Promoting Critical Thinking
The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.
Critical thinking is an essential part of our work as humane educators because we are asking people (whether we work with children or adults) to question societal norms. Most people would say that we should not harm animals unnecessarily, and many people say that they “love animals.” However, there is a lot of variation within our society regarding which animals people are referring to when they say they love animals, and differences in opinion with regard to what is considered socially acceptable behavior toward different species of animals.
In humane education, we ask people to consider a moral framework from which to live that includes not only people, but other species as well. We ask them to contemplate what that means for our relationships with other species and how those species are treated. In order to do this effectively, we can present inconsistencies in the moral reasoning within our society and challenge people to question those inconsistencies, all within an educational program. Then, we can provide opportunities for people to take responsibility for constructing their own ethical philosophy by reflecting on the rationale of one’s own beliefs. When people have the chance to step back and think critically about how their attitudes, behaviors, and values have been shaped, and question what they really believe, it can be the impetus for creating real change.
In our Featured Download lesson, An Animal's Day in Court, students are encouraged to think critically by discussing why certain legal rights have been granted to people, and whether or not that justification applies to any other animal species. Students will take on the role of animal lawyers and advocate on behalf of particular animal species that have been identified by the Nonhuman Rights Project as deserving legal personhood and fundamental rights (e.g., bodily liberty and bodily integrity), based on the same rationale for why people have certain rights, and what these rights would mean for their quality of life.
It's Their World Too
Students are presented with information (text, pictures, and video) about the lives of elephants in their natural habitats, and then compare and contrast that with information about their lives in the circus. Students use critical thinking skills to decide what they think about animals in captivity for the purpose of human “entertainment.” They also discuss effective ways they can help elephants in captivity.
Behind Closed Doors
Students learn about farm animals and what their lives are like on factory farms. As they imagine being members of their state legislature, they have to think critically to decide how they will vote on a bill that would improve conditions for battery-caged hens. Students then write a persuasive essay to explain their position. While middle school students are the target audience for this lesson, it can also benefit and engage high school students.
What are We Wearing?
Students explore the impact that clothing production has on animals. They imagine that they are co-owners of a store and discuss the way animals are raised for certain clothing products. As a group, they will consider the ethical implications related to selling certain products and decide if they want to sell the items at their store. While middle school students are the target audience for this lesson, it can also benefit and engage high school students.
In this HEART video, you will learn strategies and tools for how to teach controversial topics and critical thinking skills by encouraging young people to explore those issues in a way that respects their opinions and beliefs, while also challenging them to consider, and potentially develop, new understandings.
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