Circus Information for Educators

Circus promoters use schools as marketing tools and target children as unwitting customers. Many circuses solicit schools to help with promotions, enticing them to organize field trips to the circus, distribute free or discounted tickets, sponsor the circus, or host the circus on school property.

When Chicago parent Julie Ferguson chaperoned a classroom field trip to the Medinah Shrine Circus, the excitement turned to horror after the elephant act. In a letter to the editor, Julie wrote, “When the elephants were brought behind the curtain, the trainer began verbally abusing and hitting the elephant. We watched in horror as he swung a stick with all his force and struck the elephant in the back of the leg. This must have hurt because the elephant let out a scream. The kids were frightened and asked me why the man was hurting the elephant. Instead of learning about the magnificence of elephant behavior, the children witnessed human behavior at its worst. They learned the ugly truth about how animals are treated in circuses.”

Parents, members of the community, and even students need to meet with school boards to discourage school promotions of circuses with animal acts. When they do, school boards listen.

At least 12 states (California, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Wisconsin) have humane-education laws that you can cite to bolster the point that circuses should not be a part of any school activity and that schools should not endorse them. These laws mandate that children should be taught to adopt principles of kindness and to avoid being cruel to animals.

Circuses with animal acts also pose a serious threat to public safety. Elephants, tigers, bears, primates, and other animals have escaped and caused deaths and injuries to members of the public as well as destruction of property.

You can make a difference in your community. Use the information on this page and at our investigation that showed Ringling Bros. animal handlers beating elephants. Your school board may cut cruel animal acts from the curriculum and thank you for exposing the big lie behind the big top.

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