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The Animal School| Inclusion and Universal Design

Little Red School House
Creative Commons License photo credit: ヘザー heza

Many people have a hard time understanding the concepts of independence vs. interdependence, inclusion, multiple intelligences and cooperative learning. I thought a revision of The Animal School by George Reavis might explain it all.*


Once upon a time the animals got together and decided to start a school.

The parents and teachers wanted to make everything FAIR, so they decided ALL the animals would take ALL the subjects. No exceptions.

The curriculum consisted of classes in swimming, running, flying and climbing. Each student would need a grade of C to pass. There would be a competition to see who could get the best grades.


Doug the duck was excellent in swimming, in fact, better than his instructor. But Doug made only passing grades in flying and was getting Fs in running and climbing.

At a team meeting, it was decided he needed to drop swimming and take remedial classes to practice running.

This continued until Doug the duck’s webbed feet were badly worn and he was only average in swimming.

But average, or C, was acceptable in school, so nobody worried about that—except Doug and his family.


Rene the Rabbit started at the top of her class in running. But she soon had a nervous breakdown because she was failing in climbing and the others made fun of her in flying and swimming classes. She passed the standardized tests but the last day of class she buried her books and said she would drop out.


Sam the Squirrel was excellent in running and climbing. He also had high marks in flying until the teacher read a research study that said everything should be taught from the ground-up, not the tree-top down.


Edward the eagle was the problem child. He bit the other animals in running class. He perseverated on flying. In the climbing class he insisted on using his own way to get to the top of the tree. After several discipline meetings, it was decided his diving into the river for fish would count as swimming credit. He was considered a loner with no friends. “He just keeps flying off,” the teachers complained and suggested he be put in special education.


The chipmunks were excluded from school because they could not pass the prerequisite swimming tests. They protested and demanded digging and burrowing be added to the curriculum. This caused hot debate among the parents and students. The rabbits and squirrels thought digging and burrowing should replace swimming. The ducks thought there should be better discipline and a subject on following the leader.


Even though he got a D in flying, one frog won the student competition and was valedictorian. All the students and their families were unhappy.

Further, the chipmunks boycotted school board meetings and joined the groundhogs and snakes to start a charter school.

Does this fable have a moral?

make way for ducklings
Creative Commons License photo credit: shoothead


Once upon a time the animals got together and decided to start a school at the pond.

The parents and teachers wanted to make everything FAIR, so they decided ALL the animals would have Individualized Education Plans with Curriculum goals and objectives.

After all, they thought it is only FAIR to consider each student’s unique and individual differences.

The superintendent announced, “We all have multiple ways of learning and our common survival depends on us all learning to live interdependently in a community. Lessons need to be differentiated according to each student’s gifts and talents.”

The parents agreed that if the purpose of school is to learn the skills required AFTER graduation, then the students needed “Survival 101.”

The teaching methods used would be a functional activity-based project which stressed cooperation and problem solving. “Safety at the pond,” was the thematic unit.

There would be individual goals and objectives and each student would work hard, improve on the skills they have and contribute their talents and strengths to the project. The stress would be on cooperation and interdependence, rather than competition and independence.


Doug the duck was excellent in swimming, in fact, better than his instructor. Duck was also good at getting animals to follow in line.

At a team meeting, it was decided he would be the project director and supervise all water activities. Doug the duck was excited to be given leadership activities. He improved his dive, his ability to swim across the lake and his life-saving water safety skills.


Rene the Rabbit was a great runner and jumper. Since she was close to the ground, she was in charge of everything on the earth’s surface. She learned to identify animal tracks, and was to alert squirrel if needed. Because Rene was worried she wouldn’t be able to do her best job, Eagle offered to mentor her.


Sam the Squirrel was excellent in running and climbing. He volunteered to be the lookout and guardian of the trees and wildlife. If there was danger, he would issue the alarm and run messages. He would also be the time keeper at all meetings.


Edward the eagle was excited he could fly. Doug the duck asked him to survey the pond from the air. He wanted Edward to use his “eagle eyes” to scout for trouble, trespassers and danger and any animals in trouble.


The chipmunks, snakes and groundhogs were welcomed in the school. They became a part of the community. They gave digging and burrowing tips to squirrel and rabbit. When a fallen tree threatened to block the water flow, they helped dig a channel.


In the course of the year, Doug the duck saved squirrel when he almost drowned. Eagle saved Duck when he got caught in the ice and almost froze. Rene got enough confidence that she wants to be the project director next time. Sam raised the alarm when a group of Girl Scouts came camping. Because they all cooperated and learned together, their pond community was a happy and safe place and each animal was respected and valued for their contribution.

