Marx and the Relationship between the Exploitation of Labor and the Degradation of the Environment
STEM, Meet Ecojustice
Cease and Resist!: Problems in Radical Ecology
Unpacking the Dominant Paradigm: A Review of Global Industrial Complex
A Review of the Book: “Greening the Academy: Ecopedagogy through the Liberal Arts,” edited by Samuel Day Fassbinder, Anthony J. Nocella II and Richard Kahn.
Aristotelis S. Gkiolmas & Constantine Skordoulis……………………………………………...56
A Review of the Film: “The Cove”
Amber E. George………………………………………………………………………………...62
Note from the Editor
Washington State University Welcome to the Green Theory & Praxis Journal Volume 7 Issue 1! As a member of the GTPJ team and editor ofthe journal I would like to extend my thanks to all those who volunteer and contribute to the ongoing scholarship of this journal. It is an honor to engage with such a passionate and prolific group of activist-scholars.
GTPJ is a journal dedicated to the dissemination of the voices of those who are working on diverse fronts to radically transform, respond to, and reframe the dominant systems working to undermine social justice and sustainability. So it is with great appreciation and respect that we at GTPJ review and publish the work of scholar-activists whose work complements, inspires, and challenges current perceptions of scholarship on environmental issues. In this issue we are excited to publish the articles, essays, and reviews from 2013 that challenge the current paradigm of the field and inspire us to continue to ask questions that break the silences cast by what currently constitutes how we bring theory to practice in all of our work.
Across the diverse voices in this issue is a shared theme that we ought to have a great concern with the deep cultural roots of the industrialized Western culture within which we are living and enacting violence every day. Critically exposing the colonial curriculum of zoos through the use of fiction, engaging us in a continued dialogue on understanding and examining the complexity of Anarchism and Ecowomanism, linking environmental degradation and labor exploitation through Marxism, offering an EcoJustice look at STEM, and presenting a truly inspiring and challenging essay that calls into examination Deep Green Resistance—this issue will surely push boundaries and blur borders.
It is my deepest hopes that all of the authors’ work in this issue challenges us all to engage in and embrace solidarity among our differences. So read with an open mind and with the reassurance that sometimes radical love requires us to self-examine and engage in the dialogical process of respect and solidarity. This is much easier said than done, especially from positions of privilege and within long standing structures like academic institutions. As a crucial part of maintaining a system of oppression, these positions and structures offer––although sometimes only small glimpses—the opportunity to learn to respond to and resist the boots on the necks of the suffering….or in many cases to recognize that we, the ones enacting a human-supremacist worldview, are all too often the ones wearing the boots.
So as this issue releases, the time seems as good as any to declare that it is essential that we, as humble students of the world’s diverse movements join in solidarity toward liberation for all.
Embracing My Escape from the Zoo: A (Sometimes) True Account of My Curricular Inquiry
Jason Michael Lukasik
Northeastern Illinois University
Abstract: The following is an excerpt from a larger work that utilizes fiction as a method of inquiry into the colonial curriculum of zoos. Reflecting on the author’s work as an educator at a large urban zoo, this piece weaves together literature and experience, examining the meaning of colonial curricula found in zoos, how we experience such curricula, and the vehicles through which we can engage a scholarly (and accessible) conversation about the topic. Fiction was chosen as a medium as it directly mediates the nature of the subject studied here – zoos are, themselves, a work of fiction. They narrate the lives of animals, as well as the relationships we humans (as visitors) have with them and the places, both wild and captive, in which they live. The following narrative is offered up as an entrée into these complex relationships, raising questions and meditating possibilities to understand the fiction of zoos and the way such institutions act on our educational consciousness.
By telling stories, you objectify your own experience. You separate it from yourself. You pin down certain truths. You make up others. You start sometimes with an incident that truly happened… and you carry it forward by inventing incidents that did not in fact occur but that nonetheless help to clarify and explain.
- Tim O’Brien (1990, p. 71)
I sat in the twilight, gazing out over the lake. Sitting next to me was a large black bear, his back slightly hunched as he sat there dangling large back paws into the cool black water. On my other side sat a small and gentle man, a curriculum scholar, who was likely just as imagined as the bear. He wore wire-framed glasses and an earth-toned tweed jacket to match. He sported a neatly trimmed moustache. I was on vacation, at a summer retreat in the great northern, a small cottage on a still lake, loons in the distance wailing. While relaxation was my intent, I could not escape my memories or my thoughts. And so I sat, talking with Sam, the bear, and Silas, the curricularist, about the zoo.
Our conversations happen continuously, as I reflect on my work (and theirs), and the meaning of our shared inquiry. Their voices are given meaning through my experiences had while working as an educator at the zoo, and have been articulated through the literature that I have engaged while pursuing my studies on the subject. Silas gives me insight into the meaning of my curricular journey, and my critique of the neocolonial forms of representation in zoos and beyond. Sam helps me to understand the meaning of being ‘caged,’ what it means to be a being enclosed by walls (and meaning, and knowledge). But this is too simple an explanation for characters that have come to exist continually in my work and my thoughts.
