Is Humane Education Enough?


Darren Chang MA, Queen's University
Meneka Repka PhD, Teacher/Instructor, University of Calgary

Humane education has historically focused on increasing empathy in children and youths by developing a sense of compassion and respect for non-human animals. More recently, humane education programs have broadened to include environmental issues, along with discussions about the marginalization of human groups. However, given the current human dependence on exploiting non-humans, coupled with global warming and mass extinctions, we question whether humane education is enough to prepare future generations to overcome these challenges. Further, we interrogate whether humane education is an appropriate response to the current state of the world, as it primarily focuses on pet animals, "ethical' consumerism and is generally only implemented in schools that are adequately funded.

We argue that the existing discourse in standard forms of humane education does not sufficiently challenge the anthropocentrism, speciesism, consumerism and other institutionally reinforced ideologies that human domination of non-human life is rooted in. Despite a shift towards situating human/non-human relations in terms of social justice in humane education, it remains unclear what justice would require. A welfare conception of justice that assumes a human right to exploit other animals as long as we give them "a life worth living" fails to question the status of humans as superior and other animals as inferior property and commodities.


  1. Critical perspectives on humane education to identify potential shortcomings: (a) Focus on empathy primarily towards pet animals, (b) Focus on "ethical" consumerism, which doesn’t address problems with capitalism, (c) Currently only implemented in private schools or schools with adequate funding (not accessible to most children).
  2. Alternatives to humane education, in terms of both forms and content (anarchist models of education?).
  3. Historical examples of the social justice tradition, in which justice for non-human animals could be grounded in a wider understanding of anti-oppression work.

Darren Chang
recently completed a Master’s Degree at Queen's University, specializing in critical animal studies. From 2012-2014, Darren worked as a research assistant at the UBC Animal Welfare Program and has volunteered with various animal rights/liberation groups in BC and Ontario since 2011.

Meneka Repka (nee Thirukkumaran) is an artist and teacher living in Calgary, Alberta. She recently completed a PhD in curriculum and learning from the University of Calgary, and currently teaches both high school and some post-secondary classes. Her doctoral work examined the school experiences of vegan youths in Calgary.