Why We Need Humane Education: Misleading Messages About Farmed Animals

Usually when we read about someone donating books to schools and libraries, it’s a happy example of promoting literacy and supporting community. But I was disheartened to read the other day about elementary schools in Illinois receiving “a bushel basket of 10 children’s books through the Farm Bureau’s Books by the Bushel program.”

Why am I concerned? Because among the titles are books like Little Joe, a heart-warming tale about a boy who raises his first calf for the county fair and then sends him off to be slaughtered (such is the reality of farm life, we’re told, without considering any other alternative for Joe post-fair that allows him to live). Or, Extra Cheese, Please!, which follows the journey of cheese from cow to pizza (neglecting to mention that boy calves become veal and girl calves become slaves to the dairy industry).

As part of a presentation I give on the lives and deaths of factory farmed animals, I explore with my audience the types of messages that are emphasized (and those that are hidden or missing) in children’s books about farmed animals. In fiction books the animals are highly anthropomorphized, taking trips around the world, impersonating Elvis, having arguments with dad and making up, being sung to sleep by the entire farm, and more. The “factual” books rarely reveal conditions for factory farmed animals, and when they do, the issue of whether or not it’s even ethical to be eating animals is never addressed. There’s no critical thinking or questioning or discussion of important moral issues in these books that promote the consumption of animals and their products. We’re led to believe the animals lead happy lives and then painlessly (and even willingly) become our burgers and pizzas and shoes and soccer balls.

In my presentation, after we look at how the lives and deaths of farmed animals are presented in children’s books, we look at the reality. I show a series of images from farms and slaughterhouses (nothing too graphic), and share factual information about what these animals endure. It’s easy for the audience to see how misleading and manipulative those children’s books are. Teachers and youth librarians often use books like these, blithely promoting this pastoral and pasteurized version, without once bringing any critical thinking to the issue.

Not only does humane education require critical and creative thinking about important issues, but it brings a comprehensive lens to examining our relationships with others, including the importance of considering and respecting the needs and interests of animals as individuals.

For ideas about exploring some of these relationships, and engaging in critical thinking, check out our free humane education activities. One activity of special note in this instance is Be a C.R.I.T.I.C. (pdf), which encourages students to critically examine information from difference sources on a chosen topic.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of jelene via Creative Commons.

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