The Long Island Press recently ran a fawning portrayal of humane education efforts in New York State.
New York is one of a number of states that has a law requiring that courses in human education be offered. That law requires that,
The officer, board or commission authorized or required to prescribe courses of instruction shall cause instruction to be given in every elementary school under state control or supported wholly or partly by public money of the state, in the humane treatment and protection of animals and the importance of the part they play in the economy of nature as well as the necessity of controlling the proliferation of animals which are subsequently abandoned and caused to suffer extreme cruelty.
. . .
The provisions of this section shall not be construed to prohibit or constrain vocational instruction in the normal practice of animal husbandry, or prohibit or constrain instruction in environmental education activities as established by the department of environmental conservation.
For some animal rights activists, this is a wedge to get animal rights ideology into elementary schools. The Long Island Press profiles Humane Education Advocates Reaching Teachers executive director Lisbet Chiriboga. How does Chiriboga see humane education (emphasis added),
Our vision of humane education is broad in that it calls us to question and examine our cultural assumptions regarding the inherent value of all species and nature, helps us explore our responsibility toward the Earth and other living beings and enables us to connect our daily choices with their global impact.
The Humane Education Advocates Reaching Teachers site provides links to three articles explaining human education, including Lydia Antoncic’s “A New Era of Humane Education: How Troubling Youth Trends and a Call for Character Education Are Breathing New Life into Efforts to Educate Our Youth about the Value of All Life.” Antoncic is the founder of HEART, and her May 2003 article is based on an alarmism about the state of American youth,
A passing glance at newspaper headlines today reveals what
haunts most parents and educators: violence among our youth is extensive,
drug and alcohol abuse is prevalent, and teen pregnancy is a
common occurrence. These symptoms suggest a chronic deficiency in
the ethical education of our youth.
In fact, the teen pregnancy rate has dropped every year for more than a decade in the United States (the 2000 teen pregnancy rate was 28 percent lower than the 1990 rate). Arrests of youths for violent crime have also declined significantly since the early 1990s. Apparently teens have somehow been able to change their behaviors without humane education, thank you very much.
For Antoncic and her ilk, the problem with the educational system is that it reinforces the widely held view that it is morally permissible for human beings to use animals for food, medical research and other uses. For example, in a section of her paper entitled “What Humane Education Is Not”, Antoncic writes,
At first glance, it appears that the approach described above would produce uniform results, but that is not the case. Misinformation has produced many efforts to include materials in curricula that clearly do not constitute humane education. For example, a well-meaning school may attempt to teach kindness and respect to animals through projects that glorify the Iditarod Race in Alaska. In such projects, educators portray the dogs as happy and eager to run the treacherous race across Alaska in the name of sport. The dogs who suffer injuries and death in this grueling expedition are mentioned rarely. Instead, promoters depict the race as a noble act by the dogs.
The treatment of farm animals is another area that is not fairly represented in schools. Animal industry advocates have gone to great lengths to create learning exercises for students that depict farm animals as happy creatures that can move around freely, spend leisurely time outdoors, and exhibit natural behaviors. Nowhere do teachers discuss the reality of factory farming, where animals are barely given freedom to move or express natural behaviors. In addition, other special interest groups work to preserve and teach their way of life through education programs targeting youth, despite evidence indicating ill-effects, such as gun camps that target youth in an effort to preserve hunting or websites tailored for young girls that promote the consumption of animal products. Without adequate monitoring, it is difficult to ensure that materials provided to schools embody the true principles of humane education.
Antoncic then approvingly quotes a special-ed teacher from Ohio as saying,
Far from being value free, schools promote, if not actively, at least in subtle
ways, the following beliefs: Animals are ours to use as we see fit; their suffering
is inconsequential; our benefit is the primary criterion governing
their use; animals are simply a collection of muscles, bones, nerves and
tissues; and the use of animals is not an issue to be seriously discussed.
Antoncic does, to her credit, argue that students should be allowed to make up their own minds, but based on the examples from HEART’s website, this is simply lip service — the goal is not to promote a reasoned debate about animal use (which would be inappropriate, to my mind, for elementary students anyway), but rather to convince students of the correctness of the animal rights position. For example, HEART on its website offers examples from teachers to “inspire others.” Here’s one such example from reading specialist Trudy Schilder,
I am a Reading Specialist who works with 2nd, 3rd and 4th graders…very open and impressionable age range. I have been a “humane education specialist” since the age of 4! Teaching has given be the blessed opportunity at every crossroad to show these children what it means to me “humane”.
My favorite prompt is this: “How many of you believe that animals have feelings?”… To those who agree, I ask “What kind of feelings do animals have?” If your lucky, one child might pop right up with, “The same feelings we have!” That is the answer I am going for, but usually it takes a whole list of feelings at which time I ask them…”Do these feelings sound familiar”? Looking for, “Yes, these are the same feelings we have”. This opening launches an enthusiastic, and “eye opening” discussion for those who didn’t raise their hands in agreement. This dialogue, led by the teacher can go in many, many directions. At some point I segue into my belief that insects and bugs have the same feelings as well!! It often takes some loving convincing, but it is well worth all the time it takes!
This is not letting children make up their own minds, this is straightforward ideological indoctrination of very young children. Is this what New York state wants animal rights activists to be doing? To lovingly convince 3rd graders that insects are just like them emotionally?
Teaching kids humane education. Alicyn Leigh, Long Island Press, August 19, 2004.
Teacher Connection. HEART Web Site, Accessed September 16, 2004.
A New Era In Humane Education: How Troubling Youth Trends And A Call For Character Education Are Breathing New Life Into Efforts To Educate Our Youth About The Value Of All Life. Lydia S. Antoncic, May 12, 2003.