“….teachers carry an awesome responsibility, with correspondingly awesome possibilities.” – Derrick Jensen
Global warming, overpopulation, poverty, famine, slavery, malnourishment, child labor, child soldiers, war, greed, corporate power, terrorism, lack of clean water, conflict, inequality….the list of global problems are endless. This suffering, exploitation and destruction is precisely why humane education is imperative in the 21st century.
Being humane, by definition, is having what are considered the best qualities of human beings. Regardless of race, class, or religion, people tend to have universal values that include, among others, kindness, honesty, compassion, perseverance, and integrity. But without the knowledge and necessary skills, how can people with humane attributes use them in a far reaching way? Most people are kind to their families and ompassionate to their pets, but do not have the knowledge that they may be perpetuating child labor, or causing great pain to cosmetic test animals.
Humane education is not about preaching. Humane education, according to the International Institute for Humane Education, is about providing accurate information, fostering curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking, instilling reverence, respect and responsibility, and offering positive choices that benefit oneself, other people, the earth and animals.
Children are naturally curious and creative. By nurturing their curiosity, we can help them develop critical thinking skills that can lead them to question commercials, advertising and sources. Bringing children outside can instill respect and responsibility for nature and animals. Having animals in the classroom, if possible, allows children to have a relationship with an animal and it helps them see that we need to take care of them. Exposing them to people from other cultures can instill reverence for people and cultures different from themselves.
When children have accurate information, it gives them the courage to make their own decisions. By exploring choices such as fair trade, organic hot chocolate vs. conventional hot chocolate, or Cirque de Soleil vs. Ringling Bros. Circus, children can consider the impact of various products and actions on the environment, animals and people around the world. The goal of humane education is progress, not perfection. Introducing levity into lessons is an important way to keep children from feeling sad or useless. Lessons should be aimed at awakening their compassion and global citizenship, and they should offer age appropriate choices.
After exploring these choices, children feel empowered, knowing that their choices can have either a positive or a negative impact on others. No one has to tell them to do the right thing – and when has that ever worked anyway?