A teacher in Idaho has been charged with animal cruelty after feeding a terminally ill, but very much alive, puppy to a snapping turtle while his junior high students watched. Ostensibly, the teacher fed the puppy to the turtle to teach his science class about the “circle of life.” But the real lesson he taught was one about wanton cruelty. The whole bloody incident is illustrative of both the lengths adults sometimes go to teach kids “hard lessons” and the degree to which these sadistic educational detours are unnecessary.
Lest you think this was an isolated incident, a Florida teacher was recently compelled to take early retirement after he led his high school agriculture class in the drowning of raccoons and opossums. The drownings were supposedly to teach children how to protect chickens, which they had been raising as a project.
Let’s start with a fairly obvious point: Both these lessons are insane. Puppies do not constitute even a small percentage of the average snapping turtles diet. Drowning is a wildly inefficient way of murdering varmints. The idea that these lessons constituted education is a massive reach. These were lessons in cruelty.
That said, there’s something to learn there — namely that adults have a tremendous capacity to engage in senseless horror when they believe it might help a kid learn. This is particularly true when it comes to those “hard truths” that parents like to talk about, including death and man’s inhumanity to man. But the thing is that kids inevitably learn these lessons on their own and no amount of animal torture helps them to process heartbreak in the moments when they do.
What does help is when adults offer guidance and truthful dialogue when the tough moments arise. Or support.
Death is so inevitable and ever-present, there is frankly no reason for it to be contrived and staged. Adults have nearly a daily opportunity to help kids understand death, be it from fallen autumn leaves, or a dried worm on the sidewalk, or springtime roadkill. These are all teachable moments. And in those moments, when kids are confronted with death, parents can offer both comfort and perspective.
Sure, nobody wants to raise kids who are “soft” and unprepared for a cold, hard world. But the truth is that the cold hard world has plenty of ways to reach children earlier than it ever has. Kids can come across all manner of global chaos through social media and video channels. Where once kids could be sheltered from the standard mayhem of humanity, it now takes a substantial parental effort to make sure kids aren’t exposed to the hard lessons before they are ready. And that’s what makes the horror in the classroom lessons so much more senseless.
Our responsibility as adults should be giving kids more time to enjoy the innocence of childhood. They don’t need to be exposed to the dark realities of life. They already live in a world that thrives on those dark realities.