Sam and Silas were born out of my thinking about the zoo, but it can be equally said that my scholarship was born out of them. Such a relationship is revealed through a reflection on my currere, looking back on where I have come from to better understand where I am going (Pinar & Grumet, 1976). To understand how I came to know Sam and Silas, and how they have helped me to articulate a critique of the zoo, requires that we first look back upon how I learned to embrace my own escape from a zoo.
* * * * *
It was unseasonably pleasant for an early February morning in Chicago, the day when I was fired. There was a cool, but gentle breeze coming off Lake Michigan and the sun shone bright, save the occasional puffy cloud that meandered overhead, causing the frigid air of winter to retreat for the time being. I walked past the Lion yard and Adelor, the male, his large stringy mane embracing his majestic face, watched me. It was not a look of predation, that look he may get in his eye when a young child wanders back and forth in front of his cage. He watched me as I carried some of my office belongings in a plain cardboard box – personal files, some books, a desk lamp. It was, at first, a passing glance, and then a sad stare. I was the envy of the animals that February morning. I was, essentially, locked out of the zoo.
My day had begun ninety minutes earlier. Typical of any day, I arrived to my office, coffee in hand, to a handful of voice mail messages and emails: notices of new meetings, communication from former students, an eco-justice organization returning a call I had placed to them about partnering with my program. I make plans with my teaching assistant to meet about our curriculum for the upcoming program.
The curriculum to which I refer is for a program that was designed to help urban high school youth connect with nature and environmental science. The zoo was, in many ways, an appropriate venue at which to host a program like this. I was intrigued by the prospect of the museum as a site of learning (Dierking & Falk, 2000). Educational work in museums is well documented. Often, museums are noted as being an underutilized resource for educative experience, and literature supporting museum education has been focused on documenting how a museum might be utilized for both formal and informal educative purposes. Lisa Roberts (1997) suggests that museums educate by following the visitor, by acknowledging that “visitors use museums in ways that are personally significant to them” (p. 132) and Alan Gartenhaus (1997) has written about how museums might be seen as places that can expand creative thinking. I valued the prospect of teaching in a zoo. Nevertheless, zoos are immersed in conflict. Zoo histories have discussed the harsh realities from which the modern day zoological institution has emerged. Less interested, though, in the historiography of zoos, my intellectual interests were honed elsewhere.
My academic turn toward curriculum studies was one of both practicality and scholarship. The program I ran at the zoo allowed for creative use of curriculum – I had no standardized tests for which my students had to prepare – and so I was charged with the task of providing a meaningful experience for my students. I saw the zoo as my classroom. I came to understand curriculum by Schubert’s (1986, 2008a) discussion of the field through the question “what is worthwhile?” Given my work at the zoo, I was also interested in curriculum that exists in an “out-of-school” context (Schubert, 1981, 2008a). I was pleased with this opportunity to experiment, in curricular practice, the ideas I was learning in my studies.
No doubt Dewey (1902) had an influence over me, namely his discussion of the relationship between child, curriculum and society. I viewed my work with students in the context in which I taught – students who were “at risk” (read: black, Latino, poor), in a large urban area, learning in a zoological park.
Of particular interest to me was the concept of the integrated curriculum. “Integration,” writes L.T. Hopkins (1937), is “continuous, intelligent, interactive adjusting” (p. 1). He maintains that “interaction is a social process” and that “each individual is socially built” (p. 9). Working towards integration in my curriculum required that I, as a teacher, facilitated a non-static curriculum, one that reflected the fluid interests of each student and the changing milieu in which we were situated. Integration of the curriculum meant more than combining various subject areas. I had to consider the relationships among disciplines of knowledge, my students’ lived experiences, as well as the context in which we worked. My approach, too, was informed by the foundational work of Ralph Tyler (1949). His work further developed Dewey’s (1938) concept of experience, namely that experiences are unique to the student fostering different outcomes and perspectives, depending on the student’s own location. We should interpret the work of Tyler beyond his basic curricular categories of purposes, learning experiences, planning, and assessment. “Left behind,” in most analyses, says Schubert (2008a), is Tyler’s “careful attention to context and nuance in student lives” (p. 406).
I had also been influenced by Schwab’s critique of the “moribund” nature of curriculum development in the late 1960s. Schwab’s work was about disposition and approach. He saw curriculum as “deliberative; mediated by the commonplaces of education: students, teachers, subject matter, and milieu” (Schultz, 2007, p. 20). He did not refute the categories of curriculum and instruction put forward by Tyler. Instead, he challenged the relationship to knowledge that had developed as a result of the disconnect between research and practice. The educator, then, must develop an eclectic repertoire, informed by both practice and theory, to respond to the situation lived by the individual students and teacher (Schwab, 1976).
