Putting Wolves in the Curriculum

Citizenship Education

Renee Askins and her colleagues and neighbors worked through years of the political process to a compromise on restoring wolves to the Yellowstone ecosystem. Askins says that listening to the other side is a vital skill for a citizen activist.

Choose a controversial topic, and divide the class into small groups taking the pro and con position. Ask them to devise a list of the five most compelling reasons for their position with evidence to support each. Then have the groups swap notes. Ask each group to develop a fair compromise position, taking into account both pro and con.


Share this segment with a colleague who teaches biology or general science to launch a lesson on population biology or extinctions. Students can see how politics sets limits on scientific activity and how citizens need to be scientifically literate to participate in important policy decisions.

Immigration and Nativism

Use this segment to introduce a unit on U.S. immigration policy and popular opinion. Ask students to compare the wolf protesters' signs and slogans to those produced by anti-immigrant and nativist activists in our history: "No Irish Need Apply," "No Jews or Dogs." Lead a class discussion, asking students to separate fear from fact, the emotional and rational content of these debates. What issues today call for citizens to separate fact from prejudice?

Westward Expansion

The wolf debate can open a window to the history of the American West. The wolf debate is just the latest version of a century-long battle over the use of land and nature in the West. Yellowstone Park (then called Great Geyser Basin) was created as a national park due to the influence of preservationists like Frederick Law Olmsted and businessmen like Jay Cooke, who wanted such a park to promote tourism and travel on his Northern Pacific Railroad.

Ask your students to engage in this debate. Ask them: Who owns the parks? How should they be used? When one group of users conflicts with another, how can we decide between their claims? Is the park for the wolves (or trees, elk, moose) or the people? The tourists or the hunters? The visitors or the neighbors? The environmentalists or the ranchers? How would they decide the issue?


Use the segment to introduce the government's role in regulating the market. Compare the wolves' story to other incidents when the government steps in to protect or regulate resources. Use it to explain how the government's role in the market (particularly in environmental issues) has changed over the last 30 years.

Your Way

How could you use the story of wolves in your classroom? If you have an idea for using this segment in your curriculum, let us know. Jot down your idea briefly, along with your name, your school name and address, and a phone number and e-mail address (if possible). We'll give a $50 award for the best idea and publish it in a forthcoming newsletter.

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