A New Paradigm in Humane and Character Education:

              Submitted by IN DEFENSE OF ANIMALS

 Addressing Violence through Language

Humane Educators are charged with coaching students in ethical ways of thinking and behaving so they become citizens who live in awareness of and concern for the fate of other individuals and the natural world.  Humane Educators reach and teach people through after school programs and assemblies, classroom activities for all age groups, and emotional therapy programs. They especially impact us as role models who live their own compassionate message.

The message they teach is in greater demand than ever. State mandates for Humane and Character Education have sprung from the growing challenge of managing increased incidences of disrespect and violence in the classroom. The apparent trend toward higher levels of youth violence and aggression calls for a key paradigm shift that Humane and Character Educators must begin to address.

Humane Education and Character Education requirements can be met simultaneously through instruction on valuing and protecting others. A crucial function of humane educators is helping students to understand that no harm to themselves or abuse of another can be justified.  Helping students recognize the linkage between all forms of violence and abuse shows them that animal abuse, child abuse, or any other type of violence toward themselves, others, or the environment are all equally unacceptable.  Learning to respect and protect the lives of animals and others can promote students’ emotional development (i.e., sympathy, empathy) and their sense of personal responsibility.

However, our job as educators is to delve even more deeply into fundamental patterns of abuse.  At the root of violence and abuse in the home are often attitudes of domestic privacy (The state has no right to interfere.) and "ownership" of children and animals (They are mine; therefore, I can treat them as I wish.)  "As we refer to other living beings as ‘property,’ as ‘things’ and as 'it,' we give ourselves permission as humans to disregard their needs and wants and quality of life," explains Rae Sikora, co-founder of the Center for Compassionate Living and the International Institute for Humane Education.  Reference to animal ownership by Humane Educators communicates an acceptance of living beings as "property" that contradicts essential lessons of empathy and compassion.

Culturally accepted references to ownership of individuals must shift to models of protection, care and guardianship if society is to become less violent and more cooperative. A1995 resolution proposed by In Defense of Animals and Psychologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals that challenged the ownership of individuals was accepted by the Summit for Animals and stated in part, “We specifically propose an agreement no longer to refer to people who adopt or care for animals as ‘owners,’ but rather as guardians, caretakers, caregivers...”  Experts in the animal and child welfare fields have subsequently recognized the replacement of the term “owner” with “guardian” as a sound and consistent lesson on valuing our relationships with both animals and people.

Refinement of the language we use as educators can transform objects into living beings in young minds.  Consistent use of the term “guardian” in place of “owner” and “he” or “she” in place of “it” instills a much deeper level of responsibility, respect and compassion for the animals with whom children share their lives.  Modeling the language of guardianship communicates that animals are not things, but individuals, and that irresponsibility, disrespect and abuse toward them (and by extension toward all others) are socially unacceptable behaviors.

            Introducing the idea that a child has a responsibility to care for animals simply because they are alive and depend on people is likely more valuable than we know.  Using the term “guardian” with youth may be the first and only time they are exposed to the idea that animals, like themselves, are vulnerable individuals with their own needs and interests who deserve compassion, protection and consideration.

Humane Educators teach others to be open to new ideas and to embrace compassionate concepts--even when these concepts may be foreign to students. If we as educators are modeling humane values, should we ourselves not take the same approach by dispensing with our wariness about updating the language we use?  Humane education cannot truly be humane as long as living beings are spoken of as objects or personal property.  It is imperative, then, that our primary anti-violence tool be language.  With the use of a more compassionate vocabulary, humane educators lead the way to a kinder future, and a new cultural standard of speech that values and guards life awaits the next generation.

This article submitted by IN DEFENSE OF ANIMALS.  http://www.idausa.org/