Just about everyone has an opinion about education. We find in the Straits Times, plenty of letters from the public lending their views about what students ought to learn (curriculum), teaching methods (pedagogy), and appropriate measurements (assessment).
Despite the fervour, progress in education does not seem to mirror the public's enthusiasm to shape it. Much of it is the lack of clarity to distinguish education from schooling. As a result, the needs and wants are often contradictory. One party highlights the need to focus on Mathematics and Science, another laments the decline of the Arts and Humanities, yet another calls for equal emphasis on Sports - all of this merely the tip of the iceberg.
Formulating the ideal education of man requires an investigation into the differences between man and animal. Is the difference in kind or in degree? If the latter, then education is nothing more than a form of advanced training of the paragon of animals. If it is a difference in kind, the ideal education is aimed towards the development and refinement of the distinctive quality that sets man apart from animals.
In the ontological spectrum of Man, Animal sits opposite that of Angel. One is ruled by instinct that Nature bestows, the other a pure intelligence. Interestingly, this requires an examination of Nature and Super-nature that C.S. Lewis beautifully examines in Miracles - free will is incompatible with Naturalism.
Man is at least part Animal; sharing with it many characteristics such as nourishment, senses, appetites and growth. Crude as Bloodhound Gang's lyrics may be, it's a reminder that like all animals, the drive to survive is equally strong, if not more so in Man. Hence, the appropriate education for children cannot exclude the training of skills for survival - be it hunting in the Amazon jungle or being interviewed in Wall Street.
As a topic of study, it is a pity that Animal isn't given more attention in the curriculum. The history of animal classification from Aristotle to Darwin is a case study to question the objectivity of truth - do mammals exist or is it an invented term useful for classification. The abundance and diversity of species provides students of all levels with opportunities to practice classification so as to develop analytical thinking. For example, defining animal, plant, and then introducing intermediary species to test the definitions. Students of higher levels may examine and critique various classifications from a long line of thinkers: Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Buffon, Linnaeus, Darwin.
Whatever the opinion, we can all agree that appreciation of animals is dependent on the knowledge of it. The less we know, the less we know what and why to protect.