Steven Wise is a 63-year-old legal scholar in the area of animal law who believes that animals of higher intelligence should be able to sue their owners for their freedom. After witnessing the cruelty of a caged chimpanzee named Tommy and three other chimps in similar situations, Wise plans to represent the chimps by filing lawsuits against the current owners. The lawsuits will be the first of their kind in American history.
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
Excerpt: ‘Animals Are Persons Too’ by Chris Hegedus and DA Pennebaker NYT
“How does a thing become a person? In December 2013, the lawyer Steven Wise showed the world how, with a little legal jujitsu, an animal can transition from a thing without rights to a person with legal protections.
This Op-Doc video follows Mr. Wise on his path to filing the first-ever lawsuits in the United States demanding limited “personhood” rights for certain animals, on behalf of four captive chimpanzees in New York State.
After he started his career as a criminal defense lawyer, he was inspired by Peter Singer’s book “Animal Liberation” to dedicate himself to justice for animals.
He helped pioneer the study of animal rights law in the 1980s. In 2000, he became the first person to teach the subject at Harvard Law School, as a visiting lecturer. Mr. Wise began developing his animal personhood strategy after struggling with ineffective welfare laws and regulations that fail to keep animals out of abusive environments.
The current focus of Mr. Wise’s legal campaign includes chimpanzees, elephants, whales and dolphins — animals whose unusually high level of intelligence has been recognized by scientific research. The body of scientific work on chimpanzee cognition, in particular, is enormous, and scientific testimony is crucial to Mr. Wise’s legal arguments.
His team, the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), selected as its first plaintiffs four chimps living in New York: Tommy, Kiko, Hercules and Leo.
He chose these animals in large part because New York’s common laws are favorable to habeas corpus lawsuits, and because there are great ape sanctuaries that could accommodate them. Read more…“
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, speaking and listening. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handouts (from this lesson) access to news article, and video clip.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
Analyzing headings and photos
Directions: Ask students to examine the titles of the post and of the actual article they are about to read. Then, have them examine the photos. Based on these sources, ask students to create a list of words and ideas that they think might be related to this article.
Directions: Have students use the KWL chart to list the information they already know about chimpanzees in captivity. Later in the Post- Reading segment of the lesson, students can fill in what they’ve learned about the topic. K-W-L chart from Michigan State University.
II. While Reading Tasks
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Freeology Word Chart for assistance. Have students prepare sentences using the words.
- The lawyer Steven Wise is working on behalf of four captive chimpanzees in New York State.
- Mr. Wise has spent more than 30 years developing his strategy for attaining animal personhood rights.
- After he started his career as a criminal defense lawyer, he was inspired by Peter Singer’s book “Animal Liberation”.
- He helped pioneer the study of animal rights law in the 1980s.
- Mr. Wise had to struggle with ineffective welfare laws.
- The welfare laws and regulations failed to keep animals out of abusive environments.
- Legal personhood would give some animals irrevocable protections that recognize their critical needs to live in the wild.
- New York’s common laws are favorable to habeas corpus lawsuits.
- This fall, the cases will be likely to go to New York’s intermediate appellate courts.
- His plaintiffs, the four chimps, will be deemed legal persons and relocated to outdoor sanctuaries around the United States.
Directions: Review the following statements from the reading. If a statement is true they mark it T. If the statement is not applicable, they mark it NA. If the statement is false they mark it F and provide the correct answer.
- Steven Wise is a plaintiff.
- Mr. Wise is filing the first-ever lawsuits in the United States demanding limited “personhood” rights for certain animals.
- Mr. Wise has spent 4 years developing his strategy for attaining animal personhood rights.
- He was inspired by Pete Seeger’s song, “Animal Liberation”.
- Steven Wise became the first person to teach the subject of animal rights at Harvard Law School.
- Mr. Wise is defending four captive dolphins in New York State.
