Individual differences

The Animal School

A Fable by George Reavis[1]


Once upon a time the animals decided they must do something heroic to meet the problems of a “new world” so they organized a school. They had adopted an activity curriculum consisting of running, climbing, swimming and flying. To make it easier to administer the curriculum, all the animals took all the subjects.

The duck was excellent in swimming. In fact, better than his instructor. But he made only passing grades in flying and was very poor in running. Since he was slow in running, he had to stay after school and also drop swimming in order to practice running. This was kept up until his webbed feet were badly worn and he was only average in swimming. But average was acceptable in school so nobody worried about that, except the duck.

The rabbit started at the top of the class in running but had a nervous breakdown because of so much makeup work in swimming.

The squirrel was excellent in climbing until he developed frustration in the flying class where his teacher made him start from the ground up instead of the treetop down. He also developed a “charlie horse” from overexertion and then got a C in climbing and D in running.

The eagle was a problem child and was disciplined severely. In the climbing class, he beat all the others to the top of the tree but insisted on using his own way to get there.

At the end of the year, an abnormal eel that could swim exceeding well and also run, climb and fly a little had the highest average and was valedictorian.

The prairie dogs stayed out of school and fought the tax levy because the administration would not add digging and burrowing to the curriculum. They apprenticed their children to a badger and later joined the groundhogs and gophers to start a successful private school.

Does this fable have a moral?


Despite the fact that the above tale is around 75 years old, public schools, with their emphasis on standardized tests and government regulations, still insist on cramming all children into the same mold, ignoring completely that people have many different learning styles. The image below, from, outlines some of the major ones. There are others.


Part of the problem is this:


Much of the problem stems from where our country’s schools have come from in the past. Two books – older, but in a sense timeless, are

Lest anyone think “things have gotten better since then,” 2013 estimates indicate that it would take $270 billion to repair America’s schools and bring them to their original condition, and twice that to bring them up to date. Inner-city schools, not surprisingly, are in the most desperate straits.

On the other hand, there are people out there making a big difference by bucking the system. If you want a taste of what’s being done, I recommend two movies:

  1. Waiting for Superman – “Filmmaker Davis Guggenheim reminds us that education “statistics” have names: Anthony, Francisco, Bianca, Daisy, and Emily, whose stories make up the engrossing foundation of WAITING FOR SUPERMAN. As he follows a handful of promising kids through a system that inhibits, rather than encourages, academic growth, Guggenheim undertakes an exhaustive review of public education, surveying “drop-out factories” and “academic sinkholes,” methodically dissecting the system and its seemingly intractable problems” – Sundance Film Festival
  2. Won’t Back Down – “Two determined mothers­, one a teacher, look to transform their children’s failing inner city school. Facing a powerful and entrenched bureaucracy, they risk everything to make a difference in the education and future of their children.”
  3. Most Likely to Succeed – An amazing documentary about the efforts of High-Tech High and its outgrowth schools to educate kids for the 21st century and beyond (

There has been considerable pushback from teachers’ unions with regard to films like the above. But then, that’s not surprising. These organizations tend to focus on preserving jobs for teachers rather than ensuring that children receive a quality education. That’s a guaranteed formula for failure from the get-go. America’s public-school system is ossified almost beyond salvation. Most school districts and individuals schools are run like petty fiefdoms, where the emphasis is on consolidating power and preserving a comfortable status quo. That doesn’t mean that reform is not worth fighting for, but it will continue to be a hard slog until until a system can be built where incompetent teachers and administrators can be weeded out, good teachers encouraged with respectable salaries, and the emphasis on standardized testing thrown in the dustbin of failed educational policies.

There’s another dimension to public education that needs to be addressed as well – the concept of social responsibility. But that will have to wait for another essay.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

[1]This story, in the public domain, was written by George Reavis when he was the Assistant Superintendent of the Cincinnati Public Schools back in the 1940s. This was a handout for my Educational Administration classwork in 1972.

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