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Beatrix and Allen Gardner believed that chimpanzees could be taught to communicate but felt that projects that attempted to teach the primates to speak were bound to fail. The turned to sign language to give chimps an outlet of expression.
The Gardners adopted a chimpanzee named Washoe (for Washoe County, Nevada) from scientists who had captured the ape as a baby in West Africa. Over the next five years the Gardners used American Sign Langugage to try and bridge the communication gap between chimps and humans. But this experiment did not take place in a lab, instead the Gardners were committed to raising Washoe as a surrogate child, clothing him, feeding him at the family dinner table, and even providing him his own trailer area with fully functioning kitchen.
The experiment appeared to be successful shocking the scientific community when the Gardners revealed that no only did Washoe know 350 different signs but could combine signs to create new concepts, for example a swan was described as “water bird” and Thermos was “metal drink cup.” Washoe even showed empathy.
After a caregiver had left and not returned to Washoe for a period of time, once back with the chimp Washoe refused to interact with her. Eventually the caregiver signed to Washoe “my baby died,” explaining her absence. Washoe put her head down and then signed the words for “cry” and "drew” a tear down her face.
After five years, the Gardners transferred Washoe to the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute at Central Washington University, where she was cared for by former students of the Gardners, Roger and Deborah Fouts.
Washoe lived at the Institute until 2007 when she died at the age of 42.
“We didn’t even know our kids’ names yet,” said Deborah Rogers, who teaches English and reading to 7th and 8th graders at the school. “We hadn’t given schedules out yet. But we had to sit down and have a serious conversation on race.”
Like the rest of the St. Louis community, including their own teachers, Gateway students had emotional discussions about being black in America, about mistrust of the police, about peaceful demonstration and violent protest. They were asked to write down what they were feeling about Ferguson, with the assurance that no sentiments were out of bounds.
Below are excerpts from the responses penned by a group of 7th and 8th graders at the school.
I’m feeling, I don’t know, like I can’t even say the words I’m feeling because they are curse words. But I’m tired of turning on the news and know[ing] when they say someone has been shot that it’s one of my kind.
I’m mad that a 18 year old died and he was unarmed. I feel scared because people are using violence a lot and policemen are using teargas and rubber bullets. I’m shocked that police are doing this to humans. They just speaking their mind.
People have been treating us blacks wrong for so many years and we have done NOTHING WRONG.
White man kills black guy, paid to leave. Black man kills white guy, PRISON FOR LIFE NO BAIL.
What if one day my brothers are walking down the street and the police try to beat them or even kill [them]?
It hurts to know that a policeman, somebody who is hired and paid to protect me, has shot and killed a young man. This young man Mike Brown had his whole life ahead of him only 18 about to start college in a few days. It hurts me knowing somebody has it in them to kill somebody so easily.
This is more than hurtful it’s shameful, racist, ignorant, and just sad.
I think the protests have been good. What do you expect when something so ignorant happens? … I understand some things like looting and firing up stores seem crazy and uncalled for but if we’re not peacefully getting justice this is what has to be done.
I know and everyone knows that Darren Wilson had no right to shoot Michael Brown. Michael was unarmed and he surrendered. He had his hands up in the air.
I’m mad because showing the footage of Michael Brown stealing from a convenient store was so irelevent and unimportant.
I don’t like that when they put the video out, they were trying to make Michael look bad, look like a criminal.
I feel like the things that are happening in Ferguson are unfair. I thought after Trayvon Martin the killing will stop but it comes back again. What did Mike Brown do for the police officer to kill him?
Deborah Rogers. Materials/Process: Marblex gray clay, La doll ceramic, paint, ink, dyes, color pencil, found metal, screws, wood, paper, assorted found vintage and ordinary objects, plexi-glass, wax and a touch of insanity from being a proud owner of an overflowing “stuff drawer.”