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Humane Education Enters the Classroom

Some energetic EarthSave members are involved in trying to incorporate what has come to be known as “humane education” into classrooms across the country. Zoe Weil, who has been teaching humane education for more than a decade through her nonprofit organization the Center for Compassionate Living, has this to say about how humane education has developed over the years.

“Humane education has traditionally been defined as education about ‘pet’ responsibility. For decades, humane societies have been sending their educators into schools to teach young children about spaying and neutering. Since these programs began, about half the states in the United States have passed laws mandating humane education in elementary schools. However, most laws fail to define humane education or require that teachers be taught how to be humane educators. So, like many laws, they are virtually meaningless.

“In the last decade, the definition of humane education has been expanded by the handful of humane educators in the U.S. and Canada who have considered the subject more comprehensive than discussions solely about companion animals. Humane education has come to encompass all animal issues, as well as environmental and human rights issues. The word ‘humane’ actually means ‘what are considered the best qualities of human beings.’ By definition, humane education is broad and of profound significance to our global actions on this planet.”

Susan Hargreaves of EarthSave Miami has been spearheading an effort to get humane education into Florida schools. She's been successful at introducing these issues into countless classrooms, reaching individuals ranging from ages 5 to 20. During a recent four-month period, Susan spoke to over 4,500 children. If you are also interested in starting a humane education program in your chapter, here are some helpful hints from Zoe Weil:

How can you become a humane educator?

1. The first step in becoming a humane educator is getting an education. You wouldn’t teach math without understanding mathematics, and this is also true with humane education, which is a huge field. H.E. teaches about our relationships with everyone: human, nonhuman and the environment. It promotes the three R’s of responsibility, respect and reverence, as well as the two Cs: compassion and critical thinking. It covers human rights, animal rights and cultural issues (such as the effect of multinational corporations on education), as well as environmental concerns. It is not enough to read the AV Magazine and other animal rights magazines and brochures. To be a humane educator one needs to read a range of books by a variety of authors, to learn many sides of many issues, and to be informed about other movements for social change in addition to the animal movement.

2. Learning the subject is easy compared with step two: learning how to teach about the subject! Humane educators do not proselytize or tell people what to do or think. They are not the purveyors of Truth, but rather the questioners of truth.

Humane educators ask their students to think for themselves, creatively and critically, to determine their own beliefs and values, and then live accordingly. It is because step 2 can be so difficult for fire-in-the-belly activists that training in humane education is so important, so activists can learn how to communicate and teach most effectively. Humane educators need to be able to listen at least as well as they speak.

3. Get invited to schools, YMCAs, summer camps and Sunday schools. This is easier than it sounds. Schools want to be certain your program is not biased, radical, extreme, upsetting or too controversial. That means you have to create a positive, dynamic and intriguing brochure, make follow-up phone calls to potentially interested hosts, and get to know teachers and community leaders so they’ll want to invite you to speak. A humane educator spends almost as much time networking with potential hosts as speaking in schools.

4. Once you’re in the door, make sure your program is honest, respectful of your audience, nonjudgmental, exciting, interesting, interactive, positive and hopeful. Every presentation should:

A humane educator is, above all, humane. That means humane educators show compassion and respect for everyone, even the obnoxious students who yell out rude or insulting comments, or the science teacher who finds your talk threatening and may be condescending or impolite.

5. Provide your audience with opportunities to learn more. You might want to offer a series of presentations for teachers, an afterschool program for interested students, a summer camp for young activists, trips to visit stockyards, factory farms or laboratories (as well as sanctuaries and refuges), books and videos on loan, and additional lesson plans for teachers to use after you leave.

6. Even if you never set foot in a school, you can still promote H.E. You can provide humane education materials, books and videos to schools and libraries; donate money to fund humane educators who are well-trained but need the financial support of activists in order to offer free school presentations; or offer community programs that consist of films and discussions.

7. If you are a trained humane educator and you wish to offer free presentations in your community, contact IIHE and its program the Center for Compassionate Living. In cooperation with the Komie Foundation, IIHE offers grants to excellent humane educators to give presentations in their region.

8. If you are a parent, join the PTA and speak out about dissection, the school lunch program, Channel One and industry-sponsored curricula. Invite humane educators to your school to offer presentations, and keep raising awareness about humane issues, whether about classroom pets or corporate curricula.