A better, more strategy-oriented, and more quantitative "life sciences" curriculum for kids should prevent people from becoming scientifically illiterate vegan or Luddite ideologues
Last night, aside from many other interesting things ;-), I "learned" from an amateur Prague-based public intellectual that it is great to feed dogs and cats with a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Also, it turned out that animals in Nature never fight and if an animal ever dies, it is only an animal that was going to die very soon, too. The predators are very decent and avoid any physical violence. It was entertaining to some extent but I just don't have the stomach to stomach similar things that come from an adult for hours (unlike cows that have four stomachs and can stomach everything, as we will see).
Two weeks ago, I argued that a proper and captivating education of history for kids should be filled with the basic capitalist financial literacy. Now, I think that that the kids' biology classes should be full of adventurous and emotionally relevant National-Geographic-style stories about animals, something that the kids become involved in, and something that should ultimately teach the logic of Darwin's theory, evolution, and natural selection to the kids.
In fact, these two proposals are completely analogous – in some sense, they are almost the same thing. Capitalism is a counterpart of the "struggle, competition, and cooperation between animals" that is brought to the world of investment and corporations. The reasons why capitalism and natural selection lead to improved well-being of the whole and progress are fundamentally the same.
Let me be add more details about the incredible things that I was told – and others that one apparently can't say because they must reflect a lack of sensitivity. OK, I said that "Nature was a permanent fight". Oops, too bad. I was reminded that such elementary observations are extremely controversial or explosive inside the vegan or Luddite left. Of course, I've interacted with people who had strong anti-technological and anti-meat sentiments in the past. But for yearas, my exposure to them was overshadowed by others, by SJWs whose main causes are all about the identity politics. At least now, I don't actually remember a discussion with an adult who was shocked by the observation that predators kill and eat other animals.
Don't get me wrong. I was deeply emotionally hurt when I saw dead animals as a kid; or even when I saw people who are killing animals (slaughtering of pigs and/or poultry and/or even kitten in the countryside and other things). I still have emotional trouble with these things. I hate seeing dead does and rabbits that collided with a car on the road. Those observations slightly ruin my day for an hour.
On the other hand, I think that most kids (including myself) got familiar with the fact that wild Nature is often cruel when we were 5 or 6 or 7. This theme about the carnivore diet is incorporated to some cartoons for kids (Nu Pogodi). In the Czechoslovak elementary schools, we had a natural science subject that was focusing on botanics in the 5th grade, zoology in the 6th grade, biology of humans in the 7th grade (which included the basic sex education), and geology in the 8th grade. Zoology was taught to kids that were 11-12 years old. It went to a vastly greater depth than the observation that some animals eat meat. We really learned all the main groups of animals, their anatomy, physiology, ecology, and basic evolution. It was a whole year of education – elaborating on many topics that most kids must have vaguely known from the kindergarten years. I just can't understand how a Czech adult may be ignorant about the fact that dogs and cats and other carnivores (meat-eaters) kill and eat other animals, including healthy animals that just weren't fast enough while running away.
Evolution has pushed individuals and whole species to improvements because for half a billion years, multicellular species similar to the modern ones had to search for food to eat (not to starve to death); and to escape from predators who wanted a lunch (not to be killed and reframed as a lunch). Some animal species are herbivores and they eat plants. But their body represents quite a nice, concentrated form of biological energy and it would be highly ineffective for Nature not to exploit it (Czech president Zeman said that he likes vegetables but they must be processed through a simply clever engine known as the pig). So predators unavoidably evolved as well. Carnivores (meat-eaters) eat herbivores (plant-eaters) and may be eaten by other carnivores who stand at a higher level of the food chain.
This whole process – that has taken place over 500 million years and, in some generalization to the micro-life and otherwise primitive life, over 4 billion years – may be described as "evolving something nice for life and Earth as wholes". But all these processes were driven by the egotist interests of the individual organisms (just like the progress in capitalism is overwhelmingly driven by the people seeking profit and other nice things with a good utility function). The animals wanted to survive. They needed to get the matter and energy that is needed for survival. A predator is more likely to eat an injured herbivore. But a very healthy one is a good dinner, too. In fact, it is an even yummier dinner. How many of you prefer to eat the meat from an ill cow?
The different animal species exploit different strategies and they need different traits and biological devices to perform them. Aside from being an euphemism for brain-dead environmentalist activism that is deeply ideologically skewed and political in character, ecology has the original meaning of being the legitimate natural science that deals with the population dynamics (in the context of species interacting with each other and their environment) and strategies to survive – and it is indeed a close cousin of economics transferred to the conditions of wild nature. OK, so the predators must be rather fast runners (or pilots) and they need to be rather intelligent, too. On the other hand, the victims – especially herbivores – are slower, dumber and, in this intellectual sense, they are closer to plants. Many common herbivores eat grass which is mostly composed of cellulose.
Cellulose (formally (C6H10O5)n where the "n" subscript means that the unit is copied many times) is a long molecule that looks like a chain of glucose pieces, a simple (fruit-like) sugar molecule, which are connected by a bond. The bond is resilient enough and it's hard to break it. It also means that cellulose is perfectly insoluble in water. It's like a plastic material. That's a very similar claim to the claim that it is hard to digest it although the digestion is needed to get the energy (and the building blocks for muscles etc., the matter). If something behaves like a plastic, it doesn't get decomposed too easily in the stomach.
So various herbivores use different strategies to get the damn matter and energy from cellulose. A cow famously has four stomachs. This species belongs to the ruminantia group. Rumen, Reticulum, Omasum, and Abomasum are the four stomachs – or four compartments of one stomach, if you wish. Because "ruminantia" and even "ruminate" doesn't instantly click in English, I think, it may be useful to translate the simply clever Czech terminology (which is excellent in all of similar basic natural sciences). The "ruminantia" class is known as "přežvýkavci" which I try to translate backward to English as "back-and-forth-chewers". If you have a better translation, let me know. So these animals are chewing the grass, the stuff gets further, but after it is partly digested, it may return to the previous compartment, and so on. The journey of the food through the stomachs isn't quite linear. The first three stomachs may be considered as compartments for preprocessing or pre-stomachs ("předžaludek" in Czech, I have no idea whether an honest translation to English even exists; even the idea that they should have a special umbrella terms may be a Czech invention); while the abomasum is "the" real stomach that is most analogous to the single human stomach. The Czech names of the four stomachs (see the picture at the top) are bachor (a potbelly), kniha (a book), čepec (a hat), slez (a masculine mucosa or something; the translations hopefully keep at least the correct roots).
Having many stomachs or compartments isn't the only trick how to decompose the insoluble cellulose. Rabbits use a very different strategy, then eat their own poop. It's not a pathology but a standard part of their lifestyle. They aren't ashamed of it because this strategy cleverly reuses the same, less complex, stomach. By eating their own feces, rabbits resemble SpaceX and its reusable rockets. It's one possible strategy but not obviously "the only good or optimum" strategy. In Nature, you have the right to eat your own poop but you don't really have the duty. Nature gave us the freedom to eat our poop or recycle the rockets but it is often a stupid (and for many of us, disgusting) thing to do. Recent Thunderf00t videos explained why SpaceX is in no way revolutionary and the recycling of the parts is no magic bullet.
We might say that humans – who are everything-eaters or "omnivores" (something combining carnivores and herbivores, and pigs are also omnivores) – use another, third, generalized strategy how to deal with the plant food. We don't have four stomachs and we don't eat our poops. Instead, we have a clever enough brain that has invented or captured fire (thanks, Bill Z.!) and we started to cook things. By cooking, the plant food is preprocessed in a way that is approximately equivalent to the cows' back-and-forth chewing or the rabbits' consumption of feces (when we repeatedly talk about these herbivore strategy, killing and eating animals looks less terrible, doesn't it?). Cooking gave us the ability to get lots of useful matter and energy which may have been used for a further growth of our brains – which turned us to even better cooks and scientists (or at least kooks, in many other cases).
But the carnivores like dogs, cats, and their wild relatives don't have four stomachs; they have rather short intestines, too; they don't have time to systematically eat their feces; and they're not skillful enough to cook. What do they do? They hunt for other animals that have already preprocessed the matter and energy from the plants. So a cat often catches and kills a bird, sometimes just to train itself (not even hunger is a necessary condition for this murder!). Kitten are cute but they are godless killing machines, too. And it's animal torture if you're trying to turn your cats and dogs to vegans! It's as bad as turning a median man to a woman or a homosexual.
