Humane education can play an important role in creating a compassionate and caring society which would take benign responsibility for ourselves, each other, our fellow animals and the earth.
As regards our fellow animals, humane education works at the root causes of human cruelty and abuse of animals. There is now abundant scientific evidence that animals are sentient beings, with the capacity to experience ‘feelings’. They have the ability to enjoy life’s basic gifts as well as the ability to suffer emotionally (as well as physically) through cruel or unkind treatment, deprivation and incarceration. This new understanding of the sentience of animals has huge implications for the way we treat them, the policies and laws we adopt, and the way in which we educate our children.
'Sentience' is the ability to experience consciousness, feelings and perceptions; including the ability to experience pain, suffering and states of wellbeing.
Humane education is the building block of a humane and ethically responsible society. When educators carry out this process using successfully tried and tested methods, what they do for learners is to:
In essence, it sets learners upon a valuable life path, based on firm moral values.
In a well-structured humane education program, younger children are initially introduced to simple animal issues, and the exploration of animal sentience and needs. Then, gradually, learners begin to consider a whole range of ethical issues (animal, human and environmental) using resources and lesson plans designed to generate creative and critical thinking, and to assist each individual in tapping in to their inbuilt ‘moral compass’.
Importantly, humane education has the potential to spur the development of empathy and compassion. Empathy is believed to be the critical element often missing in society today and the underlying reason for callous, neglectful and violent behavior.
There is a well-documented link between childhood cruelty to animals and later criminality, violence and anti-social behavior; and humane education can break this cycle and replace it with one of compassion, empathy and personal responsibility. If we are to build stable and peaceful societies, then humane education must play a vital role in childhood development.
Research has also shown that humane education has an even wider range of positive social and educational outcomes. These even extend to areas such as: bullying, teenage pregnancies, drug-taking, racism, and the persecution of minority groups. It has also been shown to increase school attendance rates, enhance school relationships and behavior, and to improve academic achievement.
Learners who demonstrate respect for others and practice positive interactions, and whose respectful attitudes and productive communication skills are acknowledged and rewarded, are more likely to continue to demonstrate such behavior. Students who feel secure and respected can better apply themselves to learning. Students who are encouraged to understand and live by their own moral compass find it easier to thrive in educational environments and in the wider world.
Humane education should be an essential part of a student’s education as it reduces violence and builds moral character. It is needed to develop an enlightened society that has empathy and respect for life, thus breaking the cycle of violence and abuse. Humane education should be an essential part of a student’s education as it reduces violence and builds moral character. It is needed to develop an enlightened society that has empathy and respect for life, thus breaking the cycle of violence and abuse.
The development of ethics and values in society is something that we ignore at our peril. These must be included in the schools’ curriculum, with humane education at the core.
When animals are abused and badly treated in a home, there’s a strong chance that people are also being abused in that home by way of child abuse, spouse abuse, and/or abuse of the elderly. When a home is not a safe and caring place for animals it is not a safe and caring place for people either.
Research by psychologists, sociologists and criminologists has proved the link between animal abuse and human abuse. This research over the last 40 years shows that ‘the first strike’ – a person’s first act of violence – is usually aimed at an animal and should be seen as a danger sign for other members of the family. (Source: Humane Society of the United States: First Strike: The Violence Connection.)
There has always been anecdotal evidence supporting the connection between animal cruelty and violent behavior against people. The 'Son of Sam' murderer in New York City, for example, reportedly (Washington Star, 1977) hated dogs and killed a number of neighborhood animals. Another newspaper article (Washington Post, 1979) reported a mass killer as having immersed cats in containers of battery acid as a child. Albert De Salvo, the notorious Boston Strangler, trapped dogs and cats, placed them in orange crates, and shot arrows through the boxes (Fucini, 1978).
In addition to this anecdotal evidence, there have now been a number of psychological studies carried out which show links between childhood cruelty to animals and later criminality. In some cases, such acts were a precursor to child abuse. Some of these reports were commissioned by humane societies in an attempt to persuade Government authorities of the seriousness of animal cruelty cases, including the Kellert/Felthouse study.
The Kellert/Felthouse study, confirmed a strong correlation between childhood cruelty to animals and future antisocial and aggressive behavior. It stressed the need for researchers, clinicians and societal leaders to be alert to the importance of childhood animal cruelty, and suggested that the evolution of a more gentle and benign relationship in human society might be enhanced by our promotion of a more positive and nurturing ethic between children and animals.
