or forty, we should also at least acknowledge that if we were to lose the honeybee life on earth would be in great peril. It doesn't take an Einstein to figure that one out.
What we do for and to our animals and how we treat them, from the rats in our kitchens to our beloved, yet eccentric pet dogs and cat to the endangered snow leopards in the Himalayas this will be one irrefutable measure of our ethical and moral development. As I am sure Mister Ed would say, "Wilbur, this is bigger than all of us."