Jewish World Review July 9, 2003 / 9 Tamuz, 5763

David Grimes

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Keep cows out of the classroom | In what may be the worst idea since the invention of talking washing machines, New Zealand researchers are trying to teach cows to read.

As is the case with all ideas that have the potential of ending life as we know it, this one was well intentioned. The idea was to direct the cows into milking stalls by using signs, thereby giving farmers more time to work the New York Times crossword puzzle, or whatever it is farmers do when they are not busy herding their cows. According to an Associated Press story, the cows not only figured out the signs fairly quickly, they also knew what a three-letter word was for "affirmative action."

I am making that last part up (I think), but I do not believe I can overstate the danger of teaching reading skills to barnyard animals. One day they're shuffling into the milking stall and the next day they're deconstructing Proust. Getting into college is tough enough for today's young people without making them compete with Holsteins that scored 1,600 on their SATs.

A cow's life is not exactly overflowing with intellectual stimulation. Once you get past the cud-chewing and pooping, there's not a whole lot going on. Not only are they dull, but their pop-culture knowledge is zip. These are creatures that wouldn't know Ruben Studdard if he came up and smacked 'em on the brisket. This is acceptable to cows because they don't know any better. Martha Stewart's guilt or innocence is of no concern to them as long as the grass is green and the sun is warm.

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All of this could change if cows become literate. Once Bossie gets a few chapters into "The Feminine Mystique" she may decide there's more to life than being milked and raising 3.5 calves. As soon as Clarabelle realizes her worth and starts demanding equal pay for equal work, the price of 2 percent skim will skyrocket to $25 a half-gallon and all ice cream will be made from soybeans. Cows will delay calf-rearing until they have established themselves in their careers and many will need therapy to help them work out the conflicts between work and pasture.

Cows will demand more and better educational opportunities, putting additional stress on our already shaky public school system. Additional classroom space will be needed to accommodate these bulky animals and clover will replace Mystery Meat as the cafeteria's worst new flavor. (Delicacy prevents me from going into the hygiene challenges that schoolcows would present, but I think it's safe to say that the custodial staff would have its hands full, so to speak.)

Once it gets around that Flossie is doing her dissertation on the religious symbolism in "Moby Dick," other barnyard animals will want an education, too. While I have no problem with a Guernsey as speaker of the house (it would almost certainly be an improvement over what we've got), I'm not comfortable with a chicken on the Supreme Court or a goat as president.

Because before you know it the thing would do something dumb, like invade Iraq, and then we'd really be in a mess.

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JWR contributor David Grimes is a columnist for The Sarasota Herald Tribune. Comment by clicking here.


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