Why We Need Humane Education in Australian Schools

Why We Need Humane Education in Australian Schools

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:

  1. What problems do I want to solve?
  2. What am I good at?
  3. 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.

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