Monday, September 25, 2006
A new Grade 12 course on social justice must include animal rights because oppression and exploitation affect more than just humans, an animal activist told an exclusive meeting of educators and social-justice experts recently.
Lesley Fox of the Vancouver Humane Society told the group that "speciesism" is a prejudice like racism and sexism and deserves inclusion in the ground-breaking Social Justice 12 course.
The course is being developed as part of a deal the provincial government signed last spring with gay activists Murray and Peter Corren to settle a human-rights complaint.
Speciesism is a relatively new term that Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, says involves assigning values or rights to beings on the basis of their species. An example, according to Fox, is the special status given to dogs and cats in North America but not to cows, pigs and chickens.
"We aren't trying to make [Social Justice 12] into an animal-rights course," Fox explained Sunday. "[But] it is my opinion that if we are going to discuss social justice concepts such as oppression and exploitation, animals should be included."
Fox was a surprise guest at the invitation-only three-day meeting last week organized by the B.C. Education Ministry to brainstorm about the new course.
Other invited parties included the B.C. Teachers' Federation, the B.C. School Trustees' Association, the B.C. Principals' and Vice-Principals' Association, the Aboriginal Education Association, the Social Planning and Research Council of B.C., Educators Against Racism, the RCMP and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.
In keeping with the deal, the Correns were also invited, as were representatives of the Gay and Lesbian Educators of B.C. The deal calls for development of the optional Social Justice 12 course and a curriculum review intended to make schools more inclusive and gay-friendly.
Fox, who was in the news last year after persuading the Vancouver school board to become the first major school district in Canada to develop a policy allowing students to opt out of animal dissections in science class, said she was thrilled to be invited to such a high-level education meeting and to speak for animals in curriculum development.
She said she was also anxious that her presentation to the group not be perceived as an attempt to dilute the experiences of people who have suffered discrimination.
"It isn't that humans are better than animals, or animals are better than humans," she said in an interview. "When we talk about oppression, we need to look at it as a whole and how it is interlinked. How we treat animals says a lot about how we treat one another."
Brian Roodnick, spokesman for Concerned Citizens of B.C., the group that has been most critical of the Corren deal, said he was surprised but pleased to hear the Education Ministry is considering animal rights as part of the new course.
But he questioned why no one was invited to the meeting to talk about religious discrimination, such as anti-Semitism or prejudices against Muslims, or discrimination based on mental or physical disabilities.
He said lessons about social justice should be based on the equality guarantees in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which prohibit discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability. Discrimination of sexual orientation is also prohibited.
This story can be heard online after 10:30 a.m. today at www.vancouversun.com/readaloud.
Other link: http://www.canada.com/victoriatimescolonist/news/story.html?id=00372cbc-1ba5-4b25-9e02-54c9a62c864e&k=50989