As a creative writing teacher, my job is to help students find a voice with which to decipher the complexities of their own lives with due regard for the world we all inhabit. I selected animal stories -- in particular, stories about cows -- as the topic of my curriculum unit because I felt that they offered a kind of walkinthewoods approach to idea generation and subsequent writing assignments. Animal stories also give us a break from the frenetic pace many of us find ourselves in and remind us to revere nature by bringing us to an organic and sensory understanding of how to survive in the world. They show us patterns of organization that enhance life and that employ minimal or at least, an economy of destruction in doing so.
Stories about mammals, insects, reptiles, and fish comprise a genre of Animal Storytelling that may well have begun during the Stone Age (60,000 -- 10,000 BCE) as can be seen in Paleolithic cave paintings. Lascaux in France is one of the most beautifully painted caves of a pre-historic people, and now one of the best known. In many early civilizations animals were revered either as sacred themselves or as gods and goddesses represented in animal forms. The exaltation of animals continues to this day in story and in film. In the past few years, there have been such blockbusters as
Finding Nemo, Ice Age
A Bug’s Life
(animated films) as well as more grown-up fare in the films
, both movies about exceptional horses. Animals have featured prominently throughout literary history in mythology, fairy tales and fables, legends, satire, fantasy, poetry, novels, and horror fiction. Many of these writings show respect for the integrity of the non-human protagonist. Even those stories that fall into the horror fiction genre engender awe for the power -- and often intelligence -- of the antagonistic beast to the extent that the frailty of our human condition is exposed. Tokyo may have enough juice to electrify Godzilla, but left to our own physiology -- no claws, no fangs -- we’d be goners.
curriculum unit uses stories and information about animals to discuss various themes that deal with human behavior. The unit begins with a light-hearted look at cows mirroring human foibles in the children’s story
Click, Clack, Cows That Type
and several Gary Larson cartoons featuring bovines. It then focuses on ideas about food and eating. We will read “To Serve Man,” a short story by Damon Knight, which challenges human arrogance with respect to our place in the food chain. The unit progresses to themes that deal with hunting and survival using historical information about early hunter/gatherers for whom there appears to have been mutual reverence and a sense of reciprocity in sacrifice where animals were concerned. Contrasting such sensibilities, we will read another short story by Richard Connell, “The Most Dangerous Game,” wherein the hunter becomes the hunted. Issues of greed will be explored in viewing the film
Dances with Wolves
wherein a viable food source -- the buffalo -- is on the brink of extinction because of the fur trade and the Sioux are equally endangered by the U.S. government. Students will also learn about the Christian/Indian hybrid religion of the Ghost Dance that inadvertently led to the infamous massacre at Wounded Knee. Lastly, the unit ends with the children’s book
The Story of Ferdinand
, a story about integrity and peace.
Reading is essential to a writer and reading (sometimes, viewing) materials, along with discussion prompts, accompany each section of the unit. The reading and writing exercises and projects in this unit have been designed to make students aware of a sense of
in their writings and to develop situations and characters that speak to philosophical concepts of sacrifice, reverence, and renewal. In evaluating student work, the following rubric is used: