As SAFE’s Education Officer I often wonder if we will ever ‘get through’ to people. I have spent over 20 years as an educator in animal rights and remain surrounded by a sea of ignorance and denial when it comes to our attitudes towards and treatment of animals. In this blog I ask the question: Can education break through people’s blissful ignorance in order to come face-to-face with the cruel truth and do people actually have the courage to ‘know’?
From our first to last breath we are learning – learning to walk, talk, and understand our world. In our early years we focus on the basics: how to survive and get through the day unscathed. As we get older we broaden our knowledge – we grow, we develop and if we are lucky and have good teachers and experiences, we become aware, engaged and productive.
Some lessons are easy to learn and assimilate – others require practice, patience and determination. No one learns how to ride a bicycle without falling off a few times.
An important part of the learning process is the development of insight. This deeper understanding is generally a result of experiences that have changed the way we look at and interact with others and our surroundings. The development of insight can be quite profound and life-changing for many and can radically change our thoughts, opinions and beliefs.
What we know and what we do
Ultimately, it does not matter what we know but what we do with our knowledge – how we behave and the effect of our actions on ourselves, other beings and our world. We can have a wealth of information at our fingertips but it’s our actions not our thoughts that have the power to make change for the better. I can think about the value of planting vegetables all day – but until I get up and grab a spade nothing will happen!
Directing our actions positively is the next challenge. The bad choices are often the most tempting. Even when we know something is bad for us – it won’t stop us from a guilty indulgence. Habit, social pressure, pleasure and convenience are often more powerful than knowledge, reason and even common sense.
When we turn a blind eye and harm ourselves through our poor choices and actions (whether it be smoking, drinking or other foibles) we have only ourselves to blame, but when we harm others as a result of our actions we need to stop, pause and think. Animals frequently bear the brunt of our refusal to acknowledge what we often know is wrong. The harm we cause to animals used for food, science and entertainment is staggering. We cannot claim ignorance about what happens in slaughterhouses, in factory farms or in laboratories – we simply prefer to ‘overlook’ the suffering. Our desires, and sometimes our fears, outweigh our conscience.
It is when we are faced with a choice between our desires and our knowledge that the quality of our education and our character makes itself known. The old maxim ‘have the courage of your convictions’ – to stand up in the face of adversity and still remain true to yourself and your ideals and values, is testament to the power of your education and your strength of character.
That is why at the heart of every successful social justice movement is education.
Education, knowledge, understanding and awareness are what spur our desire to make change. Courage, determination and actions make our ideas real.
Animals & Us
The new school term is about to begin. If you are a teacher or student who is interested in animal rights issues, SAFE has produced a series of textbooks available online and to New Zealand secondary schools.
The Animals & Us textbook series takes a critical look at the treatment of animals in our society. Secondary school teachers can order free copies by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Others can view the textbooks online.
Nichola Kriek, Education Officer