Such path-finding studies are of key importance for society and educators alike. Amongst their findings are:
A useful book which brings together research in this area and charts some actions already being taken to address this problem is: 'Child Abuse, Domestic Violence, and Animal Abuse: Linking the Circles of Compassion for Prevention and Intervention' by Frank Ascione and Phil Arkow, and published by Purdue University Press The book can be ordered from online bookshops.
Arkow points out:
Another important book, which includes scientific research on the connection between animal abuse and child abuse is ‘The Link between Animal Abuse and Human Violence’ (2009), which is edited by Professor Andrew Linzey (Director of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics), and comprises the work of 36 international academics in fields as varied as the Social Sciences, Criminology, Developmental Psychology, Human Rights, Applied Childhood Studies, Behavioral Science, and Child Welfare. The book can be ordered from online bookshops.
‘The Link between Animal Abuse and Human Violence’ reveals that animal abuse has a domino effect. When adults disrespect, neglect, abuse or harm an animal, it starts a process of desensitization or loss of feeling in our children – they become able to witness the neglect, hurting, harming or killing of an animal without feeling a response.
Once children become desensitized, ‘habituation’ quickly sets in. Habituation to neglect and cruelty means that abuse has become a routine part of a child’s life and is accepted as normal. Importantly, desensitization directly opposes the crucial development in early childhood of empathy. Lack of empathy leads to dehumanization because it slows down children’s emotional development, and they are not able to realize their full potential as emotionally mature adults.
What is clear from ‘The Link Between Animal Abuse and Human Violence’ is that modern socio-scientific thinking suggests that animal abuse, because of its potential to damage emotional development, can be viewed as a form of child abuse that can lead to lifelong disability including:
In addition, adults who are under-developed emotionally are more likely to resort to violence to solve problems. Abusive adults pass on this handicap to the next generation.
When someone is ill-treated or relegated to a demeaning position in society, they often respond by venting their frustration on someone whose societal position is even lower than their own. By destroying or tormenting the weak, such as an animal or a child, the oppressor becomes the master who has, in turn, tortured them. The anger is directed at an innocent instead of the perpetrator of their own victimization, and it is difficult to break the cycle of abuse.
Humane education is needed to develop an enlightened society that has empathy and respect for life, thus breaking the cycle of abuse. The aim is to create a culture of caring. It is also a sound investment - working on the prevention of criminality and antisocial behavior, which can have a massive societal cost, both in terms of reduction in 'quality of life' and in financial costs incurred through criminal damage, maintenance of law enforcement systems, court costs, prison systems and juvenile work.
An academic whose research supports the view that humane education should be a vital component of every day learning is Dr. Kai Horsthemke from South Africa. He is an educational philosopher at the University of Witwatersrand School of Education, and received international academic acknowledgement when his paper ‘Rethinking Humane Education’ was published in the October 2009 issue of the British journal Ethics and Education.
Horsthemke points out:
Dr. Horsthemke suggests that environmental and humane education may well be “the most reliable way of halting the rapid deterioration of the world and ourselves, having potentially long term benefits for both humans and nonhumans”.
The following claims were made for humane education by the US National Parent-Teacher Association Congress in 1933:
"Children trained to extend justice, kindness, and mercy to animals become more just, kind and considerate in their relations to one another. Character training along these lines in youths will result in men and women of broader sympathies; more humane, more law-abiding - in every respect more valuable - citizens. Humane education is the teaching in schools and colleges of the nations the principles of justice, goodwill, and humanity towards all life. The cultivation of the spirit of kindness to animals is but the starting point toward that larger humanity that includes one's fellow of every race and clime. A generation of people trained in these principles will solve their international difficulties as neighbors and not as enemies."
The practice and reinforcement of kindness, of care and compassion towards animals, through formal and non-formal educational processes, is viewed as having a range of positive spin-offs in terms of pro-social attitudes towards people of a different gender, ethnic group, race, culture or nation.
The National Link Coalition is a Resource Center on the Link between Animal Abuse and Human Violence, which includes national and international ‘Link’ coalitions.
“In addition to causing pain and suffering to the animals, animal abuse can be a sentinel indicator and predictor - one of the earliest ‘red flag’ warning signs of concurrent or future violent acts. Abusers and impressionable children who witness or perpetrate abuse become desensitized to violence and the ability to empathize with victims. Abuse is often cyclical and inter-generational. The earlier professionals can intervene to break the cycles of violence, the higher the rate of success.”