As a teacher, I had hoped to locate myself as a “student of my students” (Freire, 1970; Ayers, 1992), to create a space in the zoo where my students might pursue their own curiosities. Instead of forcing connections between the topics of environmental conservation and my students’ lives, I thought it was more important to listen to their interests and let them guide me toward the topics they might find meaningful. By “seeing the student,” I might be able to “engage the whole person” (Ayers, 2001, p. 32) and provide an experience that extended beyond the gates of the zoo. This calls for me to engage in a pedagogical understanding as described by Van Manen (1991, p. 86). I had envisioned an opportunity for the high school students at the zoo, who came from a variety of backgrounds and knowledges, who came for different reasons and with different purposes, to explore ideas and their own understandings of culture, society, and identity.
* * * * *
“How is your work coming along?” asked Silas. He was sitting beside me on the dock. We watched as the wind died down at the water slowly turned completely still, like a large sheet of glass.
“It is coming,” I responded, “just not as fast as I would like.” I was trying to write about my work at the zoo, and my abrupt ending. But I didn’t want to write a report on the teaching I did, what worked or didn’t work, some traditional academic paper. I was interested in the nuance, the subtle relationships and meanings that underpinned my experiences at the zoo.
“The more I dig, Silas,” I continued, “the more I realize I need to delve into and tell.”
“Pondering our experiences is no easy task,” said Silas. “It takes much of the energy we can muster, and then some, to fully engage ourselves in our memories, experiences, learnings and meanings.”
“I have spent so much time thinking about zoos as colonial institutions, but I wonder if there is something more to my work.”
“It is like,” the words were hard to find, “it is like a metaphor, zoos are a metaphor for other things,” I started finding the words, “studying zoos lead me to consider other legacies of colonialism. I mean, don’t you find it ironic that we deconstruct zoos, a colonial institution, in the comfort of academia, what could be argued another colonial institution?”
“Write into those contradictions,” Silas immediately responded. “The contradictions are the meat of your work. It is what we do in curriculum studies.”
“How will I know when to stop, when I have journeyed enough?” I asked, innocently.
“When you at last feel free,” Silas said as he looked out at the lake, “though that is a task easier professed than experienced. Freedom often leads to fate, and that is the contradiction we all must struggle through.”
* * * * *
On the day that I was fired, I wish I could tell you that I was thinking about my students. I wasn’t. My work at the zoo turned toward critical discourse. I became engaged in discussions (sometimes heated) questioning the zoo’s mission of conservation education, I emerged as an outspoken critic of zoo practices, and I had also begun to organize my department with the hopes of unionizing. Perhaps I had become too cavalier, caught up in the context. I had intended to practice what I taught for – naming injustices, learning about them, seeking to change them. I knew that my quest would lead to my being fired – I would be the fifth person in two years to be terminated from my department (although not all for overt political cause). I left my office, not long after arriving for the day, a single legal pad under my arm, to appear in a meeting in the administration building. As indicated in the email I received one day earlier alerting me to the meeting, I was to meet with both the director of human resources and the vice president. I had a good idea that I was walking to my last meeting at Lincoln Park Zoo, so I took the long way.
I walked through the bird house, an historic building that had had its interior renovated in the 1980s, fitting naturalistic exhibits within the shell of a structure reminiscent of the zoo’s old days. Notable was the free flight area at the end of the building, where, if one is so lucky, a majestic bird from the jungles of South American may buzz your head as it sweeps over you. I remembered this place as a teenager. My imagination and the exhibit would combine into a magical and exotic place that was as far from the concrete jungle of Chicago as one could get. I stepped into the free flight area and I was once again transported to my imaginary, I could feel the excitement of a lush rainforest, standing upon an old wooden bridge that spans a small river-way, the sounds of wilderness all around. At once, I become an explorer and a native.1
Generally, zoos have reflected the eras in which they have existed, as well as the dominant beliefs about natural relations, politics, and human history. Many societies have exhibited animals, all for different reasons (Crocke, 1997, p. 129). The early zoos were visual tales of the exploits of global travel and exploration (Malamud, 1998). Many of these zoos were simply private collections of exotic species collected by naturalists while others were princely estates that exhibited representations of the conquered lands of the empire (Crocke, 1997, p. 137).
