Urban Academy is a small high school in New York with a unique teaching philosophy that foregrounds critical thinking and does away with standardized tests. Earlier this month, they invited me to come and speak to the school about animal rights and brought in an animal researcher to give the opposite point of view. Then we played “hard-hitting questions.” It was all kind of intense and awesome. This is the talk I gave:
My name is Jack Shepherd, and up until recently, I worked as the chief blogger for an animal rights group called People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (or PETA). While I was at PETA, I helped to create various campaigns that were designed to encourage people to think in a different way about animals, their rights, and our own responsibilities towards them.
One example of the campaigns that I worked on for PETA was a website that encouraged people to stop calling fish fish and start calling them Sea Kittens, with the idea that nobody would ever want to be cruel to a Sea Kitten. As incredibly stupid as this idea was, it got picked up by a lot of major TV networks and talk shows, which meant that we had a week or so when the entire news media was having a discussion about the ethics of eating animals, which was a big victory for us.
B: A balmy day for it, and the animals all in their furs and finery as we prepare for what promises to be an entertaining and enlightening display of nature at her glorious best.
A: We are at the zoo.
B: Indeed we are, John, and, on the sidelines as we may be, we have a part to play in this age-old ritual of man confronting his ancient past and, who knows – maybe his future – through the iron bars of a cage. And here they go! The baboons are in powerful form today as they begin their morning ablutions.
A: The monkeys are playing in the water. I knew a guy once who had a monkey. It was kind of like, some kind of pet monkey.
B: Quite. And now we must bring our own pet notions to bear on this exciting spectacle. It looks as if the male baboon, awoken from his righteous slumber, has cast a wary eye upon the swollen rump of his rutting young bride. That kind of focused attention can only mean one thing – the play is about to begin.
A: He’s hurting her!
B: Yes, John, I suppose he is. But like all pleasures and pains, this one has been fleeting. His interest has waned, and with it I fear, ours must go as well. Shall we make our way to the lofty arbors of the Orangutans?
A: Are they monkeys? I knew a guy once who had a monkey. Like, a real one. He kept it as a pet. I like monkeys.
B: I know you do, John. I know you do.