Animal Ethics Poems

All poems are either linked to or cited from a particular book that is listed in the Resources section.  If you are having trouble tracking down a copy of a particular poem, comment below for help and I’ll get back to you ASAP. These poem lists are not full modules, but suggestions of poems that could be good to work with, with some jumping off points for philosophical inquiry. If you would like me to write up more suggested questions and activities for an Example Module for a specific poem below, feel free to request! If you would like to write up a module for a poem, please contact me at madeleinebella@gmail.com for guidelines for submission, and I would be delighted to feature your work on the site. List in progress. Please feel free to suggest poems using the Comment box below! Thank you!

Blanco, Alberto. “The Parakeets.” Also filed under Social & Political Philosophy Poems.

Holub, Miroslav. “Napoleon.” Czechoslovakia. translated by Kaca Polackova. This Same Sky, p. 151 (see Resource List)

In this poem, none of the children in a classroom know who Napoleon Bonaparte is. A teacher asks questions about the historical figure, but the refrain comes back, “Nobody knows.” Presumably, the teacher has mentioned Napoleon Bonaparte as a historical figure, but has not discussed personal details of Bonaparte’s life. To the children, this figure is nothing but an abstraction. But then one child tells a story about a dog he knew personally named Napoleon, who was beaten and died of starvation. This Napoleon is someone the children know something about now, and “now all the children feel sorry/for Napoleon.” Since the children had been offered no way to connect to Napoleon Bonaparte personally, they have trouble genuinely caring about the individual, and they do not even remember who he is. Once they make a personal connection to the individual, they care for him immediately. This poem raises ethical questions about who we care for and why, who deserves equal consideration of interests, who should be included in our circle of moral consideration. The Community of Inquiry may like to consider: Is there anything special about the fact that Napoleon #2 is a dog? If the children had been told personal stories about Napoleon Bonaparte’s life, do you think they would have remembered him more clearly? If the teacher had introduced Bonaparte as if he were a person she had known herself, instead of someone who lived hundreds of years ago, would they have cared about him just as much as they begin to care about the canine Napoleon, or is there something special/important about his being a dog?

For more discussion of how children connect with non-human animals, see William Crain’s insightful book, The Emotional Lives of Animals and Children (Turning Stone Press, 2014). William Crain is a professor of psychology and founder of Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary. Click here for a review and discussion on the book from Our Hen House.

Norris, Leslie. “The Pit Ponies.” Wales. This Same Sky, p. 119 (see Resource List)

Moffit, Barbara. “Never to Crow.” United Poultry Concerns.

Silverstein, Shel. “Point of View.” Where the Sidewalk Ends, p.

“Point of View” challenges us to think about an animal-based meal from the victims’ point of view, rather than from the point of view of the eater.

Visit All Things Upper Elementary for Amy Satterfield’s activity suggestions for using this poem as a gateway to thinking and writing about alternative perspectives in fiction, day-to-day discussions, and the media.

Silkin, Jon.“Caring for Animals.” England. printed in This Same Sky, p. 112 (see Resource List)

Sound of a Battery Hen.” United Poultry Concerns, 1997.

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