Instead of one standardized test or grades, each had gifts, they all survived, learned new skills, made new friends and could celebrate the true nature of community: interdependence and inclusion.

Does this fable have a moral?

Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward

All my best,

Please add your comments:

Do you know any Dougs, Renes, Sams or Edwards?

Do you know any students who are excluded and asked to go elsewhere? Are the students treated like individuals? Is the curriculum differentiated? Does everyone feel happy, safe and like valuable members of the community? Are students encouraged to build on their strengths and talents or does everyone have to learn the same things in the same ways? Are the students learning skills that will help them in Survival 101 after graduation?

Related Posts

What is Inclusion?

A New Year of Learning

Test Questions| Segregation or Inclusion

*Like my husband, George Reavis taught in Cincinnati Public Schools. The original The Animal School was published around 1940 in The Public School Bulletin long before inclusion was even a dream–or was it?

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29 Responses to “The Animal School| Inclusion and Universal Design”

  • Abbey Toepfer says:

    Module 2:

    I really enjoyed reading this little story because it had a wonderful message to everyone! A BIG misconception today is that treating everyone the same in the classroom is fair. This statement couldn’t be more wrong. Just like these little animals, students all have different attributes that they bring into the classroom. Teachers and others need to value every student for their unique talents. The revised version was a great example of showing how including everyone and valuing each person for who they are will create a strong and safe learning environment. I hope schools can learn from this story and incorporate these methods into their classrooms! Everyone has great, unique talents, we just need to acknowledge them!

    • Mary says:

      Equal and Fair are two hard concepts to talk about. Everyone already thinks they understand this and it is another paradigm shift for many people. Thanks for your comments Abbey. I’m glad you “get it”

  • Christina Vergara says:

    Responding for Module 2:

    I have never heard of this story before but as I was reading it I became frustrated by the way they were running the school and how this way made the animals feel put down and upset. The revised version was a sense of relief, this is how schools should be! This way everyone feels included, improves, and becomes well rounded in their own special way. I hope that schools continue to work and become as inclusive as possible and include everyone and make them feel special as they learn.

    • Mary says:

      It is amazing that we KNOW what to do. Yet, we often just keep doing the things we know don’t work. Glad this brought home the message. Thanks Christina.

  • Erica Baldrick says:

    I thought this was a very interesting and true story. If you relate this to real life, I am sure that students with extra needs feel excluded at times and I thought this story was a great idea for inclusion. I think everyone should get a chance to try so that everything is fair.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Many people can’t understand the “same is not fair” concept. So glad you’re on our side Erica. You will be a strong advocate.

  • Hannah Marshall says:

    I really enjoyed this. I agree with the idea of inclusion and that every individual puts their main focus toward the activities that they are strongest in. I think everybody deserves a chance to at least TRY each and every activity, but if they struggle in certain areas, that isn’t fair. It is only fair if everybody has a chance to do what they can, in the ways that they can.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      “What they can, in the ways they can”– I love it. You are going to touch many people if you build up their self-esteem and help them find their strengths.

  • Nichole Martini says:

    I love the way this post is set up; the Animal School really puts things in perspective. I wish there were less standardized tests, it just doesn’t make sense to me to try and determine and individual’s abilities through one set test. I myself remember taking the standardized tests, but I couldn’t tell you what I learned from them. I would much rather have done something that would have helped me learn more life skills that would prepare me.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Hi Nichole, There will be a pendulum swing at some point and then these tests will lose their importance, but I hope I life long enough. Maybe we could ask them to talk with a duck or rabbit, eh? 🙂

  • Ian Silver says:

    This story is a very accurate representation of a traditional education system as well as the differences between equality and equity. In a traditional school environment everyone does the same thing (equality) however, the education system should focus more on the strengths of each student (or animal) in order for them to be the most successful. (equity) A real life example of the revised story is the classrooms that took learning preferences into account.

    • Mary says:

      You’re right Ian, learning preferences make all the difference. I’m not sure why that is so hard to learn. Only thing that makes sense is that the schools were set up on the industrial workhouse model where everyone was the same–so they didn’t care about individual needs at all. One individual was the same as the next in the industrial cog.

  • Miranda Ranieri says:

    Not all people have the same strengths and weaknesses. Each individual needs to be given an equal chance. Each individual has a different gift. An individual may not succeed in something, but may in something else. No one should ever be looked down upon because of their weaknesses. Nor should individuals be compared. Its interesting how you can realize these things when it is put into different perspectives.

  • Mary says:

    Good way to think about it Jessica. We all like people to see us–not this bodily shell we live in. 🙂

  • Jessica Osterday says:

    Reading these passages helped me to realize that when approaching an individual, one should not point out his or her weaknesses. Rather, the individual’s strengths. Every person should be looked upon by his or her positive aspects. Whether or not he or she has a disability should not matter. The person still has skills that make him or her unique. Everyone can contribute to the world in a positive way. We just have to be able to recognize that and encourage those who need it. Though we are all different, we each have characteristics that bring us all together.

  • Maci says:

    This article is great! It really shows how multiple intelligences are in most classrooms, even with animals! I like how they said fair in the first school, was that everyone had to take the same classes. When really that isn’t fair at all. for that to be fair we would all have to be made the exact same way. However in the second school, fair wasn’t that everyone had the same classes, it was to consider each students unique and individuals differences. This encourages students that they are smart. Rather than pointing out all the things they can fail in. I think the quote

    “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” -Albert Einstein is a prime example of these two classrooms and which one is more effective for students, or even animals. Everyone is a genius in their own way.

  • Anne Pace says:

    The blog post about the Animal School story was extremely powerful. The story really allowed me to understand the concept that every student varies and no two student are alike. Every student has their own likes, interests, and special talents that can help them to learn and develop into great students and people. Teachers should use students’ interests and talents to help better the student. Individualizing education plans helps students to feel accomplished by challenging themselves in a way that is appropriate for them. By using individualized education plans, as described in the second version of the Animal School story, each student can contribute to the society as a whole. Students can make great accomplishments and build their strengths and work on their weaknesses. Every person has their own valuable role in society and it is important for teachers and other role model figures to help foster this role in students. All it takes is hope and encouragement to be able to make successes in students. This story truly can be used to explain to people how important individualized education plans are and how important care and support can be in students’ lives.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Wow Anne, I loved your enthusiasm. You really GOT the point of the story. We can only hope your generation of teachers and professionals can make the lessons of the Animal school a reality. Thanks.

  • Different people have different strengths and weaknesses. The bar has to be set at a reasonable measure for each individual. Just because someone is not good at one thing doesn’t mean they are not extraordinary at something else. One’s confidence should not be brought any lower because they do not excel at something someone else does. I thought this post was really interesting. When it is put into terms like this, it’s really easy to see what is right and wrong and how the individuals with exceptionalities have been discluded. It’s awesome to see it broken down a different way.
    Sadie Sneider recently posted..The Values of Inclusion| from Down-Under

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Thanks Sadie, an animal school is an interesting way to think of the lessons of education and inclusion. You are right, different people have different strengths and weaknesses. Now, if we can just all work together and see each others’ strengths.

  • Gary Jordon says:

    Hi Mary Great post. I like the comparison contrast approach. It really highlights the differences you are try to share.

    My only regret is that this wasn’t being taught to the credentialed people that ran the school district(and still do)where I grew up in Lancaster/Palmdale CA.

    I must definitely will share and retweet this post. Also, it is a shame that the people I worked with for those 6 years weren’t taught in a school system that would have helped them find their gifts rather then putting them in a room to basically rot away their lives away while the big shots got the Federal and state funding.

    One last thought as the US dollar and the flat currencies around the world are abandoned as worthless the next generation of educators may have to forgo the luxury of the big Brother helping them. They will need to find new and creative ways to help the next seven generations learn the skills they need for themselves and thier communities to thrive.

    Have a wonderful day.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Gary, it is unfortunate your experience in school did not meet your needs. There are many people who like the old school of competition and one size fits all. It may work for many people, but the new ideas of schooling could work so much better. Let’s hope teachers and the schools have the opportunity and the funding they need to do their hard work.

  • I see the teacher in your every post, Mary. I have a friend whose child is not keeping up with his age mates in academics. But he is a brilliant athlete. Her facebook page is full of photos of his coming first in this, first in that, his scouting achievements and soccer skills. She knows he won’t become a rocket scientist but she has my admiration for encouraging his skills in the direction that he excels even if completes his classroom work in a special needs class that is, frankly, scary because of the different needs that are placed within that room and inadequately met.
    Alison Golden recently posted..How To Have An Exciting Life!

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Thanks Alison. I hope it made sense. Even with my kindergarten background, this might be over the top.

      In an inclusive classroom, your friend’s child could thrive with the proper support. That is what is so sad. There is nothing that happens in that special education classroom that couldn’t be provided in a general education classroom. And LOTs of wonderful things that can be in a general education classroom. It is all about supports and differentation.

      Obviously the young man has great kinestetic skills. If they followed the principles of multiple intelligence, they would build on that strength in all the subject areas.

  • Darell Cerio says:

    I am so grateful for your article post. Great.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      HI Darell,

      Thanks for the feedback. Tell us more about yourself. Are you a parent or family member, teacher, self-advocate, friend of a person with a disability?

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