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from No Compromise Issue 29
by Nora Kramer
Many activists have found that young people are the demographic most open to our message of compassion for animals and the most willing to change their diet and personal habits for ethical reasons. Young people are the future Ingrid Newkirks, lauren Ornelases, Paul Shapiros, and Kevin Jonases of the world-or the future vivisectors or meat eaters of the world.
Humane education, which brings lessons of empathy and respect for the environment and animals-human and nonhuman-to young people, is a powerful form of activism that more animal advocates and organizations, such as Compassion Over Killing and Mercy for Animals, are pursuing.
You don't have to be a classroom teacher to teach humane education. I began by responding to a Craigslist posting (in the volunteers section) for an after-school teacher. I replied with a proposal to teach an 8-week course called "Animals and the Environment," and, to my surprise, the school said yes.
I requested materials geared towards youth from every organization that had any-Farm Sanctuary, PETA, Viva!, Animal Place, and Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) in the UK all have great materials-and began planning lessons. I based the lessons on the materials I gathered, the subjects I wanted to cover, and, perhaps most importantly, curriculum and philosophy about humane ed from the International Institute for Humane Education. IIHE (www.iihed.org ) is the only school in the country that offers a Masters in Education with a concentration in Humane Education. For those who can't undertake this two-year program, they also offer weekend-long Sowing Seeds workshops.)
After two years of teaching after-school courses at different schools, I partnered with The Empathy Project, a humane education program in Chicago that is now part of Mercy for Animals. I now give guest presentations at schools, camps, youth groups, and after-school programs, allowing me to reach even more young people. I promote myself by tabling at events and distributing my brochure, and now teachers contact me, sometimes offering a donation for my work.
In my opinion, it is important to approach humane education differently than you might other forms of activism. Whereas being an activist normally means vocally and unequivocally standing for a particular cause, such as urging people not to buy fur, I make sure I am never actually telling anyone what to do. Why not? First of all, it's a totally inappropriate thing for a teacher to do. The principle behind humane ed is that of education at its best: exposing the student to new information and a broader perspective, which allows them to think critically about the issues and come to better-informed conclusions.
Second it simply won't be effective long term. In a world where 'N Sync and Shaquille O'Neal pitch meat and where the kids will likely be asked many challenging questions by meat-eating parents and friends, the students have to actually believe in it themselves-not because you told them to but because you have given them compelling information and engaged their sense of compassion and justice.
And third? You will not be invited back.
This means that when a student innocently asks, "Are you saying that meat is bad?" or "Is it wrong to eat meat?" instead of blurting, "Yes! Haven't you been paying attention?!" my answer is, "You need to decide for yourself what is good or bad now that you have more information." I believe this will have a much more lasting impact.
Teaching humane education has also helped me in other forms of activism. I can't really be angry at kids for eating meat or buying products tested on animals, since most of them really don't know much about these things (yet). I've realized that the same is actually true of many adults, and these days I am much less motivated by anger and much more motivated by compassion, which not only comes through in all my activism but has also made me a happier person-- which goes a long way as well.
Some quick tips:
Tell your personal story so they can relate to you. Let them know you grew up eating meat just like them.
Be interactive and creative. They will lose interest quickly if you just talk the whole time. IIHE has great interactive lessons, and incorporating videos always gets kids' attention.
Be age-appropriate. Showing "Meet Your Meat" to third graders is just not helpful. Instead, show CIWF's "Farm Animals and Us" or bring in calendars from Farm Sanctuary and talk about animals who have been rescued.
Be positive. For those students and teachers, you will be a representative of the entire animal rights movement. You will likely attract more supporters if you use humor and are upbeat and hopeful than if you stress the kids out about all that is wrong with the world.
Be professional and courteous. If you want to be asked back, this is a must.