Next of Kin

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2002:

Next of Kin: A Compassionate, Interdisciplinary Science Curriculum
(Phase 1- Grades 6-9)
by Rachel Fouts-Carrico,
co-produced by the New England Anti-Vivisection Society
and Friends of Washoe
(order from NEAVS, 333 Washington St., Suite 850, Boston, MA
02108), 2002. $75 plus $8.00 for shipping and handling.

The Next of Kin curriculum introduces many concepts from the
1997 book Next of Kin: What Chimpanzees Have Taught Me about Who We
Are, by Roger Fouts and Stephen Tukel Mills, republished in 1998
with the more successful alternate subtitle Conversations with

Next of Kin curriculum author Rachel Fouts-Carrico holds a
master’s degree in educational supervision and curriculum
development, and is the daughter of Roger and Deborah Fouts, who
were among the pioneers of introducing human language to chimpanzees.
Roger and Deborah Fouts founded Friends of Washoe in 1981 to ensure
that the chimpanzees they worked with would not be used in more
invasive forms of research after their federal funding ended. They
named the organization after Washoe, their first and best-known
The curriculum consists of 322 pages in a three-ring binder,
accompanied by a CD which can be used to preview the curriculum, or
to enhance it, for instance by showing QuickTime video clips of
Washoe and other chimpanzees.
This first version of the curriculum targets middle school.
The next version will be for grades K-5, followed by a version for
grades 10-12.

Thirty lessons

Thirty lesson plans are included, split into five sets.
“Our Fellow Animals” discusses scientific classification,
the percentages of genetic relationship shared among various species,
and characteristics held in common by both chimpanzees and humans.
“Free-Living Chimpanzees” explores the cultures of different
groups of chimpanzees, describes the gestures and behaviors that
chimpanzees use to communicate, and discusses the endangered status
of wild chimpanzees.
“Captive Chimpanzees” considers the use of chimpanzees in
laboratories, zoos, and sanctuaries. The section on lab use
describes the living conditions of animals in biomedical research,
the role of the Animal Welfare Act, the experiences of lab chimps,
and includes activities to develop students’ empathy for their
plight. The section about zoos discusses evaluating chimpanzee
exhibits and the various limitations and stresses upon captive
chimpanzee behavior. The section about sanctuaries includes an
interview with a chimpanzee sanctuary caregiver, plus further
discussion of how to recognize and build a chimpanzee-centered
captive habitat.
The “Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute” lessons
present excerpts from the Roger Fouts book Next of Kin. Questions
are raised about cross-fostering, chimpanzee language studies,
Washoe’s use of sign language, and how scientists throughout history
have promoted or challenged the idea that only humans are capable of
rational thought. Each CHCI chimp is introduced as an individual,
and students are asked to learn to recognize them in photos. There
is also discussion of the importance of environmental enrichment for
captive chimps, how enrichment methods are classified, and what
students can send to CHCI to help with enrichment.
The last set of lessons, “A Humane Community,” presents
alternatives to dissection and animal testing, discusses opposition
to laboratory use of animals from a variety of perspectives,
describes how scientists can learn from animals without harming them,
explores the relationship between human-to-human violence and
human-to-animal violence, facilitates research of possible humane
careers, and encourages antivivisection activism.
A great strength of this curriculum is that it recommends
techniques other than the standard lecture/reading-and-discussion
format. For example, in one lesson students make chains of cards
listing characteristics that belong solely to chimps, solely to
humans, or are shared by both. In another lesson, students
pantomime chimp behaviors that others on their team must correctly
identify. After learning about the individual chimps at CHCI, the
students play chimpanzee dominoes, with different photos of the same
chimpanzee (unlabeled) constituting a match.
As is typical for new curriculums, there are bugs to work
out. In one lesson, the answer key indicates that only humans, not
chimps, can “communicate vocally.” This lesson is on the New
England Anti-Vivisection Society web site as a sample, and has been
corrected there to read “speak verbally.”
In another lesson, “How They Live”, students are divided
into groups to read different selections of information, but some of
the group numbers are missing on the reading material, so that it is
not easily apparent where one selection ends and another begins.
Some of the reading selections appear to be significantly longer than
others, which creates a classroom management problem, as some
groups will finish and have nothing to do while the other groups are
still reading.
The concept load in this lesson and some others is perhaps
too demanding for the targeted age range.
The lessons on alternatives to dissection will need constant
updating. For instance, there are some great alternative activities
(better termed replacement activities) that are web-based, which are
not mentioned in the lesson.

