The current review of provincial curriculum – being conducted by Alberta Education in partnership with the Alberta Teachers’ Association – provides a unique opportunity to incorporate positive, effective changes in our schools to help students’ character development through humane education. Indeed, we can become the first province to explicitly include humane education in the provincial curriculum.
We define humane education as teaching that inspires kindness to animals, people and the environment – or more simply put, character education with a wagging tail. Including animals (in stories or science – not necessarily physically present in a classroom) provides an opportunity to look beyond ourselves, to discover our place in the natural world. A growing body of research shows that encouraging kindness to animals transfers to human-directed empathy, and humane education can decrease the likelihood of future aggression in children showing antisocial behaviours.
Historically, Alberta has shown leadership in this area. Louise McKinney, one of the Famous Five who brought women the right to vote and went on to become the first woman elected to public office in the British Commonwealth, advocated for humane education as a means of violence prevention. In 1904 she led the charge for women of Alberta to push for the creation of humane societies, humane education and to show their support by practical example.
Grant MacEwan, educator, author and politician, also modelled the importance of responsible stewardship and humane animal treatment. While serving as Lieutenant-Governor of Alberta in the late 1960s, he wrote the well-known MacEwan’s Creed which affirms the need for sustainable agriculture and wildlife conservation in a manner reflecting the culture of First Nations communities.
Alberta’s current Programs of Study include many references to values inherent in humane education, scattered throughout various subject areas and grade levels. We now have an opportunity to holistically and explicitly recognize the importance of humane education in this province.
Humane education is embedded in education criteria in jurisdictions outside of Canada. At least nine American states explicitly require teaching kindness to animals or humane education, including New York, Washington and Maine. No Canadian province has yet to take this small step toward a more humane future. Once again, it falls to Alberta to take the lead.
Let’s use this opportunity to take a step toward a more humane curriculum – for the sake of our youth and our future.