Monday, April 23, 2012

Character Education and Educating Characters: Part II

his morning, like most mornings, the small equine herd in my backyard was waiting anxiously for breakfast, which they are always sure is not coming and are consistently thrilled about when it appears in their buckets.  In part, I have a former barn slave to thank for their enthusiasm.  He was an excellent worker, but regular hours were not on his agenda.  He showed up when he showed up.  That meant the horses ate when they ate, and they quickly became attuned to the sound of a vehicle pulling up the driveway.  Any vehicle at any hour of the day could bring the whole little gang flying from wherever on the property they were stuffing themselves with grass (in case, Zip assured me, the kid just didn't show one day, not out of gluttony as it would appear to the uninitiated).  It's been five years, and the UPS guy still thinks he's got a magic touch with horses.
Good Citizen Leo

As I walk to the barn, there is a reshuffling of positions on the other side of the gate.  They're not bickering over anything, just assuming their assigned places.  For the most part, the line-up reflects the order of the stalls along the barn aisle.  My horses walk in and go to their stalls on their own, a trick my daughter suggested I teach them after I'd spent one high-heeled evening too many being dragged around the barnyard or chasing some gate-squirter who managed to squeak through behind the horse I was leading.  I don't need to look behind me to know I've got Zip six inches from my butt, Pokey behind him, Leo coming on in third place, Dakota next, and Pinky the One-eyed Wonder App bringing up the rear (assuming he noticed the herd had left wherever he was standing, which isn't always a given).  It hasn't always been the same lineup.  When my daughter's horses were here, her mare, Dolly, and her gelding, Grady, led the herd into the barn, and Rat came up third.  That still reflected the stall door lineup, but it was also a sign of obeisance on the part of their followers that Dolly and Grady--Ms and Mr Herd Leader--were held in such high esteem, not to mention a little fear of reprisal.

Zip learns Respect...for the bag of treats, mostly.
Talk about character education!  Dolly and Grady, over their 8-year reign as benevolent despots in a herd that numbered as few as five and as many as nine or ten horses, taught their followers the rules in an even-hooved, fair-minded and only slightly aggressive way.  They instilled the Six Pillars of Character in them and never thought twice about how they might be affecting their herd's self-esteem.  Among prey animals, fear and control are key components.

In case you missed part one of this post, the "Six Pillars of Character" are these:

  1. Trustworthiness
  2. Respect
  3. Responsibility
  4. Fairness
  5. Caring
  6. Citizenship
That's not to say that all of their charges were good students.  That's where the "inclusion" and "special ed" part comes in.  Included in this class was one Merry Prankster, one creosote drinker, at least one with ADHD, maybe a couple of older types taking adult education courses...  It would have been a Regular Education teacher's nightmare.  But horses don't think about it that way.  They don't segregate each other based on bizarre behavior or bad hair.  It's all about who is most likely to get them killed.  That's who gets sent to wood shop.  That's the horse with the special helmet and no friends.  The horse that's going to open the gate for the wolves is the one they put in the corner, not necessarily the one that has to taste everyone's grain on the way to his own bucket.

Now, if we humans could take a page from that book, we might treat our equine (not to mention human) students differently.  Enjoying the characters for who they are and still giving them "character" to the best of our and their ability.  

Next time:  Say, what?


Susan Schreyer said...

ROTFLMAO! Oh, you are so right -- love the line "the one most likely to get us killed." Excellent post!!

Crowzma said...

I wish I had you neatly folded in my back pocket for fully half of my horse-client sessions. I will say no more, because I have character.