When George Angell, the founder of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, was asked why he didn’t help children instead of animals, he reportedly replied, “I am working at the roots. If you teach a child to be kind to a caterpillar, you do as much for the child as you do for the caterpillar.”
How true. Children who are taught to be kind to animals also learn to show compassion and empathy for their fellow humans. Studies suggest that teaching kids to respect and protect even the smallest and most seemingly insignificant animals will help them to value one another.
Those who are allowed to taunt, neglect, or hurt animals tend to lack empathy for their peers as well. In fact, many of the kids responsible for mass school shootings and other highly-publicized crimes had a history of animal abuse. Not every child who abuses an animal will grow up to be a serial killer, of course, but with every instance of kicking a dog or beating a cat and getting away with it, children become more likely to grow up to kick their kids or beat their spouses. The FBI even uses reports of cruelty to animals to analyze the threat potential of suspected and known violent criminals.
For both animals’ and people’s sakes, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals developed TeachKind, a humane education program designed to empower students to take responsibility for their actions, help them apply the concepts of respect and kindness to animals in their own lives, and inspire them to help both animals and people.
TeachKind provides free lesson plans and other materials to help teachers, librarians, and parents teach children to understand and appreciate animals and become better citizens–while still learning reading, writing, and math skills. The Share the World: Everyone Matters curriculum kit, which has programs for students in grades 6 to 12, helps young people relate to animals and make kind choices when dealing with others. The Just Choices curriculum kit, for ages 11 to 18, helps students think critically and learn about social justice movements.
The TeachKind program provides free books, DVDs, lesson plans, and other materials to help teachers incorporate humane education into their regular syllabus. TeachKind also provides information on alternatives to dissection and suggests thoughtful, altruistic school activities. (Caring third-graders at Samuel Staples Elementary School were the inspiration for the TeachKind “Change for Chained Dogs” school fundraising activity.)
It doesn’t take any extra “credentials” or training to be a humane educator. In fact, any teacher, parent, or librarian who teaches children about “fair play” and compassion for animals is a “humane educator.” If you work in a school or have a school-age child, please see TeachKind.org to find out more about humane education activities. You can help shape kinder, more thoughtful students who will in turn shape a kinder, more considerate world.
As the National PTA Congress points out, “Children trained to extend justice, kindness, and mercy to animals become more just, kind and considerate in their relations to each other. Character training along these lines will result in men and women of broader sympathies, more humane, more law-abiding, in every respect more valuable citizens.”