Yesterday I decided to talk about mindfulness with the kids again. We have not breached that topic in some time. With all the changes of space, curricula, staff and staff again I have not been able to maintain our Core Practice or teaching about mindfulness. So we sat down for group and I had nothing prepared. I went to the cupboard and spotted Ferdinand the Bull and remembered that the MindUP curriculum had suggested this book to talk with students about mindful smelling. I sat down with my students, refreshed their minds about what it means to be mindful or unmindful and began the story that I understood was about a bull who loved to smell flowers. That is all I remembered from the book.

As I read we took breaks and talked about what it means to butt heads like bulls do. We discussed the qualities of Ferdinand’s mindful sitting and smelling the flowers. We compared his sitting to our own when we do Core Practice.

And then the five men came with the funny hats looking for the fiercest bull to take back for their bull fight and this vegan got nervous. I struggle with reading books about animals that represent them only as our food or entertainment. I don’t believe in that message but I also realize my job is not to convert children to veganism. That is my personal choice but in making that choice I recognize the myths we teach our children within the public schools claiming them to be truths. A couple of weeks ago we had an assembly with Viktor the Viking, the Viking’s mascot. Viktor was there to teach the children about healthy eating. He used the federally approved My Plate to teach students about balanced meals. My Plate separates protein as its own food group and neglects to teach students that they can meet their protein needs through a plant-based diet. The implication of the plate is that meat goes in the protein spot.

But back to the five men and Ferdinand…The five men are on the search for the fiercest bull to entertain the people back at the stadium. Ferdinand sits on a bee and his reaction makes him look fierce to the men so they choose him and load him up on their cart to take him away. The bee incident led to some great conversation around the importance of bees to our very existence. We talked about why bees sting and how we can act to make them feel safe and therefore less likely to sting us. The conversation went into other bugs and a student told me he had caught a grasshopper and put it in a cage but it died. He said “I fed it fruit and water but it died”. This led us to talk about life imprisoned versus a free life and would we want to live in a cage separated from our families and not allowed to do the things we love. (Reading this one book took quite some time.)

At this point of the book I was feeling a little uncomfortable but when I turned the page I realized what we were walking into and made sure we had conversation about the clearly impending violence that was going to be directed at peaceful, mindful Ferdinand. The book talks about the first group of men coming into the ring brandishing long sticks with sharp points they would use to poke Ferdinand with to make him mad and then the next group of men with large spears they would stab Ferdinand with to make him madder. Finally, the matador came in with a sword to have the final stab. I didn’t even have to make sure we attended to the cruelty that was about to happen. The students themselves were quite horrified. We talked about how scary this must be for Ferdinand. When we turned the page we learn that Ferdinand stands in the center of the ring, looks up at the audience and sees all of the flowers in the women’s hats and he sits down to calmly smell those flowers. His ability to be mindful saves his life. The men pack him back up in the cart because for them he is a disappointment. They bring him back to his tree where he sits happily ever after. And at the end, this vegan LOVED this book!

Sometimes it’s nice to be surprised and let the moment tell you what you are to teach rather than always following the lesson plan.


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