“As a teacher with 30 years’ experience, I do not believe that we can solve violence in our society with high fences and razor wire. If we are to fight violence effectively and uplift our communities for a sustainable future, we will have to reach into the hearts of learners and develop that vital quality called 'empathy'.” Cape Town school teacher Vivienne Rutgers
The main objective of humane education is the development and nurturing of EMPATHY.
Empathy means: I identify with the way you feel. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another being.
Simon Baron-Cohen is a Professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the University of Cambridge, England. In his book, The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty, he offers a new theory on what causes people to behave with extreme cruelty. He suggests that ‘evil’ can be explained as a complete lack of empathy. He also looks at social and environmental factors that can reduce empathy, including neglect and abuse.
The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty (2011) is published by Basic Books, and can be ordered at online bookshops.
Baron-Cohen points out:
Empathy, says Professor Baron-Cohen, is like 'a dimmer switch' on a light - with a range from low to medium to high. When empathy is dimmed, it causes us to think only of our own interests. When we are solely in the 'I' mode, our empathy is switched off.
Baron-Cohen has developed a scale from 0–6 to measure the differing degrees of empathy among people. Level Zero is when an individual has no empathy at all. At Level 6, an individual displays remarkable empathy. The majority of people fall between Levels 2-4 on the scale.
Baron-Cohen's Barometer of Empathy
Level 0 - People have no empathy at all. These people find relationships difficult and they cannot understand how another is feeling. They may or may not be cruel to others.
Empathy is one of the most frequently cited affective components of moral development (Emde et al., 1987; Gibbs, 1991; Hoffman, 1987). Typically empathy is understood to be natural and to have a biological base as well as to be a source of moral reason and more mature moral affect.
However, whilst young children often have an intuitive grasp that actions - such as hitting and stealing - are prima facie wrong, the child's moral concepts do not reflect a fully developed moral system. For example, although young children view it as wrong to keep all of the classroom toys to oneself and not share any of them with the other children (Damon 1977, Nucci 1981, Smetana 1981), pre-schoolers think it is quite all right to keep all of the favored toys to oneself as long as one shares the remainder (Damon 1977, 1980). Thus, while the young child's morality is structured by concepts of justice, it reflects a rather egocentric moral perspective.
The early development of empathy helps to prevent further development of this egocentric perspective. Teaching empathy is not just about helping learners to recognize consequences, but also to feel these – even when they relate to others. It turns a self-centered perspective into an ‘other-centered’ and altruistic perspective. This leads to a more enlightened and compassionate outlook. It also leads to a deeper search for the moral compass within.
Young children demonstrate a natural feeling for animals, which can be used to develop their empathy and compassion at an early stage. This serves as a firm base for the future moral development of learners.
Humane Education is the single biggest medium in our hands today to nurture and develop the gift of EMPATHY in our children
"In what other subject do you learn to love, care and protect?"Hewston, Grade 10, participant in a Humane Education pilot project, Cape Town
See this YouTube video:
Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, American astrophysicist and Director of the Hayden Planetarium, discusses the human-animal connection from a scientific standpoint – and makes a call for the development of empathy through humane education for school children.
Many people consider empathy and compassion to have the same meaning, and they are frequently used interchangeably. However, they are actually quite different:
As we have seen above, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It is an emotional response to a person’s situation or well-being. The ability to empathize can sometimes be developed when you try to understand how another individual may be feeling – imaging yourself in the same situation and thus feeling the same emotions as the person you are feeling empathy for. However, although you feel the same emotions, you do not take actions on your feelings; you do nothing to alleviate the emotions of the person/animal you are feeling empathy for.
On the other hand, when you feel compassion, you have more of a desire to take action. You can understand a person or animal’s pain and suffering. You place yourself in the shoes of the individual, but you feel that you want to do something to relieve the pain and suffering. Compassion is an emotion which calls for action. You are motivated to take action to ensure a positive outcome.
So, the ultimate aim of humane education should be the development of compassion, with empathy as an important step in this process. This can be encouraged by the inclusion of practical programs to take action for animals, and the development of a volunteering ethos more generally.
The word ‘ethics’ is derived from the Greek word ethikos meaning moral. The field of ethics is also called ‘moral philosophy’. Ethics has been defined as a set of moral principles or a code, and would incorporate aspects such as right, wrong, good, evil, duties and responsibilities. They consider what is good for the individual and for society, and the nature of duties that people owe to themselves, one another, animals and the environment.
