Tackling Challenging Topics: The Dolphin Dilemma

Recently, our Grade 4 class began exploring habitats and communities in our Science unit.  The children were very excited to share what they thought we would be learning about and which habitats and animals they were looking forward to researching.  One student was eager to tell the class that she saw dolphins at a marine park during the summer and would like to learn more about them because they were beautiful.  Now, I have to preface my story by saying that every student I’ve ever had in my classroom knows how much I love dolphins.  In fact, anyone visiting my classroom immediately notices the countless dolphin figurines lovingly given by many of my former students.  However, what students may not know is how strongly I believe that these mammals do not belong in marine parks but rather, should be left to swim in the wild.

During our classroom discussion one of the boys surprised me by asking the student who had visited the marine park why she liked to see dolphins in pools when they were supposed to be in the ocean.  Many students looked at him confused and admitted to having seen dolphins in marine parks and they also thought they were “cool.”  He seemed outnumbered by the blank and puzzled stares coming from his classmates and looked at me for support.  I have to admit that my natural reaction would be to defend him, prove why he’s right and try to educate students by raising awareness about the issue.  Of course, after so many years of tackling challenging issues related to social justice, the environment and students’ personal lives I know that the best way to engage in meaningful conversation is to keep an open mind, look at all perspectives, raise relevant questions that will provoke critical thinking and provide factual (hopefully biased-free) material that can be used to analyze the issue at hand.

This always takes me back to Chimamanda Adichie’s TED Talk  “The Danger of a Single Story.”  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9Ihs241zeg
In the past I’ve broken down this video with my students for us to realize how biased we all are to some degree and how those biases can greatly affect how we see and interact with the world.  When we have the tools we need to deal with challenging topics, we end up not only learning more, but growing from our experience, even if we continue to disagree.  It’s a powerful lesson to learn in life: before deciding where we stand on an issue,  step back and look at it from all sides before venturing toward a conclusion.

I do have to confess that despite all my attempts to stay neutral I did wear my Dolphin Project – Swim Wild t-shirt to school that same week.  Needless to say the students have decided (without my coaxing) that they’d like to learn more about a dolphin’s natural habitat and study the impact that keeping them in marine parks has on them.  This inquiry will definitely present some challenges for me but I hope to guide my students to their own well thought-out conclusion.  I’ll post our findings in the near future 🙂

 

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The Author

Carmen.Oliveira

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