The colonial menageries of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century would eventually become public zoological gardens in the late 19th century. Informed with a scientific narrative, the early public zoos shifted their focus to educating visitors, while at the same time, entertaining them. These early modern zoos “showcased the optimism, power, and ambitions of the new bourgeois elite, just as the princely menageries showcased the optimism, power and ambitions of an older aristocracy” (Rothfels, 2002, p. 37). Zoos began to de-emphasize the imperial relationships over animals, exhibiting them in more naturalistic settings. Carl Hagenbeck, a notorious animal capturer turned zoo entrepreneur, was the first to display animals in naturalistic environments in the 1870s, replacing barred cells with moats, rock formations, and trees (Hancocks, 2001, p. 64). The model for the modern zoo begun by Hagenback took some time to catch on, but now it is commonplace to find animals in zoos without visible cages, instead separated from the visitor by moat, glass, or other barrier. Some zoo histories suggest that the development by Hagenbeck was a revolutionary response to the criticism that zoos were inhumane, providing a much more ideal situation in which to exhibit the animal. However, zoo historian Nigel Rothfels (2002) suggests that the real legacy of Carl Hagenbeck is found in the representation of the animal: “Beginning with Hagenbeck…[zoos] began… to renarrate the captive lives of animals” (p. 199). The visitor to the modern zoo is able to maintain an “omnipresent eye” (Willinsky, 1998, p. 57) on the collection, an architectural remnant of the colonial design of zoos.
My students worked at the zoo as interpreters of these exhibits to the public. Students from marginalized backgrounds assuming a post of authority – they helped to narrate the exhibits to the public. As I remember one of my students, Annette, commenting to me after her school-teacher visited while she was working, “now I get to tell her what is right and wrong.” My students found empowerment through the interpretation of a colonial exhibit to zoo patrons. The complexities of studying the neocolonial were often revealed through reflections on conversations with my students. The zoo constructed an authoritative text on the animals, revealing a carefully designed history of representation of the “other.” In the modern day, these very same institutions seek a place where marginalized students are given the opportunity to share in the colonial dream – to be empowered at the expense of another creature. Perhaps this irony is what Bhabba (1994) meant when he noted that “the look of surveillance returns as the displacing gaze of the disciplined” (p. 127). As my students sought to know about the animals in the zoo, the complex and contradictory nature of our cultural locations within society, and our human locations within the biosphere, were becoming visible.
* * * * *
I left the warmth of the tropical rainforest and continued my walk to the meeting. I strolled past the Small Mammal and Reptile house. I recall working here when the building opened. I was 17 at the time, and I was an educator interpreting the exhibits to zoo visitors. I would not be stretching the truth by suggesting that I grew up at the zoo. From childhood visits (the 11 Lincoln bus brought my mom, my sister, and me right to the door) to my working there through high school and college, the zoo was the backdrop for many of my transformations from youth to adulthood. I grew up surrounded, as many children were, by literary references to animals. I recall the film interpretation of Dr. Doolittle, where I learned that it was okay to believe, as many children do, that I could talk with the animals. I recall the play Harvey, about the pooka that was only visible to the main character, Elwood P. Dowd. Even now, I turn to literature that incorporates animals into their narratives. Despite my disagreement with its portrayal of zoos, The Life of Pi (Martel, 2001) brings to life the possibility found in speaking with animals. Ishmael (Quinn, 1992) speaks of wisdom found in the voice of a lone gorilla, warning the human race of its devastating practices. Peter Singer (1975/2002), in his call for animal liberation, argues that animals are sentient beings. Jeffery Moussaieff-Masson and Susan McCarthy (1995) have helped us to consider the emotional lives of animals, authoring a widely read book, When Elephants Weep, that raised awareness among the general public about being wary of locking animals behind cages, even if it is for their own good. As my view of zoos became enriched through my readings, the zoo at which I worked was also going through its own change. I watched as older buildings at the zoo were demolished and new, expensive naturalistic exhibits took their place. I was witnessing an institutional transformation, a shift to the modern immersion zoo exhibit.
Early zoo collections were organized and represented taxonomically, exhibiting animals based on their biological groupings according to the Linnaean nomenclature system. This system sought to universalize the categorization of the world’s living organisims, re-naming them in the dominant language of Latin and drawing upon Western lenses to place the animals into categories (Willinsky, 1998, p. 33).
Categories narrate the differences among individuals. It is upon these differences that zoos have historically sorted and divided the world represented through this narrative. Modern zoos have shifted to geographical collections, so it is not uncommon to find animal exhibits named for the ecosystem it represents -- Australian dry lands, the African rainforest, the African savannah. The geographical ordering of animals derives from the colonial organizing of exotic and far-reaching places, and the representation of animals in this way often draws upon the exotic imagery and themes of the colonial imaginary.
This new exhibit design is very much a legacy of the changes Hagenbeck brought to the zoo world. “The goal of the immersion exhibit,” says Rothfels (2003), “was and is to create a convincing verisimilitude” (p. 201). In the creation of a ‘better nature,’ the zoo animal is also created. Animal identity, argues Rothfels (2002), “is constrained by the mediated nature of their presence in our historical record” (p. 5). The animals that we see in a zoo, or even for that matter, in the wild, are “inextricably bound by particular human contexts and interpretations.” Just as the zoo manufactures the exhibits that contain the animals, they, too, manufacture the narrative we come to accept as being truth for the animal. It is a mimic of the animal in the wild, fashioned as we would like to understand it.
