The term “humane education” originated with the founders of the first humane societies and SPCAs who were also the founders of the first child protection organizations back in the late 19th century. Humane education taught kindness to both people and animals, and the leaders of the humane movement were humanitarians in the broadest sense.
During the 20th century, child protection laws were established in the U.S. and other industrialized countries, and child labor was largely (though, sadly, not completely) eradicated. Humane societies began to concentrate solely on the protection of dogs, cats, and occasionally on other companion animals, including horses. Humane education at these organizations began to focus exclusively on responsible care of companion animals, bite prevention, and spaying and neutering to eliminate the dog and cat overpopulation problem, which still persists. Since humane societies and SPCAs were the dumping ground for unwanted dogs and cats, it became essential to educate about pet overpopulation.
What this has meant is that humane education, once a broad term that encompassed all that it means to be humane, narrowed in many people’s eyes. For the past two decades I’ve been working with other humane educators to revitalize the term and re-establish its original meaning: to promote humane living that includes all people, all species and the ecosystems that sustain us all.
Any of us working to educate for a better world, whether we focus on specific issues like companion animals, child slavery, environmental sustainability, or a host of other issues, are humane educators. But let us remember that we are each part of a vital and comprehensive field, a circle of compassion that includes everyone and everything on this beautiful planet.
For a humane world for all,
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