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Humane Education: A Foundation for Connecting with All of Earth’s Inhabitants

Originally appears in the Summer 2009 issue

Many people are unaware of the far-reaching implications of humane education — and may oversimplify this area of study to confine its teaching to responsible pet care and the spaying and neutering of domestic pets. However, the responsible care of domestic animals is only a fraction of the whole tapestry of humane education and all the topics and issues inherent to the field. Humane educators advocate for and encourage values of compassion, empathy, respect, kindness and positive regard towards all living beings — human and non-human alike. Humane education encompasses sets of knowledge for transforming our society from a state of violence, chaos and fragmentation towards one of peace, tranquility and harmony,1 and for connecting humans with one another and with non-human animals and the natural world in more cooperative and convivial ways.

The essence of humane education is to find ways of relating to nature, to non-human animals and to each other that are nurturing, supportive and positive. Concretely, this leading-edge curriculum promotes the transformation of attitudes, beliefs and behaviours regarding our connection with the environment, with other species and with fellow humans in the direction of humane values. One method for invoking humane relatedness is to remind people of the profound similarities between human and non-human experiences. If we can empathize with the experiences of other living beings and place ourselves in the shoes (or paws, claws, fins) of a suffering other, we can begin to develop compassion for this other. This is an opportunity to teach young people (and older) not only the importance of respecting all of life, but also the connections that we humans share with our fellow Earthlings.

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Robert S. E. Caine earned his Ph.D. specializing in Environmental and Humane Education and Environmental Philosophy from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto. He currently resides in Toronto, Ontario, where he remains highly dedicated in educating for compassion, empathy, and respect towards non-human animals.