A bear market for humane ed?
SEATTLE, Washington––The Humane Society of the United States on April 19, 2017 confirmed the long-rumored exit of the organization from humane education.
After publication of the June/July 2017 edition, the Humane Society of the U.S. said in a quiet web posting, responsibility for publishing Kind News will be transferred to Red Rover.
A classroom-oriented periodical issued in editions for kindergarten through sixth grade, Kind News had been published by HSUS since 1983.
“Red Rover, Red Rover, let Kind News come over”
Red Rover, a California-based organization with annual income of about $8.6 million and assets of $6.5 million, is thereby taking over a program that was a casualty of budget cuts at HSUS, boasting an annual income of circa $195 million, with assets of $249 million.
Ironically, Red Rover was founded as United Animal Nations in 1987 by former Humane Society of the U.S. director of livestock programs Belton Mouras, who felt that HSUS was doing an inadequate job of providing humane leadership. Mouras had in 1968 founded the Animal Protection Institute for much the same reason; it merged into Born Free USA in 2008.
Humane education at the zoo
The impending transfer of Kind News to Red Rover was already known to most delegates to the 2017 Association of Professional Humane Educators conference, hosted April 5-9 by the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. Humane movement historian Bernard Unti, also special assistant to Humane Society of the U.S. president Wayne Pacelle, was the keynote speaker.
That the humane educators conference was hosted by a zoo might be regarded with dismay by many animal advocates, in view of several decades of animosity between zoos and most major animal rights and animal welfare organizations.
But the Woodland Park Zoo locale might also be seen as a hint that both zoos and humane education may be circling back around to their origins.
Zoos, struggling to justify their heavily taxpayer-subsidized existence as public entertainment and as incubators for species conservation, may yet evolve into centers of learning about animal diversity and well-being. This is what the 16th century Mogul emperor of India Akbar the Great had in mind when he built several prototypes of modern zoos whose gateway inscriptions admonished, “Meet your brothers. Take them to your hearts, and respect them.”
Humane education, once central to animal advocacy and now an orphan cause, may find a welcome at zoos and––again––in public schools, now that the Humane Society of the U.S., the American SPCA, and the American Humane Association have all unceremoniously given the whole concept the bum’s rush, with a swift kick to the curb.
“Without much public announcement”
Lamented Association of Professional Humane Educators president Stephanie Itle-Clark to ANIMALS 24-7, “The ASPCA closed their education department a few years ago. Some of our board members at the time were impacted. Shortly thereafter the American Humane Association also closed their education department, again impacting some of the board members. Most recently the Humane Society of the U.S. closed their education and training program and will no longer be printing the humane education publication Kind News,” produced since 1983 in editions for all levels from kindergarten through the sixth grade.
“This was all done without much public announcement,” Itle-Clark noted.
“Realignment of organizational priorities”
Indeed, the only announcement that the ASPCA has abdicated from humane education, after more than 150 years, appears to be a formulaic e-mail sent in response to inquiries, saying “Unfortunately, due to a realignment of organizational priorities, the ASPCA has discontinued the Humane Education department and as such, will not be providing classroom visits, interviews, and lessons for students. Therefore, we no longer have printed materials to mail out and will no longer be doing the Henry Bergh Children’s Book Award.”
Despite that statement of withdrawal, the ASPCA web site in February 2017 featured staff members proselytizing for pit bulls in a Bronx classroom––keeping two pit bulls carefully away from each other, in postures which if assumed in another locale might imminently proceed the command “Pit!”
“The economic climate has definitely impacted the field as far as national resources,” said Itle-Clark, “but the Association of Professional Humane Educators remains committed to supporting humane and prosocial education.”
The latter term, “prosocial education,” is contemporary jargon for promoting “behavior that is positive, helpful, and intended to promote social acceptance and friendship,” according to a variety of online dictionaries.
Begun about 40 years ago as the Western Humane Educators Association, later known as the Western Humane & Environmental Educators Association, the Association of Professional Humane Educators adopted the present name in 1995.
“We are thrilled to report that a new organization has formed to support humane education and continue the credentialing program formerly offered by HSUS,” Itle-Clark added, putting a positive spin on what might otherwise be seen as a disaster.
