Wednesday, June 5, 2013


by Merrit Clifton

The Unti/DeRosa chapter on humane education is the most thorough treatment we have seen yet of the rise and fall of humane education as a movement unto itself during the early 20th century.  The Bands of Mercy organized by Massachusetts SPCA founder George Angell and successors eventually reached more than four million children with an ambitious equation of humane education with moral education.

Broadly accepted then, including in denouncing hunting and vivisection, the Bands of Mercy program would now be considered too radical for school use.
After the outbreak of WW I, The message of universal peace through humane education was subordinated to patriotic imperatives.  Humane education did not become more central to the work of SPCA's in the years that followed.

Instead, as humane societies took on animal control duties to ensure economic survival, the growing burden of capturing and killing homeless dogs and cats, cast other initiatives, including humane education, to the margins of activity.  What survived was the simple lessons of kindness to pets.. Both self censorship and the constraints imposed by educational institutions, prevented humane education from reaching into the realm of institutionalized use of animals, such as animal experimentation and the mass production of animals for food and fur.

More than half of the Unti/DeRosa chapter dwells on the difficulty of quantifying the effects of humane education, reflecting the contemporary obsession with the meeting standards with can be verified through testing.  But humane education has had one verifiable success, Unti and DeRosa conclude: "Whatever the level of success on other fronts of humane work, wanton acts of individual cruelty against pets are now usually seen as the signs of a maladjusted and sick personality.

Conversely, a kind disposition toward such animals is considered an important   attribute of the well adjusted individual.
Actually, British satirical engraver William Wogarth among others, counted on his audience to have similar views long before there were any humane societies.

However, schoolroom humane education has probably help to validate and empower the feelings of the majority of people who disapprove of cruelty.  A series of surveys done in China since 1998 show that attitudes toward cruelty to animals there are essentially the same as in the US, - but in China, because people who disapprove of   cruelty are conspicuous, especially by the minority of the population who eat dogs and cats and wildlife and by those who attend zoos as spectacles rather than from the love of animals.

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