- Elephants, whales and dolphins are also the current focus of Mr. Wise’s legal campaign.
- Tommy, Kiko, Hercules and Leo are the four plaintiffs.
- If Mr. Wise wins, he will have successfully broken down the legal wall that separates animals from humans.
- Mr. Wise will ask celebrities for help with his campaign.
Structure and Usage
Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical error. Students are to identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.
- Mr. Wise is fighting for animal personhood rights.
- He helped pioneer these study of animal rights law in the 1980s.
- Current laws fail to keep animals out of abusive environments.
- Elephants are also the current focuses of Mr. Wise’s legal campaign.
- The body of scientific work on chimpanzee cognition is enormous.
- His team, the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) is helping.
- This fall, the cases will go to New York’s appellate courts.
- This Op-Doc is adapted from a feature-length documentary.
- We hope these works will inspire people to thinks differently about animals.
III. Post Reading Tasks
Reading Comprehension Check
Graphic Organizers: Finding the main idea
Directions: Have students use this nice graphic organizer from Enchanted Learning to assist them with discussing or writing about the main points from the article.
Directions: Place students in groups and have them answer the following questions. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the following discussion topics.
- The article states, “How does a thing become a person? In December 2013, the lawyer Steven Wise showed the world how, with a little legal jujitsu, an animal can transition from a thing without rights to a person with legal protections.” How would you restate this idea into your own words?
- The article states, “The body of scientific work on chimpanzee cognition, in particular, is enormous, and scientific testimony is crucial to Mr. Wise’s legal arguments.” Explain why scientific testimony would be crucial to Mr.Wise in this case. Provide an example.
- In your opinion, should animals have the same rights as humans? Why or why not?
- Can you foresee any problems with a law such as this one? If so, explain what kind of problems.
- Do you own a pet? If yes, describe your pet and how you care for it. If no why not? Would you ever own a pet? How would you treat it?
IV. Listening Activity
Video Clip: Animals Are Persons Too | Op-Docs | The New York Times 4/23/14 Produced by: Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker
“This short documentary follows the lawyer Steven Wise’s effort to break down the legal wall that separates animals from humans.”
While Listening Activities
Directions: Students listen for the correct word or phrase to complete the sentences taken from the video. They are to choose from the options presented.
- We’re saying/said non-human animals are going to be persons not people.
- In law the fundament/ fundamental distinction is between being a thing and being a person.
- When she’s a thing she’s the same as the palm tree/three out there.
- When she’s a person she’s the same as my sum/son.
- In the United Sates alone for every beef/beat of my heart, 160 animals are killed.
- How do you get the attention of the judges/judge?
- The animals that we’re looking at are most closely the different speaks/species of great apes.
- He would like to learn a quick/quirk language.
- He wants me to come in and see him right new/now.
- In Japan there was a chimpanzee colony/colonize.
Questions for Discussion
Directions:Place students in groups and have them discuss the following questions.
1. After listening to this video has your personal idea of chimpanzees in captivity changed in any way? If yes, describe in what way. If no, describe your original opinion.
2. Did you agree with everything the speakers said? Discuss which comments you agreed with and which ones you tended not to agree with. Explain why.
3. With your group members, make up questions that you would like to ask Steven Wise or the chimpanzees, remember that they can communicate a little!
ANSWER KEY: Chimps with legal rights
V. GROUP PROJECTS
Visual Creations: Students can create graphs, pictures, or collages of chimpanzees in captivity and in their natural habitat to demonstrate their understanding of the article. They can do this individually or in groups.
Photo Activity for speaking or Writing: Students can visit a zoo or a sanctuary for chimpanzees. If permitted they can take photos and write different captions for each one. Have a contest for the best one!
Should a Chimp Be Able to Sue Its Owner? By Charles Siebert, The New York Times Magazine
Behind the Cover Story: Charles Siebert on the Fight for Animal ‘Personhood By Rachel Nolan, The New York Times