First, some background.I did poorly in maths and science at school although my failure can't be attributed entirely to the education system: I spent a lot of class time digging holes into lab benches with the spiked end of a compass, or melting ballpoint pens over a Bunsen burner.
It might even be possible that my brain function was reduced by mercury poisoning. The dental nurse at my primary school rewarded us for not screaming blue murder during her ministrations by giving us a drop of mercury in a little plastic box. Returning to class with stretched lips and a mouth full of amalgam, you'd would immediately tip out the mercury for the fun of watching it roll about your desktop.
It was by observing the melting, silvery, slither of the mercury that I learned what “mercurial” actually meant.
I believe that if such connections between real life and taught fact had been forged more frequently in science classes of my youth, I might now be in charge of the Hadron Collider or the recipient of a Nobel Prize for mathematics.
Which brings me back to the incident of the (almost) exploding dog which occurred last week ...
Although it was almost dark, and a stiff wind was still blowing, I slung on a raincoat and hurried the dog over to the park. And not a moment too soon. The dog crouched with an urgent need to expel the matter that had accumulated during our incarceration. Then she dashed madly about discharging a similarly accumulated energy.
That was when it dawned on me that a dog - particularly an un-walked Jack Russell - is essentially, a physics lesson on four legs.
Ah, I thought, putting a dog in every classroom could revolutionise the teaching of science.
Terriers such as the Jack Russel would obviously have lots of to teach about energy and black holes.
Gun dogs would be experts in big bang theory.
Other breeds would have much to offer in the classroom too, including the Labrador I looked after during a house-sit in Auckland. I took Milo (he’s a chocolate Labrador) for daily strolls around Ponsonby. On the first day, he lunged excitedly at an innocent pair of Cocker Spaniels and nearly wrenched my leash-arm from its socket. In a park the next day, Milo nearly bowled me over in his eagerness to snatch a doggy treat from my hand.
Under Milo’s tutelage I rapidly learned the most salient differences between large dogs and small dogs. I learned that large dogs are heavier and stronger than small dogs. I learned that small dogs can pull on a leash to the point of self-asphyxiation, but don’t have the strength to drag you from pillar to odoriferous lamppost.
Small dogs can be fast, but even at high speed they’re unlikely to knock you flat. I learned that a big dog sprawled on the kitchen floor is a major obstacle to culinary ergonomics but a small dog occupying the same patch of lino is a mere inconvenience. And finally, I learned that the larger the dog the larger the doggy doo bag needs to be.
In short, Milo’s paws-on approach taught me more about mass, force and velocity than I learned in four years of conventional teaching by a human physics teacher. This is why I believe that introducing canine teaching assistants into the science departments of all schools in New Zealand makes very good pedagogical sense.
However, the idea of dogs as teachers is unlikely to find wide acceptance until solutions have been found to some basic issues. For example, although many human teachers do bark, very few of them actually bite. Most human teachers are able to keep themselves properly fed, watered and exercised and can legally stroll off-leash almost anywhere. And of course most human teachers achieve bladder and bowel control at Teachers Training College, if not before.
Unfortunately, although dogs are very gifted teachers, not all of them have the same level of self-management and self-control as their human counterparts. However, I firmly believe that every dog will have its day - eventually.
I intend to contact Jacinda Ardern to suggest that we launch this educational breakthrough by installing lamp posts, hitching rails and doggy doo bag dispensers at strategic locations in all New Zealand schools.