Creating Compassionate Classrooms

applesThink back to your favorite book as a child or the movie that had the character or message that stayed with you-and don’t forget your favorite nursery rhyme, fable, or cartoon. Odds are that there was an animal involved. Animals are masterful teachers, and their lessons usually begin in the cradle and, if we’re lucky, remain with us to the grave.

I was a Bambi girl myself. My mom tells an interesting story about an incident that took place shortly after she took me to see Bambi at age 3. Days later, as we stepped inside the local butcher shop, there hung on an enormous hook a freshly killed deer-with fur and antlers still intact. My mom says that I turned on my heel, planted myself on the store’s front step, and stopped each visitor with the message that they might want to go to another store because “this store killed Bambi, and he does not want to be here.”

More than a memorable story, this incident is significant because it clearly illustrates principles that are fundamental to humane education: A young child experiences empathy (understanding how the animal felt) and then moves quickly to compassion and action (standing on the doorstep and asking patrons to take their business elsewhere). A key strategy in humane education is developing empathy in order to inspire compassion and action.

Humane education is a framework of study that is based on relationships-our relationships with each other, the planet, and animals. It is a complimentary model that blends seamlessly with traditional educational models as well as other framework strategies such as character education. Character education uses values such as trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship to frame lessons that create well-rounded global citizens. Blending the two is very appealing to schools and invigorates education by providing impetus to a child’s natural affinity toward animals. Using humane education as a staple of traditional academia can create the potential for students to be compassion in action!

Luckily, humane education is catching on in schools across America. PETA’s humane-education program, TeachKind, sends out thousands of free materials to schools every week. These materials include DVDs, magazines, and curriculum kits, and educators are incorporating lesson plans with animal rights themes into their classrooms. Animal rights clubs are sprouting up at schools across the country, and schools are implementing Meat-Free Monday programs to teach students about the benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle!

If academic education pours the foundation and character education erects walls of character around it, then humane education is the conscience and ethical compass that resides within those walls. Makes one wonder why humane education is only mandated in a few states!

What You Can Do

  • Research your state laws to determine whether or not humane education is mandated. If not, contact your legislator and get the ball rolling.
  • Call your local animal shelter and volunteer to help with its humane-education programs. If it doesn’t have one, work with the staff to start one!
  • Visit to learn more about humane education. Download lesson plans and get them to your child’s educators.

Have any of you seen successes in your own humane-education experiences or been successful in getting humane-education programs into your local schools or libraries?