In addition to ethics as a moral code (prescribing what humans ought or ought not to do in terms of right and wrong), ethics also refer to the study and development of one's ethical standards. As laws, social norms and feelings/motivations can deviate from what is ethical, it is necessary to constantly examine and study one's own moral beliefs and moral conduct in order to strive towards lives that meet sound moral standards. Humane education can help children to begin the process of ethical decision-making, and building moral character.
Ethics and morals relate respectively to theory and practice. Ethics denotes the theory of right action and the greater good, while morals indicate their practice. ‘Moral’ has a dual meaning. The first indicates a person's comprehension of morality and his capacity to put it into practice. In this meaning, the opposite is ‘amoral’, indicating an inability to distinguish between right and wrong. The second denotes the active practice of those values. In this sense, the opposite is ‘immoral’, referring to actions that counter ethical principles.
Values are part of ethics in the sense that they are ideals or beliefs that a person or social group holds dear. They are what people think is right and wrong, good and bad, desirable and undesirable.
The world today is experiencing an unprecedented crisis of morals and values. At the same time, there is increasing recognition of the serious impact the destructive and self-obsessive nature of mankind is having on the environment, social relationships and global harmony. Various projects and campaigns are developed in an attempt to address these problems, usually on a piecemeal basis - save this tree, this species, promote peace in a particular region. But in reality, the way to tackle these problems is at source, by beginning the process that will teach children - the citizens of tomorrow – an ethical perspective and a personal sense of responsibility, coupled with a compassionate and caring attitude towards others, animals and the environment.
While every person develops his or her strongest notions about ethics early in life, ideas about the right conduct grow and change with experience. Strategies can be employed to strengthen ethical decision-making at all ages, but this is particularly effective in children
Practical wisdom cannot be acquired by simply learning general rules. Learners also need to acquire, through critical and creative thinking and practice, those deliberative, emotional, and social skills that enable them to put their general understanding of well-being into practice in ways that are suitable to each occasion. Thus the way in which humane education is taught (see the section on ‘Methodology’) is an important factor in maximizing its contribution to moral development. Lessons should be specifically designed to include critical analysis, creativity and empathy-building in order to help learners to discover their own ‘moral compass’ and to develop their own values systems.
So what is a moral compass? We humans have this inbuilt guidance or ‘compass’ that speaks to us of right and wrong. Our duty to our learners is to assist them to reach inside and access or interpret this compass, so its guidance can be used when they are faced with hard decisions and difficult situations. The wisdom they are developing will affect their character, values, and morality. Values that come from the heart provide a foundation of strength and goodness that lasts a lifetime, and can be brought into play whenever new challenges arise. In our new fast-moving world, the development of wisdom is crucial.
Humane education has the potential to provide insight and wisdom – which will affect both the morality and the character of learners. In an age where most of education seeks to train the brain, this is education that seeks to open the heart to the promptings, compassion and empathy within. Values that come from the heart provide a foundation of strength and goodness that lasts a lifetime, and can be bought into play whenever humans are challenged by any new situation.
"Just then, in my great tiredness and discouragement, the phrase, Reverence for Life, struck me like a flash. As far as I knew, it was a phrase I had never heard nor ever read. I realized at once that it carried within itself the solution to the problem that had been torturing me. Now I knew that a system of values which concerns itself only with our relationship to other people is incomplete and therefore lacking in power for good. Only by means of reverence for life can we establish a spiritual and humane relationship with both people and all living creatures within our reach. Only in this fashion can we avoid harming others, and, within the limits our capacity, go to their aid whenever they need us."Reverence for Life, Albert Schweitzer
There have been many attempts to introduce ‘peace education’ in schools. To do this successfully, the root causes of conflict and violence need to be examined, and educational programs developed to address these. This can be complicated – particularly for younger children. However, there are already existing ‘tried and tested’ educational programs available, including humane education – which creates a culture of empathy and caring by stimulating the moral development of individuals to form a compassionate, responsible and just society. There is more information below and in this web resource more generally on why humane education can form a vital part of peace education.
