By Liz Walch
A few minutes before this photo was taken, roughly 35 people were seated in the rows of white chairs, ready to see whatever it was I had displayed on the screen behind me. But no, I had different plans for them! “Ok everyone! How about we all go sit at the picnic tables at the back? It will make it easier to talk to each other and write on the worksheets I’m going to pass out.” They didn’t know it yet, but I was going to make them work!
The reason I was here, worksheets ready, was because I had the wonderful opportunity to present at Animal Place’s Second Annual Farmed Animal Conference in Grass Valley, California. This year’s conference theme was Food Justice For All, which is certainly a topic that is integrated well with H.E.A.R.T.’s comprehensive humane education mission. The purpose of my talk was to give an overview of comprehensive humane education by talking about eight elements of humane education.
What was most exciting and challenging about my presentation, however, was the audience itself. I knew going into the presentation that there might be only a small handful of formal educators in the crowd – or perhaps none at all. But I did know that, given the demographics and subject matter of the conference, formal educator or not, probably everyone in attendance would consider her or himself an advocate of some sort.
Given that I was first brought to humane education through my own farmed animal advocacy work, I was so excited to share with this crowd how they could use elements of humane education in their own work – whatever that may be. I am a strong believer than living and practicing humane education elements leads to more successful and meaningful advocacy, and I wanted to share that with these advocates before me.
So instead of having the attendees sit in rows of chairs audience-style, I had them sit at the picnic tables where they could talk to each other during think-pair-share moments and write their brainstorming ideas about how they could use humane education in their advocacy work.
Fifty minutes isn’t a lot of time to give a thorough presentation, but boy, did I try! I started out by going through eight elements of humane education, explaining what they were and giving examples of how educators at H.E.A.R.T. (myself included) have fostered those elements with various lessons and activities. (Don’t worry, I’ll share those eight elements of humane education with you in a moment!) At the end of the presentation, I gave the attendees time to brainstorm how they could foster one or more of these elements in their own advocacy work. They could do this by developing a new project or adding to an existing one – whether it was starting a blog or website, putting together a pamphlet, or developing creative works or new business practices. Ten minutes might not be enough time to create a masterpiece (although, who knows, maybe someone did), but I hoped the attendees got their creative juices flowing and could walk away with at least one concrete idea of how they could improve their advocacy by using humane education.
Now, without further ado, I present the eight elements of humane education that I shared with my presentation’s attendees. They are collected and synthesized from the writings of Zoe Weil, the founder of the Institute for Humane Education. Like I said to the attendees, I would encourage you, too, to take some time to self-reflect on how and when you model these elements in your own life, advocacy, and education work. Equally importantly, reflect on how and when you do not model these elements.
• Accurate information is the base for informed, conscious decision-making.
• It combats the false or hidden information that bolsters exploitive and harmful systems.
• Information should be accompanied with its source(s).
• Curiosity drives a quest for truth and knowledge (accurate information).
• It encourages people to ask questions, examine facts, and be eager to research and learn.
• To encourage curiosity, let people explore information on their own; don’t give them all the answers; ask them questions, and have them ask you questions.
• Learning to analyze facts, as well as how to differentiate fact from opinion, allows people to make informed judgments and thus, informed choices.
• Critical thinking means a person must be given the opportunity and encouragement to think for themselves, rather than being told how/what to think by someone else.
• Building reverence creates a sense of awe, which in turn triggers our drive to protect something.
• Respect means considering others’ feelings and autonomy when making informed decisions.
• Respect is shown through actions and the choices someone makes.
• Responsibility is the drive and feeling of duty to create a better world.
• It comes from an understanding of the interconnectedness of our world and how the consequences of one’s actions have an impact on others near and far.
• Empathy is being able to recognize and understand what a being is thinking or feeling.
• Note: Empathy is something the educator/advocate must have for the person with whom they are speaking, as well. Empathy is different than sympathy. Sympathy is feeling compassion, sorrow, or pity for the hardships that another person encounters, while empathy is putting yourself in their shoes. Putting yourself in their shoes means understanding (but not necessarily condoning) their choices so that you can tailor your communication.
• Focusing on solutions empowers people to take action to make the world a better place.
• It is the antidote to apathy and despair.
It is only through modeling our message that we can begin to educate hearts and minds, creating a better world for all.