What Are Our Attitudes Towards the Legal Status of Animals: Property or Persons?
The learning sequence for this activity begins with designing an experiment to test peoples’ attitudes towards the idea of granting legal personhood to animals. Once planned, students individually design either a short, online, quantitative survey or conduct two face-to-face qualitative interviews with adults of their choice. Teachers should evenly split the research methods across the class. Results, some of which are tabulated or presented in graph form, are analysed with patterns and anomalies identified. Students communicate the results and their analysis to interviewees in the form of a short report and present a one-minute oral summary of findings to their class.
Key Inquiry Questions
- What are the community’s attitudes towards the notion of giving legal personhood status to animals such as chimpanzees and elephants? Do these attitudes change after watching an educational video?
- What is the difference between qualitative and quantitative research methods in geographical research and when is each one used?
- How are surveys and interviews constructed to ensure clarity, consistency, response exclusivity, anonymity and useful results?
- Why is it important to recognise that the solution to some geographical questions and problems requires consideration of social, cultural, economic or moral aspects?
Key Focus Areas
- Demonstrating to students that giving animals legal personhood status can be an effective environmental management strategy.
- Encouraging debate around this issue.
- Teaching inquiry skills.
1. QUESTIONING AND PREDICTING
- The teacher leads students in considering the idea of applying legal personhood status to animals.
- To prepare for this geographical inquiry, as a class, watch the Voiceless video ‘Animals: Property or Persons?’ and read the accompanying Fact Sheet.
- The teacher supports students to develop an appropriate research question for their empirical research. A potential research question is: ‘Do people think it is reasonable to give legal personhood status to animals?’ Students can predict possible outcomes.
2. PLANNING AND CONDUCTING
- Once the research question is confirmed, guide the class in the design of a short quantitative survey OR qualitative interview that seeks to determine peoples’ views on giving legal personhood status to animals.
- The Research Methods PowerPoint may assist teachers with this part of the task as might the SACE Fieldwork Techniques overview.
- The same questions are to be answered before respondents watch the video and then again after watching the video.
- It is unlikely that survey respondents will have a prior understanding of the issues surrounding legal personhood for animals. As such, students will need to provide them with some information before conducting the interview/survey. The following process is suggested:
- i. After students have viewed the Video and read the Fact Sheet, they synthesise the information and summarise it in their own words, either in one paragraph or a series of five-six dot points.
- ii. Students then present respondents with their description of legal personhood at the start of the survey/interview. Next, they ask a specific set of questions that focus on the idea of animal rights, rather than specific knowledge about legal personhood. Approximately five questions are recommended. Examples might include: Do you think animals should have legal rights? Do you think giving legal rights to animals would create problems?
- iii. Next, respondents view the video.
- iv. Finally, students ask respondents to answer the same specific set of questions again.
3. PROCESS AND ANALYSIS
Once responses have been received back from interviewees, students collate and analyse the results, presenting them in an appropriate manner. After a class discussion, students are to write a 200-word analysis of their results including clear reference to the initial research question.
In evaluating the research process, students should consider the reliability of data collected and the limitations of conclusions that can be drawn from the data. Students should identify problems encountered during the process, and discuss possible areas for future improvement.
Students could email their 200-word analysis to the people they surveyed or interviewed. An opportunity to present findings to the class in a short oral presentation or via a class discussion is also useful.
This activity allows for feedback on student performance by the individual student, their interviewees, peers and the teacher.
6. USEFUL RESOURCES
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