I opened the doors to the new African exhibit that had just opened one year earlier. It was a very expensive building, complete with faux waterfalls, living plants to create the illusion you are meandering through the jungle. You happen upon a bird, a hippo, a giraffe. The exhibit is designed to make you feel as if you were in Africa. Suppose you have never been to Africa. How do you know it feels right? You wind along a path, you pass by a straw hut – an interpretive sign about the people of the rainforest. Conjuring up images of the “heart of darkness” this exotic place reifies the colonial narratives upon which we have come to know the continent of Africa, the jungles of Asia, the Amazon – as other.
What if the narrative we tell in zoos is wrong? When we walk through the zoo, we encounter other life forms that are set aside from us. The difference is articulated through our acknowledgement that these are objects to be observed and explained, through a particular narrative of how things came to be. We are not animals, simply because we are not in cages. And when people are in cages, such as the exhibition of Ota Benga, an African pygmy on display at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904 (Burnham, 1993, p. 185) or in any prison, we come to define these individuals by their animalistic tendencies, their primitive nature, their inability to act civilized. “The savage is nature in the shape of a man, an object lesson in the natural order” (Willinsky, 1998 p. 110) Identity as that “which we are not” (Hall, 1996) has defined the relationship that we have to those in the cage, exhibited before us. These relationships have been troubled in some arenas, for example the performance critique of Coco Fusco and Guillermo Lopez-Pena who exhibited themselves as “Indoamericans” in several museums and town squares across the globe. The purpose of their performance was to critique the problematic historical (and contemporary) practice of exhibiting humans in natural history museums. Despite many people understanding the critique, to the surprise of both Fusco and Pena, some spectators thought the critique was an authentic exhibit (Argueta, Fusco, & Heredia, 1993). We should not be surprised, then, that many people who come to the zoo, save young children who make honest and just observations, do not think twice about the predicament of enclosing animals in a cage. Nor are they aware of the history of exhibiting humans, in much the same way we exhibit animals (and humans) today.
* * * * *
I suppose it begins innocently enough.
“Jason,” begins Tasha, one of my students, “don’t you think it is wrong to lock animals up?”
My immediate response was academic, “Well, I think it is definitely problematic.”
Tasha raised her eyebrows in disappointment. “I mean, look at the animals, don’t you think that it’s wrong that they live their lives in cages?”
Another student, Anthony, interjected, “But we are keeping these animals safe, they get to live because it’s too dangerous in the wild.”
“What do you mean Anthony?” I asked.
“Well,” Anthony paused, “it’s like this. We keep them alive since things are messed up in the wild. Then we can learn more about them and try to fix things. And people get to know them, too. People like learning about animals.”
Tasha frowned, “It still doesn’t make it right.”
The subject was unavoidable. The glance of an animal enclosed by an artificial surrounding is enough to provoke both wonder and regret. It is as if the animals speak through their eyes, and when they look back at you, you know better. For my students, the question usually emerged a few weeks into the program. After the initial excitement found in working at the zoo began to wane, my students began to make more astute observations of their surroundings. I wanted to encourage these observations for I believed that the dilemmas provided greater opportunities for learning.
I encouraged students to write from the animal perspective. We took the case of the Snow Leopard, an endangered large cat that lives in the mountains of Afghanistan and the Himalayas. Students worked in small groups to research the various aspects of the snow leopards life, including the biology of the animal, the ecology (where it lived and what the environment was like), and socio-political issues impacting its livelihood. Students found a BBC report concerned with increased poaching of snow leopards in Afghanistan, shortly after the US invasion prompted a fall of the Taliban regime. The students also learned that the snow leopards live in very particular areas at high altitudes and are highly endangered from poaching and habitat fragmentation with numbers in the wild ranging from 4 – 7,000 (Kirby, 2003).
After spending some time outside the exhibit housing the zoo’s lone, aged snow leopard, they wrote letters to humanity from the perspective of the leopard. The letters were impassioned, thoughtful, and provocative. And while zoos have moved away from the personification of animals, toward more scientific narratives, the desire to listen to what an animal might say was all too compelling.
* * * *
“What are we conserving?” I asked the director of my department.
“What do you mean?” he responded, “We conserve habitats, and we are working to develop conservation education programs that help foster a conservation attitude in visitors who come to the zoo.”
“I know all that. But what exactly are we conserving, here in this zoo, with animals on display?”