It is scarcely surprising that peace education is given increasing importance in modern society, give the increase of conflict and violence we are currently witnessing. We are becoming more materialistic, more individualistic and selfish, and increasingly driven by the quest for worldly success and prosperity. Growth of economies and acquisitive personal aspirations lead to conflicts over scarce resources. Lack of equity can also contribute to conflict … but even this would not be a problem if these was a spirit of interconnectedness and giving in society. But our priorities and values are changing – mostly to the detriment of wisdom, compassion and – ultimately - our own happiness. We increasingly communicate through trite, short-hand phrases, adopting and justifying ideologies, instead of developing our own insights and wisdom. Soul-searching and personal development are no longer prioritized, as conformity is easier and more likely to gain peer acceptance.
Importantly, we are also becoming more urbanized, and losing our deep connection to nature and animals – and often to our human support systems (our families and communities).
Peace will not be achieved by patchwork reforms. The development of peace has to begin with understanding ourselves and the nature of the world we live in.
As we have seen, we humans have a built in ‘code’ that speaks to us of right and wrong. Our duty to our learners is to assist them to reach inside and interpret this code, so its guidance can be used when they are faced with hard decisions and difficult situations. The wisdom they are developing will affect their character, values, and morality. Values that come from the heart provide a foundation of strength and goodness that lasts a lifetime, and can be brought into play whenever new challenges arise. In our new fast-moving world, the development of wisdom is crucial.
Conventional education is the transfer of knowledge to pass examinations and – sometimes – to gain employment. This is significantly lacking for the development of the whole human. In many ‘developing’ countries, education is still by rote, passing on formulaic learning with no development of insights, intelligence and values. In such cases, Universal Primary Education is of little value in providing much-needed life skills?
World Animal Net strongly advocates the educational approach for the development of peaceful societies, working at the root of the problem for sustainable change. We consider humane education to be a vital pillar of this work.
Humane education should be an essential part of a student’s education as it reduces violence and builds moral character. It can also play a significant role in the development of stable, caring and peaceful societies.
In addition to humane education, there are also other educational initiatives that could also help towards the development of stable, caring and peaceful societies, including: morals and values education, emotional intelligence education, conflict avoidance/resolution education and environmental education. Ideally, these programs could be coordinated – and optimum methodologies used - to provide an integrated educational solution.
I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve."Albert Schweitzer
Humane education can play a large role in improving happiness. This is both overall happiness – in terms of total well-being (people, animals and the environment) - and individual happiness. This is because it has the potential to develop learners socially, psychologically and ethically – as well as increasing compassion and empathy, and creating a feeling of interconnectedness with animals, nature and other people. The 2013 World Happiness Report confirmed that ‘social, psychological, and ethical factors are crucially important in individual happiness’.
This probably seems somewhat quaint and far-fetched in the modern era (post 1800), where happiness has come to be associated largely with material conditions, especially income and consumption. However, any ‘happiness’ associated with material conditions can only be transient. What is of greater – and lasting – importance is the deep happiness which comes from the inner peace developed from living a life which matters … compassionate and altruistic, and fulfilling our full potential. A life lived in harmony with nature and all life, instead of an ego-centred existence.
The World Happiness Report speaks of ‘Eudaimonia’, which is sometimes translated as happiness, and often as ‘flourishing’, to convey the sense of deep and persistent well-being. This kind of virtue not only attends to the individual’s thriving, but also to the community’s harmony. Eudaimonia is the telos, the end goal of human beings; the highest good.
In the words of Bertrand Russell:
“The happiness that is genuinely satisfying is accompanied by the fullest exercise of our faculties and the fullest realisation of the world in which we live.”
In the great pre-modern traditions concerning happiness, whether Buddhism in the East, Aristotelianism in the West, or the great religious traditions, happiness is determined not by an individual’s material conditions (wealth, poverty, health, illness) but by the individual’s moral character. Aristotle spoke of virtue as the key to eudaimonia. This is why the World Happiness report advocates a return to ‘virtue ethics’ as one part of the strategy to raise happiness in society.
The Global Economic Ethic (2009) established an overarching global ethical framework with the fundamental principle of ‘humanity’. With the principle of ‘humanity’, the Global Economic Ethic identified four basic values:
As we can see, these are all values that can be derived from humane education – particularly non-violence and respect for all life.
Matthieu Ricard, the author of the book ‘Happiness – A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill’ states:
"It is only by the constant cultivation of wisdom and compassion that we can really become the guardians and inheritors of happiness."
“Compassion, the very act of feeling concern for other people’s well-being, appears to be one of the positive emotions, like joy and enthusiasm. This corroborates the research of psychologists showing that the most altruistic members of a population are also those who enjoy the highest sense of satisfaction in life.”