When a family from the Basque Country decided to take action to denounce an educational project at the center where their daughter studies, one of their first actions was to contact the center’s management. The project was part of the STEAM program (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Mathematics) of the school, that is, the program that includes teaching and learning initiatives in the scientific-technological field. Specifically, the project consisted of incubating duck eggs from a local producer in the classroom until they hatch. Subsequently, the birds were in the classrooms until, after rejecting the possibility of their being taken in by a sanctuary, they were taken to a farm-school before the Christmas holidays. Despite the potential animal welfare problems and the lack of critical reflection around a project with educational aspirations, the family received a rejection of their proposal not to use animals in the center’s projects.
After the refusal, the next action that the family took was to seek support outside the educational institution by contacting organizations involved in the defense of animals, and ended up reaching Anthropology of Animal Life, Ethnozoology Study Groupattached to Catalan Institute of Anthropology. From this contact arose the initiative to prepare a report in which to argue from different disciplines the need to abandon the (ab)use of animals in educational contexts. To do this, and taking advantage of the multidisciplinary nature of the research group, contributions from anthropology, social psychology, neurobiology, well-being science and educational research have been used.
As a result, we launch animals in schoolsa report that invites the educational community to reflect about how animals are learned and used in the educational system. Yes ok The text is developed focusing mainly on supposedly educational projects such as the incubation of eggs and the keeping of aquariums in the classroom, its approach and implications are extensible to a good part of the teaching-learning situations that appeal, more or less explicitly, to the human-animal relationship or that directly resort to the use of animals.
In the report we propose an aspect of anthropological work, although valuable in any field: the estrangement. Being surprised by what is different to try to understand it and being surprised by what is known to see it from another place and develop critical thinking. This simple, though not easy, tool seeks to broaden the understanding of the other and not take the known for granted as the only possible perspective. Our proposal is to apply this reflexivity, not only to otherness and human diversity, but also to other species, to these other animals and to the way in which concepts and values are transmitted around them. In educational practices that involve non-human animals, is knowledge really sought that takes into account their own interests? Do you think about the implications that these practices have on those others? When you talk about wellness, respect either empathy towards animals, in what parameters are these values handled? And before concepts like exploitation, domination either violence how do they learn when it comes to animals of other species?
From this perspective, the report justifies the need to question and rethink pedagogical strategies around other animals in classrooms based on the sentience as a criterion of moral consideration. The sentience it is the ability to have positive and negative subjective experiences, that is, to enjoy and suffer, which turns sentient beings into subjects with interests in their own lives, such as pursuing pleasure or avoiding pain. Research on sentience in non-human animals has grown exponentially in recent decades. The report summarizes the current scientific criteria, based on neurobiological and cognitive-behavioral evidence, that allow determining with high probability whether an animal is sentient. In this sense, as multiple studies referenced in the report reflect, the weight of the evidence is favorable to the sentience both in vertebrate animals and in various groups of invertebrates. Therefore, introducing a sentient animal in a classroom can violate its interests and cause harm, which should prompt us to question and rethink the use of other animals in the educational context. Many studies have analyzed the impact that the use of other animals in the classroom has on students. In contrast, the impact that these practices may have on other animals has been studied much less. The report highlights this asymmetry and, based on the recognition of their needs, identifies potential sources of discomfort to which animals used in schools could be exposed. Although the report focuses primarily on the sources of discomfort that could be experienced by birds in classroom egg incubation projects and fish in school aquariums, it also considers other factors that run through the lives of not only these animals, but of all those who are held captive in a classroom and who can interfere with their well-being and their rights.
The report also includes the perspective of social psychology, whose evidence suggests that the moral consideration that children give to other animals is not based on their sentience rather, it is conditioned by a learned animal categorization that classifies animals into hierarchies according to their perceived usefulness to the human species (e.g., animals companion, wild or farm). This differentiation is made based on anthropocentric interests and makes it easier for us to have greater moral consideration for some species than for others, which, in turn, legitimizes us establishing asymmetrical relationships with other animals. This animal categorization is structural and is promoted from institutions such as the educational system. In addition, it impacts the students’ understanding of the needs of other animals, as well as their ability to recognize the sentience and empathize with other animals.
Making special emphasis on the process of scientific literacy, the report highlights the task of rethinking the educational system in terms of respect and empathy towards other animals. Incorporating in the teaching-learning processes the consideration of the interests of animals is an essential requirement to bring educational praxis up to the scientific evidence, the requirements of the LOMLOE and the educational aspiration of promoting a culture of peace. However, the analysis of the speciesist bias in regulated education occupies a very marginal space in educational research. It is important to point with the philosopher and political scientist Iván Ávila to speciesism as a techno-bio-physical-social order, which re/produces animal domination from techniques, knowledge, bodies and spaces.
The report develops the idea of a hidden curriculum on the human-animal relationship. This notion refers to the intended or unintended effects that are not part of the official objectives of educational institutions, but that perpetuate an anthropocentric discourse by presenting non-human animals as resources at our disposal. Faced with normative currents, the report presents the alternative approaches offered by Humane Education and, more recently, Critical Animal Pedagogy. With their similarities and differences, these critical pedagogies incorporate among their objectives the dismantling of exclusionary circles of compassion, with animal protection among their backbones.
We invite you to read and spread the report animals in schools, as well as to continue rethinking the models of human-animal relationship that are currently (re)produced in the educational context. This report is open to continue growing with contributions from other disciplines and perspectives that, from a reflexive approach, question the profoundly asymmetrical relationships that we establish with other animals.