My disposition to my work at the zoo had become more critical as I read the work of Chet Bowers (2001, 2003). Bowers has been the primary voice in curriculum to question the ecological implications of educational work. Bowers (2003) has questioned the way we have come to understand conservation in contemporary society. He asks, “what do we want to conserve?” (p. 1), pointing to a taken for granted assumptions of the so-called liberals and conservatives in today’s political arena. Echoing the work of Wendell Berry, Bowers has also questioned the term progress, viewing it as a perpetuation of the myth that “the future will be an improvement over the disappointments of daily life” (p. 2). His critiques of globalization, unchecked economic growth, and unquestioned faith in technological improvements build from his earlier work (list) that questioned the influence of Cartesian thought in the pedagogical approach taken by many teachers – including those who wish to teach toward the ‘ecological.’ David Orr (1999) has cautioned us about the ecological ramifications of unquestioned assumptions about education, that our purposes in education satisfy the demands of industry and continued economic growth and neglect the demands of the planet (p. 27).
“I just think that while we may be teaching visitors about zoo conservation efforts and steps they can take to control their ecological impact, we may also be teaching values and assumptions that aren’t very good,” I sat forward in my chair, leaning into the conversation.
“What do you mean, exactly?” my director asked.
“For instance, we talk about conservation efforts that the zoo makes. And these efforts are notable. However, we situate ourselves as the ‘good guys’ while we also keep animals against their will in small enclosures.”
“So should we simply set them free? Would that make things better?”
“No, it’s not just the animals in cages. Its deeper than that. I guess…” I struggled to articulate my thoughts. “I guess my concern is that we don’t grab the issues and really put them out there. We don’t really pursue justice, ecological or human. Here we are, selling cheap sweatshop made crap in our gift shop, and we fail to talk about how over-consumption is a real ecological threat. We celebrate our strictly scientific perspective on animals, and talk about our ‘progress,’ yet we seem to become more and more removed from nature.”
“Certainly, there are some negative attributes of zoos. But we can make it worthwhile by making our programming as meaningful as we are able within the limitations of the zoo.”
“Are we really making it meaningful? It seems to me like we just are playing it safe. Meanwhile, things aren’t improving, and the animals are still in cages!” The room was silent. I felt enclosed - as if the tense air were compressing against me.
“Well, you can’t just rush into these things. We need to be mindful of the different opinions out there. Yours is not the only one.”
“We seem to be mindful of some opinions. But we are never mindful of the critical ones. I don’t know, this work does not feel very fulfilling right now.”
I became more aware of the hidden curriculum at the zoo. I was not comfortable simply acknowledging the dilemma that zoos help animals by imprisoning them. I wanted to talk about them with visitors, to encourage discussions about the contradictions that were glaringly apparent. The 300 lb. gorilla in the room was literally a 300 lb. gorilla, in a cage. I would find, though, that the issues ran much deeper. They were issues of epistemology and ideology. They ran at the heart of what we humans think to be good, necessary, and prudent. It was an issue of curriculum and education – what is worthwhile. Aldo Leopold (1949) questioned that lack of ecological teaching in educational institutions, observing that we do not seem to incorporate the ecological in any of our lessons. Even now, as environmental institutions avoid the hard conversations about colonialism and the tenuous relationship between technological and economic growth and the plight of natural resources, if “education does not teach us these things, what is education for?” (p. 210).
* * * * *
During the summer of 2002, my students and I learned of Luna, the orca whale. We would regularly read local newspapers and surf the internet for international news. Luna was an orca that had become separated from his family and took up residence in Nootka Sound, a small natural harbor in northwestern Canada. These waters run adjacent to First Nations land belonging to the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation. Feeling that it was unnatural for Luna to live alone, away from other orcas, and for fear that he may be injured by motorized boats in the harbor, the Canadian government planned to capture Luna in an attempt to reunite him with his family. They knew of the general area where his family was located, but reunification attempts like this are risky, because if Luna decides not to join the other whales, the government would place him in captivity.
Believing Luna to be the reincarnation of their recently deceased chief, Ambrose Maquinna, the Mowachaht/Muchalaht people protested his removal.
Luna reportedly enjoyed rubbing his nose against the side of boats and was not afraid to approach people. While the waters were primarily adjacent to First Nations Land, there was also recreational boating in the area, jeopardizing Luna’s safety. The First Nations tribe protested the capture of their ‘chief’ and, during an unsuccessful attempt to capture Luna by the Canadian government, the Mowachaht/Muchalaht people paddled war canoes and led Luna into their waters. They vowed to never let the government capture Luna.
My students were enthralled with the story. We followed the news coverage and read into the history of the whale in Nootka Sound. A debate ensued: who was right in their approach to Luna? Of course, the Canadian scientists knew a great deal about whales. However, it was what they didn’t know that struck me. They didn’t know about the First Nations peoples’ connection to orcas because they did not believe in it. Science provides deep and complex understanding of our natural surroundings. Yet we must remember that these understandings are constructions, complete with values and assumptions.