If you watch goats or sheep or rabbits or ducks, they are our distant cousins as well (I love all of them, of course) but you must be able to see that they are doing something rather boring and inefficient because their intellectual and athletic inferiority prevents them from doing better. They have more complex stomachs than a carnivore like a dog. While sheep spend a big part of their lives by biting the grass and similar things, they only get enough energy from that because they also have the long and complex digestive systems. With its shorter digestive system, a dog would have to spend even more time (than 24 hours a day) by eating grass (much more). And it actually needs more energy because it is capable of moving faster and the brilliant enough brain also needs to consume more energy. So the damn dogs and cats simply need some animal-based food.
Dogs sometimes eat grass, leaves, vegetables (of course, sweet pies with eggs and milk are more natural for them, those are foods derived from animals, too) and sometimes their own feces. But these rituals play a very limited role. They can never be understood as necessary parts of the dogs' healthy diets. Chances are high that if your dog eats grass or leaves often, it has a problem. But even if the plants don't hurt the dog much, and they don't because the plants just go through the body, the dog still needs something that gives him enough energy and the useful biomass. It just damn needs to hunt and kill and eat meat. The meat is universally essential for carnivores (and in almost all cases, enough to get all the nutrients etc.); the plants are basically irrelevant distractions.
Nature was very cruel and even the people who have always lived in the urban environment, totally detached from the farmers and hunters in the forests and the countryside, should have a basic idea about the often cruel life in Nature. That's also why we have the National-Geographic-style documentaries. Killing someone is unpopular and illegal etc. but it's an obvious fact that the histories of our nations, races, and species are totally filled with these "evil" acts. And without these "evil" facts, we couldn't be what we are. This cruel competition was needed for the evolution of higher species and their new or better traits and organs. And it was also needed for our nations to get disciplined and centralized. In the 10th century Czechia, we had the Slavník dynasty, most likely some White Croats. They may have been great but they were totally eradicated by the Przemyslid dynasty which gave rise to the first Bohemian royal family (that ruled up to 1300 AD or so). This eradication was an act of genocide. However, it's also an innocent event 1,000 years ago which was needed for Czechs to become a real, centralized enough, nation that is capable of defending itself.
Quite generally, the importance of "brute violence" was very high in the distant past and it was decreasing on the human-dominated planet when the humans were getting more peaceful, relaxed, and prosperous and when the competition moved to more non-violent disciplines. The importance of the old-fashioned natural selection has been going down. Sadly, even its peaceful counterparts ceased to work in recent years as meritocracy was largely eliminated in whole industries of the West – and often replaced with full-blown anti-meritocracy. However politically correct these pro-snowflake transformations may be, they obviously imply an ongoing decline, the end of the real progress in many aspects of the life of human society (and perhaps life on Earth in general) because the events that "sometimes look cruel" are absolutely needed for reliable, sustainable progress (and sometimes even for maintaining the status quo).
I think that the proper education of zoology served to kids that are 10-15 should not only be mixed with much more ecology and the empathy needed to understand the behavior of various class of organisms and strategies (and the concerns that they face in their lives). My view is that quite some physics-like mathematics should be included there, too. I think that the kids should have an idea how many kilocaries or kilograms of food etc. various basic animals need and what lifestyles are compatible with their survival. A part of the "word problems from mathematics classes" could be moved to the life sciences. I think that these big ideas – such as "some seemingly cruel events have been absolutely essential for Nature to produce intelligent species and other things we like" – are more important than lots of technicalities, especially those about the rare and unimportant animal species. These big ideas should represent a much higher fraction of the education of "similar subjects". It should be almost impossible for adults – who are alumni of an elementary school – to be shocked by someone's observation that canine animals sometimes kill and eat a healthy herbivore! These "life sciences for schoolkids" should encourage them to think logically and quantitatively as well, although the required calculations could be just order-of-magnitude estimates which is an approach to thinking that should already be taught to kids.