Provocative content

The greatest difficulty, however, is with some of the
content. For example, in the “Captive Chimpanzees” and “A Humane
Community” sections, teachers (and administrators and school boards)
will be leery of the controversy inherent in some of these lessons.
It is difficult to picture a public school teacher actually having
their students produce a play on vivisection, or asking students to
set written goals to help animals in biomedical research.
In a lesson titled “Research Flip-Flopped,” students write a
report explaining one way animals are used for human health, diet,
or entertainment and then the teacher has the students “replace the
term ‘human’ with the name of your animal and replace the name of
your animal with ‘human.'”
This might strike some students as more funny than
eye-opening…but these are all examples of lessons that might be
difficult to defend if a parent objected to them as one-sided or as
lessons with a so-called “fringe” agenda.
Some of the reading assignments present ethical opinions as
fact and this is also difficult for a teacher to defend, no matter
how noble the opinion. It is not far-fetched to picture parents who
are doctors or nurses objecting to some of the lessons on biomedical
research, for example, though certainly others in the medical field
might applaud.
At the other end of the spectrum, some activists will object
to the section on CHCI, in particular, as it does not address the
ethical questions about knowledge gained from captive chimps, even
in an “enriched environment,” and research which is today
non-invasive and “on the chimpanzees’ terms.”
The background information for teachers refers to CHCI as a
sanctuary as well as a research facility, and states, “Even as we
watch these chimpanzees run and play and sign with their companions,
we must not forget that other chimpanzees are not so fortunate.”
This is true, but it also true that there are some
chimpanzees who are much more fortunate.
One of the readings for students presents info on past
studies on chimps’ language abilities without any discussion of the
ethics involved, even when mentioning families who raised
chimpanzees in their homes.
One assignment reads: “You have applied for a grant to
conduct a study teaching chimpanzees sign language. Write a letter
to the organization that is considering granting you the money
explaining why teaching sign language to a chimpanzee is possible.”
This paradoxically casts students in the role of a researcher
utilizing captive chimpanzees, without questioning the ethics
Nor are students asked to explain anything to the granting
organization about the environment in which the chimpanzees will be
kept. This is a glaring disconnect with the objectives of other
sections of the curriculum.
The curriculum, however, does not have to be used in
entirety, as each lesson can stand alone.


It is refreshing to see a humane education curriculum that is
not masquerading as addressing objectives it does not really address.
However, to be used with any frequency, the lessons need to be
linked to meeting national educational standards–and ideally should
be linked as well to meeting state and local standards. Many
principals require lesson plans to stipulate the standards they are
supposed to help students meet.
The Next of Kin curriculum could be applied toward meeting
the national science standards for grades 5-8 in five of seven
subject areas: Science as Inquiry, Life Science, Science and
Technology, Personal and Social Perspectives, and History and
Nature of Science.
But the curriculum does not include any mention of these standards.
If you are considering donating a copy to your local
district, at total cost of $83.00, you will want to take steps to
increase the likelihood that at least some of it will be used. Try
to meet with some supportive teachers in your area and ask them to
list the standards that are addressed by each lesson that is selected
as appropriate and worthwhile, and then make that information
readily available to other teachers.
Perhaps the future editions of the curriculum can explain the
application of Next of Kin to meeting the national standards for
grades 6-8 and grade 9.
There is another big barrier to the use of this curriculum.
Science is one of the areas in which teachers are under great
pressure and are easily tempted to allow the standardized tests to
dictate what is taught. There never seems to be enough time to teach
science, and Next of Kin will be seen as “extra” and “optional,”
and perhaps even “time-consuming.”
Most teachers choosing to add “extra, optional and time
consuming” science lessons will be looking for inquiry lessons, or
hand-on experiments, or perhaps use of real time data or worldwide
collaborative projects from the Internet, such as the Dr. Splatt
roadkill monitoring project, which over the past decade has
assembled an impressive collection of student-gathered real-life data
on how roads affect wildlife.
These are options that teachers who are “into” science are
either seeking or already know about and are likely to choose first.
Unless a teacher personally cares about the plight of
chimpanzees, this curriculum will sit on a shelf. Chimps are highly
appealing to students and teachers alike, and one activist in a
community could do a lot to help get this curriculum into
circulation…but it may be necessary to edit or toss a few of the
lessons first.
–Patty Finch
[Finch, a former classroom teacher and later director of the
National Association for Humane and Environmental Education, is now
a teacher trainer for the Maricopa Community Colleges in greater
Phoenix, Arizona, focusing on inner city educators, through a U.S.
Dept. of Education grant.]

Print Friendly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.