“The Academy of Prosocial Learning,” Itle-Clark said, “focuses purely on humane and prosocial education. We are seeing more prosocial and humane education support in mainstream education through a variety of teacher and school-led programs,” Itle-Clark offered. “And of course local shelters, wildlife centers, etcetera continue to offer strong animal welfare, environmental, and social justice education programs.”So what exactly is humane education, and why exactly have the major animal welfare and animal rights organizations dropped it like a hot potato?
“The positive agenda”
Bernard Unti, in his 2017 Association of Professional Humane Educators conference keynote address, defined humane education as “the positive agenda for a cause otherwise fixated on the negative,” and expressed his disappointment that HSUS has elected to leave the field.
Humane education, Unti pointed out, centers on the positive message “Be kind to animals,” whereas most animal advocacy centers on the negative: “Stop this!”
Humane education prescribes how people should live their lives, in a healthy and kindly manner, as opposed to campaign messages, such as “Don’t visit zoos!” or “Don’t eat meat, don’t wear fur, and don’t experiment on animals.”
What humane education is not
Beyond that, humane education in the original and most fundamental sense of the concept is not pet care how-to, though in recent decades this is what the “humane education” provided by most humane societies that still do any at all has degenerated into.
Neither is humane education closely associated with the sort of hands-on rescue that attracts the most donor money into the humane cause, though hands-on rescue work can certainly be incorporated into humane educational projects.
Humane education could perhaps in theory overlap to some extent with directly advancing the negative messages of animal advocacy, by teaching young people––and adults––about the uses and misuses of animals, and what could and should be done instead.
Humane education vs. “public education”
The U.S. Internal Revenue Service recognizes this possibility by allowing nonprofit organizations––not just animal charities––to declare fundraising campaigns that include a component of “public education” as a program expense. Practically every major U.S. charity takes advantage of this loophole to claim a grossly distorted ratio of program to fundraising expense.
In actuality, few major U.S. charities of any sort spend less than 25% of their income on raising more money, and most spend 33%-plus on fundraising, if the full cost of every mailing and online appeal meant mainly to attract money is taken into account. The average for the humane field is circa 28%, but many of the biggest animal charities spend more than 40% of their income on fundraising if fundraising expense is strictly define.
Animal charities spending significantly less than 28% of their income on fundraising tend to have all-volunteer staff and/or large inherited endowments whose residues liberate the organizations from having to raise funds.
The rich get richer & the teachers get road apples
Reality, meanwhile, is that authentic humane education never did attract much money compared to messages that teach little, yet deliver an emotional jolt, mostly reaffirming whatever the recipients already believe.
This is why nonprofit organizations incorporated specifically to do humane education, ANIMALS 24-7 included, perennially struggle, while the big three who have jettisoned humane education––HSUS, the ASPCA, and the AHA––collectively raised $483 million in the most recent fiscal years for which their data is available.
Instead of doing humane education in the classic sense, HSUS and the ASPCA emphasize campaigning: legislation and litigation.
Because HSUS, the ASPCA, and most other animal advocacy organizations now emphasize campaigning, they tend to have much less access to classrooms, libraries, and the other relatively neutral public institutions through which most education is done.
If a school, for instance, welcomes a speaker associated with one side of a controversy, it is expected to welcome a speaker associated with the other side, too. If an organization associated with opposition to multiple animal use industries sends speakers to schools, schools will be expected to host speakers from each of the animal use industries that the organization opposes. Thus inviting an HSUS representative to address a classroom might require also inviting representatives from organizations representing animal agriculture, hunting and fishing, and biomedical research. Having limited hours and opportunities within which visitors might speak, schools tend to sidestep the whole set of conflicts by welcoming speakers on much less controversial subjects.
But excluding campaign organizations does not require excluding humane education––or “prosocial education”––in the broadest sense. Indeed, even the organizations most militantly defending factory farming, hunting and fishing, and biomedical research make liberal use of the word “humane” in describing what they do and promote. Hardly anyone today defends cruelty to animals in the abstract. What is fiercely debated is what cruelty consists of.