By Zoe Weil
Educator, Writer and Co-founder & President of the Institute for Humane Education.
If we want to see long-lasting change for animals, it is vital that we educate and inspire the next generation of changemakers to think critically about animal protection. Mainstream education teaches high school students maths, English and science, but what about the skills needed to be a good citizen? It is at this intersection that Humane Education and Animal Protection Education meet. Zoe Weil is an expert in her field and has provided us with advice on how all teachers can incorporate humane education into their classrooms.
Humane education has been defined in various ways by different people and organisations over its more than 100-year history. At the Institute for Humane Education (IHE), we define humane education as both a field of study and an approach to teaching and learning that integrates issues of human rights, environmental sustainability, and animal protection with the goal of preparing people to be what we call ’solutionaries’, who have the thinking skills and motivation to solve problems in ways that are good for everyone.
Solutionaries identify unsustainable, unjust, and inhumane systems and create systemic solutions that don’t harm one group while helping another. ’Solutionary’ is not synonymous with ’problem-solving’. To be solutionary, a solution not only has to address the causes of the problem but also to solve it in a way that does the most good and least harm to people, animals, and the ecosystems that sustain life.
Thinking in this holistic way has profound implications for animals, because animals are usually left out of consideration when people try to address social justice issues. They’re also often left out by environmentalists who may address species preservation and conservation, but not necessarily the impacts of a solution on individual animals.
The Three Important Questions
One of the things I encourage young people and adults to do is find the place where the answer to these three questions meet:
- What problems do I want to solve?
- What am I good at?
- What do I love to do?
If we can find that place where the answers meet, we and the world are fortunate indeed. I was lucky to find that place. I cared about ending the suffering of both people and animals, as well as restoring our beautiful planet, and I loved teaching and writing. That’s why I became a comprehensive humane educator.
At IHE, we believe that the educational system is the root system underlying most other societal systems, including our economic, political, legal, production, energy, media, healthcare, and many other systems. Just imagine what will happen when we educate young people to be solutionaries who bring conviction, skills, and motivation to their future professions and solve problems in ways that don’t produce unintended negative consequences to people, animals, or the environment.
Fostering empathy and compassion
For most people, empathy and compassion are innate. We can foster these emotions by teaching about people and animals who are suffering and offering students ways to make a difference. Learning about suffering elicits compassion, but if we thwart efforts to relieve suffering – either by making no room in the curricula for action, avoiding discussions about tough issues, or showing videos of cruelty and moving on without providing time to process and then do something positive – we can actually diminish compassion.
I used to think having humane education as its own subject was the best approach, but I don’t think that anymore. Every teacher can be a humane educator infusing their curricula with real-world issues, relevancy, and solutionary approaches. I love the idea of having electives that go really deeply into humane education issues, as well as solutionary teams in schools, but I’d like to see solutionary thinking at the core of education in general, not as a separate topic or subject.
Reforming the purpose of education
I do think we need a more meaningful purpose for education, and I’d like to see a change to the mission statements in departments of education. The current U.S. mission statement is to ‘prepare students for global competitiveness’.
I don’t think this mission is worthy of our kids or their future. If, instead, our mission becomes to ensure that all students graduate with the knowledge, skills, and motivation to address the challenges they face in their communities and world through solutionary thinking and action, then humane education and solutionary learning will become embedded in everything they learn in school. That’s my goal.
We cannot create a just, sustainable, and peaceful world without including the myriad other species who share this beautiful planet with us.
Want to learn more about Humane Education?
Through an affiliation with Antioch University, the Institute for Humane Education (IHE) offers graduate programs (M.Ed., M.A., Ed.D., and Graduate Certificate) specialising in comprehensive humane education. These programs are online, so students can enrol from anywhere in the world.
IHE also offers an online Resource Center with lesson plans, global issues guides, and free guidebooks for both educators (the Solutionary Guidebook) and youth and change makers (How to Be a Solutionary).
Want to learn more about Animal Protection Education?
Access the latest Voiceless Animal Protection Education high school educational resources to learn more about topical animal protection issues and concepts.