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Course explores animal ethics issues

By : Gail Glover

If there is just one thing that George Catalano hopes his Watson 281 students take away from the course, it’s this: see the complexities of life because there are no easy choices.

Offered through the University’s selective Binghamton Scholars Program, the course, “Peaceable Kingdom: Animal’s Place in the Modern World,” focuses on the theories of animal ethics.

For Catalano, who directs the scholars program, animal ethics go far beyond being just another course offering.

“I am deeply committed to, in the words of the Greek poet Aeschylus, ‘make gentle the life of the world and tame the savage heart of man,’ ” he said. “To me that means providing students with the ability to reflect and contemplate the choices they make and their consequences. I think they are perhaps surprised that an engineering professor would have such feelings and I hope that opens them to think more broadly about their careers ahead.”

Joining Catalano in the classroom is co-instructor, Francine Montemurro, University ombudsman, for whom the welfare and treatment of animals is also an avocation.

“On one level, I want students to be familiar with the philosophical foundation of one of the most controversial and contentious issues in the modern world,” said Montemurro. “But on a broader level, I hope the discussion and course material puts them in a place where they are best able to check their own moral convictions with their decision-making directions. I hope they can reflect not only on the way society treats animals, but on the way we treat each other.”

This type of intellectual stimulation is a key component of the scholars program. Students are challenged to engage in collaborative and experiential learning experiences and extracurricular activities.

Using a variety of instructional tools such as reaction papers, class projects and trips, Watson 281 also encompasses a Languages Across the Curriculum (LxC) component in that students are expected to conduct research using domestic resources and incorporate an international perspective. This often means working with LxC staff to research and translate foreign language materials.

For sophomore Nicole Vidiri, the LxC component has given her a more global perspective on the animal ethics issue.

“It has opened my eyes to just how international the animal ethics movement is,” she said. “Being a language student, I have learned much about the culture of countries I have studied, but animal issues have never really been included in the curriculum. Animal ethics is truly important in other nations, and one of the most interesting parts of the project, for me, has been to see the varying degrees of action that are taking place in different countries.”

Students will also be graded on the outreach aspect of the course material. This semester, outreach is focused on organizing and marketing the screening of the award-winning docu-mentary Peaceable Kingdom, scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, April 7, in LH-7.

“I hope we attract a diverse audience of all types of people from vegetarians to meat-eaters,” said sophomore Anthony Olenik, “Then we can have an enlightening discussion with multiple viewpoints after the showing,”

For senior Alison Kincaid, the course has been a real eye-opener. “Before taking this class, I knew very little about the arguments and ideas surrounding animal ethics and the animal rights movement,” she said. “But this class, because it is so interdisciplinary — ethics, English, philosophy, literature, history, environmental studies, biology and current events — has really challenged me to think about things in a new way and to challenge more of the things around me.”
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Last Updated: 10/14/08