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SEP. 12, 2013

Are humans animals?

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Susan Daily

Are Humans Animals


“Are humans animals?”

It was a simple question, yet the students in Environmental Seminar paused before answering. The biological fact of our membership in the animalia kingdom was soon established, but then things became complicated.

“But we are different than other animals,” said one student.

“We’re better than the other animals, like the highest order of them all,” said another.

“No, we’re at the same level,” another student pushed back. “We’re the same as a mouse. All animals are the same. We have different qualities but not better.”

“But what about our ability to reason? To make all the things we can make? What about our capacity to think beyond ourselves? That means we have a higher responsibility on this planet, more than the other animals.”

So we went on for about twenty minutes, trying to discern what our role as humans is on this planet. Some students brought in religion, some science fiction, there was even a reference to A Wrinkle in Time. The discussion was animated, frustrating, and stimulating.

As we work through the first chapters of Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn, students will be wrestling with some pretty large questions about our purpose as humans on the planet. These questions will inform our discussions on environmental issues such as consumerism, food, energy use, and population. What is our role here? What are we meant to do? What can we do if we are a key species on the planet? There are no right answers, but there are plenty of deep thoughts and motivating ideas. As the students expand their worldview outward to include the environmental effects of their everyday decisions, they become more informed decision-makers and more thoughtful about their actions. You can look forward to hearing questions like “Are humans animals?” around the dinner table during Family Weekend!