My students were generally divided on the issue. Several thought that the tribe’s interest should be respected, but felt that the health of the whale was better served by the scientific narrative. Other students passionately disagreed.
“How can we be sure that Luna will be safe with the scientists?”
“It is not right to infringe on the beliefs of others.”
Still other responses were much more complex.
“I know the scientists mean well, but what if they are wrong in their beliefs?”
“Sure, the Indians may be making that story up, but if they take care of Luna, the whale is safe. Isn’t that what the scientists are worried about anyway?”
Luna, the whale, provided for me an opportunity to question the narratives we make for the world around us. When narratives contradict one another, we are able to see the power relations that underlie those narratives. The story of Luna reveals the particular way we see the dominant Western narrative of science as it relates to other, marginalized knowledges about the world in which we live.
For Said (1994), the construction of the Orient came as part of a “willed human work” (p. 15) that rendered the Oriental subject an objectified project of knowledge.
To have such knowledge of such a thing is to dominate it, to have authority over it. (p. 32)
The construct of the division between the East and the West was organized out of a “growing systematic knowledge in Europe about the Orient” and “exploited by the developing sciences of ethnology, comparative anatomy, philology, and history” (p. 40). In much the same way, I had come to realize that teaching at the zoo forced me to consider my own relationship to knowledge systems. What knowledges would I privilege in making curricular choices? What does it mean to develop an attitude of conservation – what exactly did I hope for my students to conserve? What is the meaning of teaching ecological responsibility while maintaining a colonial collection of animals, as part of our created image of what nature is and should be? What do I say when an animal looks back at me, or when a student asks the question, “Is this really a good thing?”
* * * * *
While growing up, I was comforted by reading non-fiction. Perhaps I appreciated the solace found in traditional science, knowing something to be true, or at least observable and likely true. Maybe it was my attempt to grasp at reality in an unreal world. My family was (and continue to be) in the performing arts, and so I grew up surrounded by fictions, performances, and make-believe. I valued artistic expression, but as a youth in a world of uncertainty, I longed for something certain. I readily embraced scientific narratives, and sought out certainty. Yet, I lived a life of tension, pulled between the forces of creativity and imagination, and the more certain and static.
Over time, however, the masks of fact began to peel from all things I looked at. I read a piece by Somekawa and Smith (1988) that questioned the fixed nature of history. The article argues that the telling of history is theorized, and therefore historical “facts” are inventions. The easy and problematic labels of fiction and non-fiction had become less certain in my mind. But subsequent readings in cultural studies that utilized post/neo-colonial and postmodern lenses developed for me an academic foundation from which to consider the ways in which multiple knowledges act on the stories we tell about self, other, and situation. As Tillman (1991) said: “I distrust words and stories and yet probably they are what I value most” (p. 103)
As a teacher, I came to embrace Maxine Greene’s (2000) notion that “I am forever on the way,” in a process of continually developing and becoming. I came to view myself as an unfinished novel or play, one that is continually written in dialogue with the world around me. Bakhtin (1982) argued that the novel is comprised of multiple voices in dialogue, true to life and circumstance. My critical sensibilities emerged from my return to the arts and imagination. “Imagination” says Greene (2000), “permits us to give credence to alternative possibilities” (p. 3). I am able, through my imaginative spirit to consider alternatives upon my critiques. I struggle with the dilemma that Patti Lather (1991) raised when she discussed her desire to both welcome possibility and reject meta-narratives as encouraged through postmodern thought, while also working towards something defined through critical analysis.
As my critical stance toward the zoo developed, I came to acknowledge the fiction of zoos. Zoos, as institutions, tell a story about our world. It is an inconvenient story that, like any other story, fails to capture the numerous utterances that make up parts of its whole. Yet, it is a compelling story; it becomes difficult to see it any other way. If we may render the brutal colonial history of zoos as “objects of our experience, to encounter them against the background of our lived lives,” we may encourage a move “toward conception of a better world” where creativity is celebrated and the ability to see beyond patriarchal institutions becomes a reality (Greene, 2000).
I took a good look at the zoo which surrounded me: I noticed the Colobus Monkey, swinging wildly, animated, interpreted only by a few signs identifying its range and diet, an animal with abundant energy closeted within an archaic steel cage. I thought of the education department library, where children’s books that provided anthropomorphic narratives were stripped, for fear they would provide “misinformation” about the animal collection. Instead, only books that spoke of animal facts, or told the story of a human (who is also anthropomorphized2) which may then involve animals tangentially, were included in the collection. How is the film “Babe” or Orwell’s “Animal Farm” any less an authoritative narrative of animals than the zoo? Are there not things that can be learned through experiencing such narratives?And what justice is served by avoiding those narratives?
