Jewish World Review August 2, 2002 / 24 Menachem-Av, 5762
Debra J. Saunders
The compassionate curriculum
The California state Senate passed a bill earlier this year
telling schools to teach "compassion and respect for
both humans and animals" and add the "promotion of
compassion and respect for both humans and
animals" to science, history and social science
Why write a law like this and what does this
so-broad-as-to-seem- meaningless language mean?
And why should you care?
The author, state Sen. Jack O'Connell, D-San Luis
Obispo, is a candidate for state schools chief and
this bill says a lot about him. Was this tame
language covering up something untame -- insidious
maybe? Or is O'Connell a believer in the sort of vague
vanilla language that has plagued California education
So I called O'Connell. "I've worked with various animal
organizations, and groups that promote animal
well-being," he explained. He has authored several
bills on animals -- to ban product and cosmetic
testing on animals, to mandate counseling for
anyone convicted of abusing animals, and to require
drivers to secure pets in the back of open trucks.
"This (bill) seemed like the next logical step."
What are schools doing wrong or not doing that this
law is needed?
"I see an absence of compassion and consideration
for humans or animals," he responded.
Then he continued to repeat the mantra: "This is an
attempt to instill greater understanding and
compassion for both humans and animals. It's the
next logical step" after the counseling requirement for
How would school curricula change?
"We were going to try to assist teachers with
promoting compassion and respect for humans and
animals," he answered. "It could be a basic
But surely you had some specific content in mind.
"I don't think we got that far."
So with no content in mind, 23 state senators
approved the bill and sent it on to the Assembly.
O'Connell says he is no longer pursuing the bill.
Meanwhile, some observers don't believe the bill was
motivated by benign goodwill. National Association
for Biomedical Research President Frankie Trull saw
the bill as an attempt to force animal-rights
propaganda into public schools.
Stanford University Medical Center neurobiologist
William Newsome noted, "It's obviously a Trojan
Horse for the animal-rights people to push their
agendas in the public schools."
Republican state Sen. Tom McClintock explained
that he voted against SB811 because, "The idea is to
inject the more radical elements of the animal-rights
movement into classrooms."
When I told O'Connell that some observers thought
the bill would promote curricula against using
animals in medical research, he responded, "They're
He added that it's wrong to peg him as anti-animal
medical research because his bills to ban or limit
product testing on animals have exempted medical
True, but the original language banned medical
research with animals.
"The medical research was not the focus of our bill.
You have to put some things in (a bill) that you know
you're going to take out."
As a candidate for the office of state superintendent
of public instruction,
aren't you concerned about politicians writing bills to
push their pet causes on the public schools?
"If trying to promote compassion for humans and
animals (is a pet cause), then I'm guilty."
This puts O'Connell in the company of lawmakers
who successfully pushed bills mandating California
public school curricula for civil rights, human rights
violations, genocide, slavery, the Holocaust and the
Great Irish Famine of 1845-50. The only question is
whether he did it for a political animal- rights agenda,
or for a touchy-feely can't-we-all-get-along message.
So there you have it.
Either O'Connell is interested in pushing animal
rights and inhibiting medical research on animals
(and if he is, you can bet that textbook publishers will
know if he has an anti-research bent).
Or he's just a guy who wants more resources to
promote compassion and respect for both humans
and animals -- with the details to be worked out later.
Quipped McClintock, "I wish him much better luck
than the public schools have had in teaching reading,
writing and arithmetic."
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