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A Special Sneak Peak into “Be Kind: A Visual History of Humane Education, 1880- 1945”

By Jasmin Singer — June 28, 2012

I must admit that I find it irksome (and I must also admit that is an understatement) when people say that “I won’t get it” because I don’t have kids. This over-generalization runs the gamut from whether I might empathize with kids who scrape their knee, to whether I am capable of caring about the state of public schools in the area. Last I checked, I was, I like to think, an empathic, concerned person (an activist, in fact — the kind you want on your side when it comes to issues of equality). So, in short, yes, I do care about your kids — even though I don’t have any myself (the canine variety notwithstanding).

One topic affecting youth that particularly gets me going is that of humane education. I’m not going out on any kind of limb when I say that the continued upsurge of humane education programs will be key to fostering compassionate children, paving the way for a fiercely determined and deeply caring next generation — the kind that I want running things when I’m old and grey (well, okay, I’m already steadfastly working on the greying). Programs like Humane Education Advocates Reaching Teachers (HEART) and the Institute for Humane Education (IHE) are at the helm of the humane education movement, aimed to work with children so that they can develop the tools necessary for, as IHE says, a “more just, humane, and sustainable world.” (Yes, please.)

Combining the potential of humane education with the power of the arts, a new exhibit being organized by the National Museum of Animals & Society (NMAS), focuses on the “History of Humane Youth.” Appropriately entitled, “Be Kind,” this interactive online exhibition, which launches on July 2, will thoroughly delve into the sometimes surprising ingredients of what made humane education what it is today — focusing in particular on the late 19th Century all the way through World War II.

According to NMAS:

Akin to the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, tens of thousands of chapters of the Bands of Mercy, a humane youth organization, existed at the turn of the century in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. It is this movement’s vivacious spirit and forgotten history that the exhibit seeks to preserve and share with the public. Through Band of Mercy chapters and animal protection agencies, early animal welfare efforts were very visual, performative, and literary in nature, relying heavily on art, public displays, music, lantern slides, and illustrated books to convey the message of “kindness to animals.”

Be Kind will therefore heavily draw on humane education material from groups in Canada, the U.S., and Britain, with the hope that — according to NMAS — “the comparison between the nations will foster a multifaceted dialogue about the nature of humane advocacy and legislation that took place in the different jurisdictions while, at the same time, the overlap between the aims and efforts of groups in each of these countries makes for a dynamic educational experience for contemporary viewers.”

This exhibit is totally refreshing, focusing on the very thing that needs to become a mandatory part of being a kid (and, okay, an adult) — a deep-seated recognition of the value of all sentient beings, human and non. It also happens to be curated by Dr. Keri Cronin, who was recently on our podcast discussing the Niagara VegFest, of which she was a co-organizer. When she’s not organizing major vegan events or curating online galleries, she is the Chair of the Visual Arts department at the incredibly progressive Brock University, and, as she discussed on our podcast, is heavily involved with Brock’s Critical Animal Studies program. As if I need to say it, I’m a fan.

Moreover, the National Museum of Animals & Society, which founder Carolyn Mullin discussed with us on our podcast last year, is, in and of itself, groundbreaking. Its focus is to use the museum model — both live exhibits and online — to “enrich the lives of animals and people through our shared experience.” NMAS teaming up with Keri Cronin means there will indeed be fireworks. I couldn’t possibly love this interactive exhibit more. It’s possible, in fact, that I love it more than I love my dog. (Well, okay, that’s a lie, but I do love it a lot.)

When I spoke with Keri about the upcoming exhibit and her goals for it, she explained: “The exhibit will present a range of approaches/examples of early humane education, with a specific focus on how the arts (music, poetry, the visual, etc.) was used. Each section of the exhibit has a brief introductory text […] and then under that text is a slideshow that is embedded on the page. From there, a few items from each slide show are further expanded upon with more in-depth analysis….” Examples of the exhibit’s materials include books and pamphlets, buttons and badges, essay and poster competitions, film slides, and, yes, even music. This is multimedia advocacy at its best. I can’t wait.

Much to my glee, NMAS is giving Our Hen House readers a glimpse into this exquisite exhibit (say that three times fast). For the full experience, don’t forget to check back with NMAS on and after July 2. But, for now, here is a sneak peak:

Screenshot teaser of “Be Kind.” Check back to on and after July 2 for the online exhibit!

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