I recall the opening of the North American wildlife exhibit, when I wanted to invite the participation of the American Indian Center, to create a space in the zoo where they could provide interpretations of their choice of animal collections that have historical and spiritual significance in their cultures, only to have the zoo administrators want them to “do a dance” for the opening, maintaining an authoritative narrative over the collection. I think of the poems I would write in my mind as I walked through the collection, making note of the smells, the sounds, the feelings, the emotions, knowing full well that such an activity was not a welcome complement to the dominant scientifically driven narrative of the zoo. I did not question the value of the many contributions of conservation science to the lives of animals and articulations on global ecological issues. What I did question was the rejection of other narratives, of imaginative possibilities. Why not imagine an animal talking back to us? I had done this with my students, encouraging them to render the animals able to talk to us – which first requires that we listen to the animals, to be open to what they might say. If the zoo wants to teach toward conservation, it requires that visitors build an understanding of empathy – for other people of the world, for other animals of the world, for the earth herself. I remember Maxine Greene (2000):
the extent to which we grasp another’s world depends on our existing ability to make poetic use of our imagination, to bring into being the ‘as if’ worlds created by writers, painters, sculptors, filmmakers, choreographers, and composers, and to be in some manner a participant in artists’ worlds reaching far back and ahead of time. (p. 4)
I am held within an institution that makes as its mission both conservation and education. What exactly are we conserving? What exactly are we teaching? It was the asking of these two questions that preceded my meeting with the administration. But it was the asking of these two questions that have given me the opportunity to escape the traditional narrative of the zoo, to escape what we have come to accept as reality, and to embrace that which we do not know, but we may imagine to be true.
* * * * *
“You look troubled,” said Sam the bear.
“I am, Sam. I just,” I hesitated to find the words, “I just don’t know … how to meaningfully challenge the zoo I study, and the zoo I find myself a part of.”
“What zoo are you a part of?” Sam asked, curious as he had only known a zoo for an animal.
“Well it is not a zoo in the traditional sense, but I find myself caged in any place I have worked. As a teacher in a school, as an educator at a zoo, as a professor in a university, they have all caged me: my creativity, my desire to see things differently and to engage in those conversations that enable me to do so.”
“I see,” Sam said. He looked out at the water, and up to the millions of stars that pepper the sky above. “Do you know what we bears see when we look to the stars?”
“No,” I responded. Sam had a way of being a grounded philosopher.
“We see millions of other places we could be, other lights we could know, but we are here where we are. It is good to know that there are other ways, no matter how far away they may seem. But we walk where we walk. We do not choose this. But we can choose how we live where we walk. Have you tried biting?”
“When humans bite it does not go well, as they might call me animalistic…”
“As if that would be a bad thing,” snipped Sam with a snarl and a curl of his lip. “But what,” he continued, “if you tried to bite back at those things that enclose you? You are caged, too, my friend, much as I was in the zoo. You need to escape, though it will not be as simple as climbing out of an exhibit, for your cage is not so easy to see.”
“I need to escape my cage, yes,” I said. “But how do I see my cage? And what do I do when I find it?”
Sam paused, and looked back to the stars. “You will know what to do,” he growled. “Just look to the stars, and let possibility guide your way.”
* * * * *
It was almost time for my meeting. I could see the administrative building across the way. I stood on a bridge, looking out over a pond. In the distance, reaching far above the treetops of the park, I could see the city skyline: a humble reminder of the large urban landscape in which this naturalistic oasis is situated.
Jailed by the concrete cells of city living, Chicagoans looking to escape the artificial realities of urban life seek out the zoo. Just as animals are constructed through the narrative of the zoo, so too are visitors. When zoos represent a constructed nature, how does this impact the nature of the relationship they develop? How authentic can such a relationship be with the land, when the land is represented through the lens of an historically colonial institution? Or, when the land is viewed through a colonized perspective? When people come to the zoo, what do they see? Willinsky has discussed the danger of “exhibitionary pedagogy.” Not only do we learn a narrative about the subjects being exhibited, we also learn about the nature of exhibition itself. What meaning might be learned from a zoo, and its exhibited nature?
I stand outside the gates of the zoo, looking back in upon my time there, the institution of which I used to play a part, the institution whose internal tensions I still feel as my own. My gaze fixed upon the colonial constructions that are so readily adopted through narratives about people, land, and animals; my gaze reveals my own reflection in the water below, where I sit next to Silas and Sam. In my mind, I live the crisis of representation. It is found within the subject of my inquiry – the zoo – as an institutional practice I seek to critique. It also emerges through my process of inquiry – my creative representation of the issue - a contradiction through which I struggle. And in my escape from the Lincoln Park Zoo, I so too attempt to escape the neocolonial trappings of our modern day institutions, out of a colonial past we emerge beguiled. Perhaps through dialogue and reflection, we may be able to “read ourselves within and against how we have been written” (Willinsky, 1998, p. 264). My escape from the zoo is an authorship over the colonial consciousness through which I continue to struggle. These are the waters I tread.