Our response to scholars’ call to have animal welfare ethics taught in French schools

Animal Action Education has reached 5 million children worldwide on the power of humane education, proven by research.I have a very vivid memory of the day my literature professor settled the fundamental question of the difference between animals and humans: Animals do not have consciences. School had settled so simply a question that I have since discovered to be much more complex and unsettled.

Last week, the French newspaper Libération published a letter signed by philosophers, veterinarians, historians, and psychologists from France, Belgium, and Canada who were pleading for animal ethics to be taught in schools.

IFAW salutes this initiative, which brings to light an Anglo-Saxon concept that is nevertheless missing from this letter: humane education. Humane education seeks to develop compassion and respect for living creatures. If it is traditionally focused on the treatment of animals, it now extends to the environment, compassion towards others, and the interdependence of humans and the planet. A perfect translation of this expression does not exist in the French language, which has fewer words than English and does not make a distinction between human and humane as the English language does. What might pass for a linguistic fun fact reveals a more profound nuance.

Animal Action Education, IFAW’s education program, has reached 5 million children worldwide on this very idea of humane education. The virtue has been proven by research: humane and environmental education programs that include animals are not only beneficial for animals and the environment but they are also beneficial for children. Empathy is identified as a key attribute of socially responsible individuals.

At a time when bullying is the subject of expensive awareness campaigns, several studies (Ascione, 2001, Luke ; Arluke & Levin, 1997 ; Thompson & Gullone, 2003, etc.) highlighted correlations between the mistreatment of animals and violence against people and show that integrating humane education into the school curriculum can have a lasting effect on the way that children treat each other. This research also suggests that humane education influences children’s development, at school as well as in society.

IFAW’s interdisciplinary approach gives students the chance to grasp the complex relationships that exist between human beings and animals – cultural, economic, and social issues – and discuss them. Furthermore, students are able to identify possible solutions: What can I do? Or: What could we do? The added value of the Animal Action Education program is considering the children themselves to be the agents of change.

The Animal Action Education pedagogical kit that we make available to educators effectively inspires and pushes children to action as evidenced by the recent experiment conducted within the framework of extracurricular time in Charleville-Mézières, France. After having worked with the Dogs, Cats, and Us pedagogical kit, the children created and distributed posters against abandonment in strategic parts of the city; they also built a canteen for the stray cats at the local humane society, Le tipi des chats. In 2015, students in Paris chose to create an exhibition on relationships with pets.

The “animal” subject cannot be taught in school from the sole perspectives of consumption, leisure, or species. That is where the pertinence of our education program and, beyond that, of our organization reveals itself: species conservation AND animal welfare must go hand in hand. The individual counts as much as the group because a healthy group depends on healthy individuals.

Are you a teacher or educator? Are you around teachers or educators? Invite them to join the Animal Action Education program!


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Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Senior Advisor, Policy Development
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Jan Hannah, Campaign Manager, Northern Dogs Project
Campaign Manager, Northern Dogs Project