by Traci Raley
Humane education is the use of animals to teach kindness, compassion and empathy to humans, primarily school-aged children. Using rescue dogs to teach humane education is a method that is becoming more common as means of violence prevention in schools. One group currently employing this method is Humane Species . A nonprofit organization founded by an attorney in 1999, Humane Species teaches an 11-week course aimed at 4th through 12th graders to reduce violence and bullying, while also teaching personal safety, empathy, and compassion for others. A study published in 2008 by a researcher at Appalachian State University examined the effectiveness of this program on approximately 300 students in the 4th, 5th, and 6th grades. As the researcher predicted, the study found that Humane Species had a positive effect on the students overall by lowering levels of aggression and violence and increasing levels of empathy among the students (Sprinkle 2008).
There are several theories regarding why humane education works. Most children seem to like animals; therefore, animal-based education tends to hold their attention, thus allowing for enhanced social development. Stories involving animal characters can help to increase children’s understanding of others’ points of view and to develop empathy toward others. This can in turn interrupt patterns of development that lead to human violence. A review by Favor (2010) suggests some ways to implement humane education into schools. One suggestion is to include humane-themed books in the classroom. A list of some recommended books can be found at Red Rover, another organization bringing people and dogs together. Some other suggestions are to include dog safety lessons for elementary kids and a service learning curriculum that encourages animal welfare. Additionally, teachers should receive training on how to handle student’s disclosure of animal abuse or other violence going on in the home. With escalating levels of violence in the world today, we should not overlook the value of humane education and its potential to help prevent youth violence in schools.
Favor, C. A. (2010). School-Based Humane Education as a Strategy to Prevent Violence: Review and Recommendations. Children and Youth Service Review, 32, 365-370.
Sprinkle, J. E. (2008). Animals, Empathy, and Violence: Can Animals Be Used to Convey Principles of Prosocial Behavior to Children?. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 6, 47-58.