Saturday, April 1

Talking about speciesism in class: the unfinished business of critical thinking

“Is the chicken in the sandwich meat from a real hen?” It is a childish question that is much more difficult to face than the mythical “where do children come from?” because the first only admits a yes or a lie and, the second, allows you to improvise a milonga of storks, bees, seeds or pregnancies for love.

But if it is not easy to give him an answer – “Yes, it was a chicken, and the ham in the kitchen is the leg of a pig” – it is because, sometimes, the truth is not easy to bear: in his sandwich there is , plain and simple, a piece of corpse. And that is as irrefutable as the fact that at a very young age we experience a cognitive dissonance that is overcome by normalizing the uncritical consumption of products of animal origin; and we carry self-deception to such an extent that it bothers us to know how what we eat is produced or that someone points out to us the suffering that lies behind a cheeseburger.

In other words, there is a network of lies that we are willing to believe in order to fit into a society addicted to animal exploitation. It is the home, the school and the media who will be in charge of leaving empathy off the plate and sooner rather than later we will succumb to speciesism without debate or reflection because, after all, we only know this way of relating to others. animals.

But what if it wasn’t? What if the school opened up to educate in empathy with other animals, to reflect on the limits of our moral sphere or to encourage critical thinking that allows us to identify speciesist behavior? Now it’s easier. Let’s see why.

Understanding the world beyond our species

This is the name of the new educational program of Animal Classroom and Animal Ethics that gives teachers tools to introduce their students to the study of our relationship with other animals. It is designed so that young people and adolescents from ESO and Baccalaureate can learn about this reality in a transversal way in the subjects of Ethics and Philosophy but also in Social Sciences, Biology and Geology, as well as in the tutoring class.

“It is precisely in adolescence that critical thinking begins to develop, so any initiative that encourages it is always positive.” The speaker is Pilar Badía, co-author of this educational program who, as a high school teacher, is aware of the limitations of curricula: “It is common for classrooms to deal with different types of discrimination suffered by human beings. However, the discrimination suffered by other animals in our society and the moral consideration we have towards them are rarely discussed. It is important that young people learn to name this discrimination, called speciesism, to be able to identify and question it”.

To this end, Etica Animal and Aula Animal propose a series of very varied activities: educational videos well adapted to young audiences, illustrations by Paco Catalán with his pertinent philosophical questions, or proposals for current debates such as insect farms or the new law that recognizes animal sentience.

In this way, the chains of oppression are made visible – in some cases literally – with which we subject animals for our enjoyment. And it is that many young people will have seen primates in a zoo or elephants in a circus, but they have hardly accompanied them to reflect from the other point of view: what it means for these animals to live locked up. Animal Classroom and Animal Ethics are clear about it: “Knowing positions different from those defended by the majority of society is fundamental to building one’s own vision of the world.”

That is the point. Let no one be scared, talking about speciesism in class is not about projecting images of chicks being ground up alive, or lurid videos of the slaughter of pigs – which, well, there are – but about delving into the critical spirit of students to that is capable of detecting speciesism, in the same way that we want to educate them so that they know how to identify sexist, racist or homophobic attitudes.

With regard to subjects such as Ethical Values, Badía denounces that “they usually address the issue of the treatment of animals in a way that reinforces speciesist thinking, without allowing students to know the alternative position.” The educational program that concerns us comes to balance this situation, but it does not want to limit itself to the philosophical: “The curriculum of subjects such as Biology and Geology should also be reviewed, where animals are discussed from an anatomical and taxonomic perspective, avoiding the contributions that ethology can make students know how other animals feel and thus develop empathy towards them”.

In addition, although critical thinking is forged in adolescence, empathy can begin to work from the age of five. Aula Animal makes available to mothers, fathers and teachers other teaching resources classified by educational stages. For children, for example, we can work on the most elementary empathy with activities and stories such as The chained elephant of Jorge Bucay, or enter, already in Primary, the world of non-verbal communication to identify in animals the same feelings –surprise, sadness, joy…– that we experience.

Aragon and the Canary Islands, at the top

Respect for animals premiered in the classrooms of Aragón four years ago with an interesting programme, Animal world, which had the participation of more than 40 educational centers in the 2020-2021 academic year. The Ministry of the Canary Islands did something similar, at the end of last year, with a detailed list of teaching resources called Leaving Footprint. There are other initiatives at the local level, but there is still no determined support from the Ministry of Education or the General Directorate for Animal Rights.

I take it for granted that those who have economic interests at stake or that extreme right that is one shot away from vetoing the theory of evolution from the classrooms will not agree with young people developing empathy or animal ethics. The first, what to say, we return to cognitive dissonance and self-deception: we give them our money even though we know they lie to us when they claim that their farms are little less than an animal paradise, the bucolic meadow where Platero jogs happily, and not the tragic reality in which a ruthless capitalist mechanism chains forced pregnancies, miserable lives and deaths that number in the millions. For the latter, the fascists of the parental PIN –the reactionary euphemism to refer to educational censorship– will already have their Saint Martin.

The challenge is therefore enormous. The lobbies are strong, the ‘status quo’ is a burden and despite the greater or lesser sympathy that the authorities have for the anti-species issue, much of the effort falls on a saturated but increasingly aware educational community. Motivated teachers know that they are not alone and that they also have the support of animal organizations. By joining forces, perhaps the day will come when the youngsters prefer seitan sandwiches to chicken ones, more sanctuaries and fewer zoos, and his clown and his jokes receive more applause than his tamer and his whip.