Saturday, 14 November 2015

What makes us human?

Oisin and Mika demonstrating the uprightness of the human being
Our ability to balance
Of all the Main Lessons which I had to do so far, this one filled we with anxiety. To understand why, I need to rewind this back to four years ago, when I did my teacher training course. In the course, it was suggested that human beings were not animals. When i heard this, i was appalled. How could human beings not be animals? We are animals. Well, this was explained quite patiently to me, we share a lot in common with animals, but we are different in that we can choose. We are not bound by our circumstances. We can choose.

Since then, I have been really thinking about the Main Lesson. And about ourselves, of course. The most distinctive trait that we have is our hands - our upright posture and that we have these hands that can mostly do everything. Of course people without hands have achieved much as well, and many animals are very clever in problem solving too, but evolutionary biologists believe that it was when we managed to stand upright and start using our hands freely that our brains evolved, our consciousness evolved. Therefore it is the other way round - our physiology created our psychology. We are who we are - the generalist, master jack of all trades, the adapter - because of our upright posture and our free hands. This is partly why Waldorf education stresses craft and handwork because it is through our ability to create that we are able to become human - and to think.

In fact Steiner says, the head is the most animalistic part of us. The head is always trying to make us animals - it is our bodies that enable us to stay humans. In our heads we could be wolves and bears and tigers, but our bodies consistently deny the fantasy that we may be these creatures.

For me, having worked in conservation for 10 years, it was also really important to make the link between our role in looking after the environment. But how far should I go in doing this? It had to stop at the animal for now. For now, it just needed to be about the relationship between the wider world and the beings which depended upon it.

So, the way I approached it was through diet. That animals were mostly carnivores and herbivores and human beings were omnivores. We could choose. Animals could not choose - they were dependent on their habitat - whereas we could choose. We could choose where to live, whereas animals could not. As a result, it was incumbent upon us to think about how our actions affected the natural world - or as I put it, our animal friends.

That was the hard part. Now we just look at habitat. Each week we will look at a new habitat. Yesterday I looked at the forest habitat - we will be going to Crawfordsburn and i drew all the different features of the forest and we named all the animals that would live there, from the river to the tops of trees.

Then I made it very clear that while we would not see a lot of the wildlife, we would still see lots of birds and insects and possibly squirrels and rabbits. The important thing is that they understood that although they could not see the animals, it did not mean they were not there.

But next week, we then visit Crawfordsburn and then look at the animals that live there for one day a week. And then on Friday we look at the next habitat - the lough and estuary.

So i think that for the animals we will be doing, we will look at the squirrel, the grey wagtail and the snail. There is going to be a LOT of drawing. Then in the last week, we are going to look at some animal groups. The most exotic animals. After we have linked local habitat to wildlife. This is really really important this linking of habitat to wildlife.

I also said that i was not taking them to the zoo because zoos were not places which animals really lived in. I said, you can go to the zoo with your parents. We are not going to the zoo. I have decided that I am never going to a zoo again for as long as I live. They are a complete waste of money and they give people the impression that animals belong in a zoo. Every single zoo I have ever been to has been a disappointment. It does not matter how good the zoo was, the thought that the animals were stuck in this place, dependent upon their keepers to fend for them was heartbreaking. Also putting animals which are natural enemies next to each other were wrong. So, no more zoos for me. Spend the money on habitat restoration ffs.

Well, next week we begin our first part of the Zoology Main Lesson. I have drawn a few things on the board, next week, we go big time with the blackboard drawings again.

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