Fostering Empathy for Students: Goats in trees and escaping Honey Badgers | Harbord & Khan | 8 Min Read

July 27, 2023

Empathy is a crucial aspect of our relationship with the living world. “True empathy is not self-focused but other-oriented. Instead of making humanity the measure of all things, we need to evaluate other species by what they are.” (Waal, 2017, p. 274). In elementary schools, we often use stories that describe situations where animals are substituted for humans to illustrate human behaviors and values. Most children and many adults are fascinated by animals; however, there is a disconnect between this fascination and taking action to protect them. Josie Messeter, author of Animals Around The Globe, suggests that the decline in our planet’s biodiversity could mean that ten endangered animals may not survive 2023. These include tigers (threatened habitats), leatherback turtles (through fishing), orangutans (forest degradation), the Amur leopard, Irrawaddy dolphin, and the Addax, a white antelope (oil exploration and unauthorized hunting). It is easy to forget that we humans, largely responsible for this decline, are animals too. On whose terms do we value our relationship with the animals around us? Why is the lens we approach the living world important for not only understanding it but also for ourselves? 

Our fascination with animals can clearly be seen in the popularity of animal videos on social media, according to one video marketing site ( YouTube has over 2 million cat videos that have been viewed over 25 billion times. Believe it or not, that works out to an average viewing of 12,000 views per cat video. However, there can be more to what we see on social media than meets the eye. 

Photos of Moroccan tree-climbing goats on social media are an amusing and fantastical image. Finding out that this amusing story has a darker side raises ethical issues. Due to the worst drought in decades together with increased temperatures, farmers dealing with crop failure were forced to give up farming and trained their goats to stand in trees for three to four hours at a time in order to get tips from tourists to feed their families. However, when the Covid pandemic swept the world, tourism stopped. 

Asma Kamili, head of the Moroccan Animal Health Division for the World Organization for Animal Health explained the behavior is natural and the goats do sometimes climb Argan trees. The fruit is nutritious and the goats disperse the seeds so there are more trees; a good result all…

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Harbord and Khan

Meredith Harbord EdD and Sara Riaz Khan are global educators who use ethical dilemmas to enrich and transform curriculum. Their student centric approach is driven by an ethical model and innovative tools that support critical thinking and creativity. Meredith and Sara’s collaboration as Design teachers at ABA Oman International School in Muscat, focused on sustainability, ethical design and global mindedness and inspired them to establish Harbord & Khan Educational Consultants. They develop units of work based on real world issues to engage and challenge students for diverse curriculums (IB, PBL, Common Core and Australian) and are available for professional development and to create programs to meet the specific needs of your school. Meredith and Sara have authored two teacher curriculum books ‘Interdisciplinary Thinking for Schools: Ethical Dilemmas MYP 1, 2 & 3’ and ‘Interdisciplinary Thinking for Schools: Ethical Dilemmas MYP 4 & 5’ (2020). Website: