Rabbits in the Classroom
Rabbits in the classroom is a very bad idea. This letter, written by a professor of education, illustrates why:
(reprinted with permission, last names omitted)
I'm Charlotte's father, Bill. Charlotte read your e-mail to me about the teacher who is proposing to obtain a rabbit as a classroom "pet" and asked me, as a former Professor of Science Education, to respond. Since I don't have e-mail, I've dictated my opinion. Please feel free to use this letter as you see fit to discourage any teacher from obtaining a rabbit as an "educational device". I'd like to commend you for taking a stance against this sort of practice and to commend you for speaking out on behalf of animals and in support of ethical science education.
I am a retired secondary science educator of 40 years' experience at both the Secondary and college level. For nine of those years I was Departmental (Science Education) Chairman for the Trenton State Teacher College's (now The College of New Jersey) Science Education Demonstration Program (1961-70) at the William L. Antheil Elementary/Junior High School in Ewing Township, New Jersey. I currently sit on the Governor's Advisory Committee for Education/Science Education. Having established my credentials, I feel that I have a duty to relate my personal observations on the relative merits of maintaining in-school "pets". I feel that the practice is futile and inhumane. This is especially true in the case of rabbits.
During my time as Chairman of the Science Education Department at TSC/Antheil, a number of Elementary and some Secondary teachers expressed the desire to have classroom "pets". With the possible exception of some reptiles and fish, there is no "good" or acceptable sort of classroom "pet". While juvenile literature and cultural conditioning have given us the image of the "cuddly bunny" or the cute "Peter Cottontail", the reality of having a live rabbit in a classroom setting is something for which few professional educators (especially at the primary level) have the proper educational background and practical experience to maintain a rabbit at a successful, wholesome level that benefits both child and rabbit.
Rabbits are social animals who are environmentally adapted to reside in organized, hierarchal societies. Without this sort of species structure, rabbits become depressed, morose and most finally perish miserably. Rabbits are not toys, nor are they "educational tools". Rabbits cannot be passed from hand to hand as the need for extra-school care becomes necessary. Rabbits who are not properly socialized can become aggressive, difficult to manage and pose a serious risk of biting and/or scratching students. Rabbit socialization cannot, in my opinion, be carried out successfully in a busy classroom where the rabbit is, at best, a secondary distraction which quickly becomes part of the "furniture" of that classroom. Most rabbits I have seen in classrooms are solitary creatures, confined in well-intentioned, but fundamentally inhumane quarters, ignored, ill-fed and/or tormented. Most have displayed anti-social behaviors as a direct consequence of improper socialization, inadequate care and poor emotional environment.
Most classroom professionals haven't the time nor the proper education in rabbit care to understand the need for proper nutrition, housing and socialization for rabbits. Because the rabbit digestive system is delicate and complex, a thorough understanding of their proper function and dietary process is essential and usually quite beyond the ordinary teacher's experience. In such situations it is essential to understand that ignorance causes undue suffering for the rabbit.
One has to inquire as to the particular reason a teacher wishes to acquire a classroom "pet". Teaching respect for life can be successfully accomplished by having the students view, and discuss a selection of videos available from the National Geographic Society or other Wildlife resource. Responsibility for pets can be successfully taught by having a qualified professional install a tank of tropical fish which require care, but do not require as large a financial commitment or emotional/psychological investment from the primary educator.
Most importantly, rabbits are sentient creatures, not stuffed toys that can be put upon a shelf and taken out at will. They have feelings. They have emotions. They require and give affection. They are not "objects" or "teaching aids".
Quite frankly, I would, and have in the past, seriously discouraged any professional educator who would propose acquiring a "classroom pet", unless that individual is proposing to bring in a pet for which they are already directly responsible (i.e. - bringing one's dog to class for a day). "Pets" by definition belong in a loving home environment where their emotional and physical needs can be met by their dedicated owners. It seems to me to be irresponsible and selfish for any educator to acquire a fundamentally social creature only to imprison it in a situation that the creature itself cannot possibly comprehend or reconcile. The primary function of a classroom is to educate children. It is not meant, nor is it maintained, as a home-away-from-home. Any educational objectives that could be gained by obtaining a classroom pet can be met with more success using other methodology. Obtaining a rabbit for a classroom, in my opinion, constitutes extreme animal cruelty.
Very truly yours
PhD. [Organic Chemistry]
Ed.D. [Secondary Science Education]